The Iron Room at Atlantic City Bottle Company may be the best-kept secret in Atlantic City right now. And, while ownership hopes it doesn’t’ stay that way, it’s kind of fitting.
That’s because The Iron Room is modeled after a Prohibition-era speakeasy, a beautiful, cozy, dimly lit bar and restaurant that you discover after walking through a bright, classy, upscale package goods store.
“We wanted to pay respects to Atlantic City history with a wink and nod,” says Managing Partner Paul Tonacci. “The way we designed the place is that when you walk in, you see this high-end bottle store with great spirits, beer and wine. But then as you get to the back, you see another room and you walk in and it’s a totally different environment with a new ambiance to it. And you think, ‘Wow! Look at all of the scotches and bourbons and whiskeys and craft beer. And then you are handed a small plates, seasonal food menu and realize we have a lot to offer here.”
Tonacci, who worked in the liquor business and studied wine prior to opening A.C. Bottle Company and The Iron Room, believes he and his business partner have something unique and thrilling to offer diners – and drinkers – in Atlantic City. And he’s right. A.C. Bottle Company is an awesome package goods store that offers everything from hard-to-find spirits and wine to single bottles of craft beer. And The Iron Room is a local gem that will quickly catch on with anyone who loves great beer, wine, spirits and food.
Opening wasn’t easy. When Hurricane Sandy hit last fall, it delayed the debut until July, with the restaurant and bar opening in August, disrupting a business plan that would have locals buzzing about the place before the summer arrived.
But it was certainly worth the wait. With minimal lighting, burgundy walls, leather bar stools, quartz tables with blue marble accompanied by oversized leather chairs with high backs and a large bar lined with 221 bourbons, scotches and whiskeys, The Iron Room is a perfect place to pre-game with some great drinks and small plates with friends or a place to share libations and a full meal with a date.
And while the amazing liquor selection, nine beers and four wines on tap will have people coming to drink, Chef Kevin Cronin’s eclectic small plates menu will have foodies buzzing about his creativity and skills in the kitchen.
“We narrowed our search for a chef down to three and they made us food to try,” Tonacci explains. “After we interviewed the second guy, we said we were going to hire him unless the third guy blew us away. And then Kevin walked in and just gave us a moment of pause while we were eating. We knew he was our guy. We are so lucky to have him. He ties it all together for us. He has an unbelievable gift.”
The menu changes as much as two to three times a week because Cronin insists on using the freshest ingredients he can get his hands on. Forget seasonal, Cronin adapts daily.
For example, venison was recently on special, and the current salad ($11) features heirloom tomatoes with fine herbs, beets, ancho chile vinaigrette and sunflower faux cheese because heirloom tomatoes are in season.
Other current selections include steak tartare ($11) with toasted sesame, cornichons (pickled gherkins), shallot and Begian-style fries; homemade potato gnocchi ($9) with Meyer lemon and almond pesto; a petite filet ($17) with ricotta tomato butter, sriracha and whipped potatoes; seared scallops ($17) with charred carrots, honey, almond and parsnip with white wine sauce; and pan-seared Hudson Valley foie gras ($20) with toasted sesame, beef and fingerling potato salad.
But there have been some staples that are quickly developing into favorites, such as the cheese and charcuterie plates (market price) that change as often as Cronin’s menu; the Flat Iron Burger ($14) with a combination of multiple types of meat topped with a chef’s choice of cheese and bacon and served with fresh-cut fries; and the amazing sweet fried chicken ($13), a clever take on chicken and waffles with a savory waffle and lavender veloute sauce.
“As soon as something becomes too popular, Kevin thinks of switching it off, but everyone loves the chicken and burger,” Tonacci says.
There are also gluten-free and vegan items because Cronin wants to have something for everyone. Currently, he is making sugared tempeh (soy) fritters ($7) with a sweet and spicy chili sauce.
“Kevin had some friends who were vegan, and he wanted to make sure they had something to enjoy here, too,” Tonacci says.
The Iron Room, which is currently open for dinner daily, is slowly but gradually building a loyal following. But it’s the kind of place that once people discover it, they will become regulars.
“Our biggest challenge is getting people in here to try us once,” Tonacci says. “The rest is up to us. I know we have amazing spirits, wine and beer and the food to pair with it. I think we offer something no one else in this area offers.”
The Iron Room Drinking Experience
No restaurant or bar in the area features as many whiskeys, bourbons and scotches as The Iron Room in Atlantic City. With 221 types lining every shelf behind the bar, drinkers can choose shots ranging from $7 for something like Jameson to $400 a shot for 1981 Glenmorangie Pride scotch, with other top-shelf offerings including Highland Park Loki single malt scotch and 13-year Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve rye.
Make sure you interact with Bar Manager Lenny Schafer. Known in the area as “Mr. Whiskey” because of his vast knowledge, Schafer’s passion shines through every time customers ask him about pairings and for suggestions.
“The whiskeys, scotches and bourbons play into the whole Prohibition thing,” says Managing Partner Paul Tonacci. “With all the hooch coming into Atlantic City, since it was a wet city, it made sense that we focused on that. Plus it also makes sense why we have so much rye because it was the choice drink up to the Prohibition era.”
But The Iron Room isn’t all about brown spirits. There’s a variety of liquors on hand, plus four wines and nine craft beers on tap.
“The tap system is a terrific way of dispensing wine and the taps rotate constantly,” Tonacci says. “It shows our devotion to wine here, too. Plus craft beer is so trendy and popular right now.”
Chef Kevin Cronin’s food keeps all of the spirits, beer and wine in mind when molding his menus, and The Iron Room will soon offer special dinners. Drinkers can also indulge in flights offered for a variety of different drinks.
If you’re looking to save a few bucks, Tuesdays features half-price whiskeys; Wednesdays features half-price wine; and Thursdays features half-price beer. On Mondays, the industry night invites everyone who works in the A.C. area to enjoy $9 whiskeys, wines and small plates from 9 to 11 p.m., sponsored by Macallan and Highland Park.