Bar Talk

How One Distillery Turned a Coffin Shop into a Bar

Durham Distillery’s Melissa Katrincic on the success of her gin-focused Corpse Reviver Bar & Lounge

Melissa Katrincic, Durham’s distiller. Photo by FoodSeenNC.

In Durham, North Carolina, the newcomer Corpse Reviver Bar & Lounge, at Durham Distillery, became an overnight success thanks to cofounder and CEO Melissa Katrincic’s obsession with gin, wildly innovative cocktails, and impressive pandemic pivot. On the menu: Durham Distillery’s own Conniption gins, cucumber vodka, and liqueurs. Plus, all the cocktails they could never make when there was just a distillery.  

SevenFifty Daily: Your background is marketing, and your husband Lee is in pharmaceutical chemistry. What drew you both to gin?

Melissa Katrincic: I’ve always loved gin. My grandfather had nightly Martinis and would slip me olives when I was three years old. In 2013, when I was facing a layoff, Lee and I explored the craft distilling movement. We tasted hundreds of gins. 

You launched Durham Distillery in 2015. Why did you want to expand with a bar?

Because of North Carolina laws, we couldn’t serve cocktails at the distillery when we opened, so we knew we had to have a sipping gin that blew people away. It was exciting to see the community embrace that. Knowing that the next best step was to introduce Conniption as a gin for cocktails, in 2018 we started thinking about opening a full-fledged bar.  

What did you want Corpse Reviver to embody?

We always thought about it as a way to bring Conniption to life, a lounge enveloped in a modern Art Deco feel. One of the inspirations is the Dukes Bar in London. Lee and I love that tableside Martini. Martinis are still intimidating to many people, and the trolley allows them to experience different varieties.

Corpse Reviver’s menu puts classics and modern twists in dialogue with each other. Can you share an example?

Our Clover Club, with sous-vide raspberry syrup, is such a showstopper. This gin application is juxtaposed with our Queen of Swords drink which is made with Rittenhouse Rye, a red wine reduction syrup, and a sage tincture. It’s a way of educating our customers.

You opened during the pandemic embracing an impressive hygiene protocol. What does it encompass?

We sourced two 1,000-square-foot hospital-grade filtration units and all guests must take their temperatures and sign contact-tracing agreements. Currently, we are patio-service only, but plan to reopen indoor seating with limited capacity. We are getting people who have been scared to go out elsewhere, but when they hear what we are doing, they feel safe.

Sour recipe. Photo courtesy of Durham Distillery.

More On Corpse Reviver’s Concept:

  • The Vibe: A one-time coffin shop featuring vinyl booths, velvet curtains, and geometric wallpaper.
  • Durham Distillery’s Gins: Conniption American Dry, Navy Strength, and the just-released Barrel Aged. 
  • The House Slushie: Made with Conniption American Dry Gin, Grand Marnier, orange sherbet, and citrus juices, the house slushie is a tribute to the one at Epcot Center.
  • Humanity First: Staff receive a living wage and are eligible for subsidized healthcare.

 

Alia Akkam is a writer who covers food, drink, travel, and design. She is the author of Behind the Bar: 50 Cocktails from the World’s Most Iconic Hotels (Hardie Grant) and her work has appeared in Architecturaldigest.com, Dwell.com, Penta, Vogue.com, BBC, Playboy, and Taste, among others, and she is a former editor at Edible Queens, Hospitality Design, and Beverage Media. A native New Yorker, Alia now calls Budapest home. Follow Alia @behdria.

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