Cheddar & Rye: Cheese sandwich business in the front, whiskey party in the back

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Sullivan’s Irish whiskey – light and smooth, one of nearly 200 available at Cheddar & Rye, the city’s new whiskey bar, which opens officially Oct. 4. Photo/Carol Robidoux

MANCHESTER, NH – Like so many other natural pairings – peanut butter and jelly, cookies and milk, Batman and Robin – combo sandwich shop/whiskey bar Cheddar & Rye has all the makings of the next big thing.

Located on the corner of Hanover and Elm, Cheddar & Rye fully engaged this week with the soft opening of Rye – the whiskey bar adjacent to Cheddar, a grilled cheese-centric eatery featuring comic book character-themed sandwiches, which opened earlier this year.

Yes, it’s quite a concept.

A long bar constructed from reclaimed barn wood and whiskey barrel staves. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Restaurateur Liu Vaine has found his niche in creating concept eateries that bring something unique to the table, namely, a speakeasy vibe. Vaine, who established ‘Nawlins, a cajun restaurant that had a few-year run on Elm Street, also established 815, an upstairs retro-modern speakeasy across the street, with some of his former ‘Nawlins employees, who eventually bought him out. He’s also the guy behind CodeX B.A.R. in Nashua, a classic 1920s speakeasy hidden behind a curiosity shoppe (B.A.R. for books, antiques, rarities), and Chuck’s BARbershop in Concord, also delighting customers with the “business in the front, party in the back” atmosphere.

Liu Vaine, left, and Andrew Thistle work together like Batman & Robin – and Cheddar and Rye. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Vaine has partnered with chef Andrew Thistle and, together along with their crew, they’ve  invested hours of sweat equity into transforming the former Tiya’s Restaurant into something uniquely Manchester.

On Monday night Vaine and Thistle welcomed friends and family at the door leading to the open-concept space where rustic lounge meets your favorite uncle’s stylish den.

“I don’t like bars where I’m crowded. I don’t like bars where you go in and try to have a conversation but the TVs are on, or people are talking loud to be heard over the music. I want people to have some place to come and communicate with their friends, have a great cocktail and relax without the outside world,” says Vaine.

Wall of whiskey. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Wood panels reclaimed from an old barn in Concord and deconstructed whiskey barrels contribute to the atmosphere. Sunny lights strung from the ceiling showcase the collection of whiskey bottles behind the bar. And the bar itself is long and inviting, providing a front-row seat for the drink-making.

Lots of seating options including overstuffed chairs and couches grouped here and there.

Belly up to the bar for whiskey neat, or on the rocks – or try a craft cocktail. Photo/Carol Robidoux

“Whiskey is the backbone of America. It literally is,” says Thistle, recounting a brief history of the American spirit. “Mixology these days is all about the craft of a cocktail. It’s no longer just Jim Beam and Jack Daniels. Now you can order an nice Manhattan and sip on something that’s worth something,” he says.

Chris Arguin is making the rounds, rocking his fedora and contributing to the sense of place and time. He’s worked behind the scenes on all of Vaine’s projects, and says the goal is to offer the largest collection of whiskey around.

Comfy furniture abounds. Photo/Carol Robidoux

“Right now we have just under 200 whiskeys – in a few months, we’ll have 375, and that’s out of the 500 or so available in New Hampshire, many of which are redundants,” says Arguin, who explains that for now, Rye must keep it local and can only serve whiskey sold by the state of New Hampshire.

Rye servers and bartenders are well-versed on the finer points of all the featured whiskey. Ask for something smooth, and you may be offered an eight-dollar pour of Sullivan’s Irish Whiskey – just a hint of sweet as it rolls across your tongue and slides down your throat.

Chris Arguin’s got the look. Photo/Carol Robidoux

In the context of the decor, Arguin tells the story of their favorite find, resulting in the lacquered newspaper fronts that they transformed into art, and one-of-a-kind authentic New Hampshire Americana.

“We lucked out when we stumbled upon a gentleman who was having a foreclosure auction on State Street in Concord. The barn had to go, and he said if you want it come get it. We spent a month-and-a-half deconstructing the barn board, piece by piece, and ended up with more than we needed,” Arguin says.

No TVs, just room to mingle or settle in for some cocktails and conversation. Photo/Carol Robidoux

Part of the deal included a century-old steamer trunk stashed in the barn, loaded with old newspapers dating back to the late 1800s says Arguin.

“We laminated a bunch of them and put them on the walls – they’re all original pieces of artwork,” he says.

In addition to whiskey, Cheddar and Rye serves craft cocktails, small bites, salads and desserts, and Cheddar’s award-winning grilled cheese sandwiches.

Cheddar & Rye is located at 889 Elm St. It opens officially Oct. 4, 2018. Hours are Mon-Wed. 5-10 p.m., Thurs-Sat., 5 p.m. to 1 a.m.

Editor’s note: The story has been updated from an earlier version to clarify the founding of 815. We apologize for any errors and always strive for accuracy.