The Oakland Cracks the Seal on Vintage Spirits


For a select group of bars and cocktail connoisseurs around the country, dusty is now desirable.

“I think with craft cocktails there’s a duality going on,” said Oakland bar owner Sandy Levine. “There’s a lot of people discovering them and excited about them, but there’s also a lot of people who were excited about it four or five years ago and are moving on to the next thing now.”

What’s new just happens to be old.

The Oakland in Ferndale, Mich., is one of a handful of bars across the country offering vintage spirits to its patrons. Its “dusty shelf” menu skews towards whiskey (particularly American-made). The menu starts at $10 an ounce for a discontinued Wild Turkey rye, and goes all the way up to $150 for a shot of 12-year rye whiskey legally distilled by the American Medicinal Spirits Company during Prohibition.

“You’re tasting something that basically doesn’t exist [anymore],” Levine said. “I don’t know how many bottles like this exist in the world, but it can’t be very many.”

The Oakland’s hunt for rare and vintage spirits started when a customer brought in a few bottles of Chartreuse she found at her grandfather’s estate. After hemming and hawing (and a whole lot of internet research), Levine pulled the trigger. In the next few months he added bottles of gin, fernet, scotch, rye and bourbon to the bar’s collection.

“The whole idea is to share cool stuff with people that we like,” Levine said. “We like showing people what we’re excited about and sharing that excitement with them when they drink.”

So the next time you pull up a seat at the Oakland, be sure to ask about the 1945 Rittenhouse rye whiskey or the Old Fitzgerald from the ’60s sitting on the shelf behind the bar. The bartenders will be happy to give you a pour.

“You’re tasting something that basically doesn’t exist anymore.”
Sandy Levine

A bottle of benedictine. Photo credit: Marvin Shaouni

The Oakland Art Novelty Company
201 W. 9 Mile Road
Ferndale, MI 48220