Looking Back at the History of BRAVO!’s Bar & Lounge Posted on July 25, 2019July 25, 2019 by Susan Farris Many things have changed in BRAVO!’s Lounge & Bar throughout the years. Faces, menus, décor. Even walls have come down- literally, with this last renovation. But our dedication to quality drinks and amazing service has never wavered. Earlier this year, a big change indeed happened at BRAVO! Lesley Tolar-McHardy handed over the keys to the BRAVO! wine room to Laura Collins after twenty-five years of loyal service. With this changing of the guard, we took the opportunity to look over the history of BRAVO!’s Lounge & Bar, reminisce about the past, and look towards the future. Philosophy Since day one, BRAVO!’s Lounge & Bar have been a focal point of our business…it’s the first thing you see when you walk in the front door! We fashioned our bar as a “see and be seen” kind of place. The BRAVO! bar has been an extremely popular rendez-vous point for friends, families, business associates, birthdays, going-away parties, or just TGIF! Over the last 25 years, anybody who is anybody has spent some time in the BRAVO! lounge. We have always striven to make our bar program cutting edge, while also being accessible. Education continues to be a key factor for us: for our staff with ongoing training and creative opportunities, and for our patrons with our knowledgeable staff always quick to answer, “What is that?” When we first burst onto the Jackson scene in ’94, many of the foods and beverages we offered were not well-known. Our goal was, and continues to be, to make our guests feel informed and comfortable ordering items they might not have encountered before. As the years have passed, Jackson has become much more adventurous and sophisticated in its palate, and we look forward to the creative opportunity to this presents! The philosophy of the BRAVO! Lounge & Bar has always been: “Whatever is new and fresh, whatever is tried and true, and most of all, whatever is fun…that’s what you’ll find here!” Wine Program A very large part of keeping our guests excited and informed has been our wine program. We were the first in town to offer Winemaker Dinners and casual wine tastings, and we are still going strong! At first, we were thrilled if we could convince 10 people to come and listen to us talk about wine on a Sunday afternoon. Now, these events sell out past capacity each and every time! This is a true testament to how excited Jacksonians have become about wine and food! Some of our wonderful featured guests through the years have been: Tom Leonardini (Whitehall Lane Winery), Kathy Benziger (Benziger Family Winery), Bartholomew Broadbent (Broadbent Imports), Michael Martella (Thomas Fogarty), John Larchet (Australian Premium Wine Collection), Mat Garretson (Garretson), Roger Roessler (Roessler Cellars), Randall Grahm (Bonny Doon), Diane Fore (Fore Family Winery), Stephanie Douglas (Aratas), Brian Loring (Loring Wine Company), Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat)…and the list could go on and on! Our list has seen many different shapes, sizes and formats. In 1994, we opened our doors with a one page front and back wine list…but it was quality over quantity! By 1997, our list had tripled in size and we received our first Wine Spectator Award of Excellence…which we have received every year since! The philosophy behind our list has always been to offer our guests wines from all over the globe, especially hard-to-get wines and wines that are brand new to our market. At the same time, we also offer selections that are easily recognizable and consistent for our guests who simply want an old favorite with their meal or may not be interested in venturing too far off the beaten path. Our restaurant atmosphere is fun, energetic and definitely not stuffy…which is exactly the way we approach our wine program. Sommelier Legacy Originally, the BRAVO! wine program was started by David Blumenthal, who was a great example-setter and mentor for Lesley Tolar McHardy, who became our first certified Sommelier in January 2000. She was one of the first people— and one of only 2 women— in Mississippi to be certified with the World Court of Master Sommeliers. Lesley continued the legacy set by David by mentoring another set of future Somms, paving the road of “passing the baton of knowledge” that is still alive and well at BRAVO! After Lesley, several other members of the BRAVO! staff “got the itch” and went on to earn certifications as well: Kelly Boutwell, Val Spellman, Robert Wailes, Patrick Kelly, Farley Walker, Dana Guest, and Mitchell Earrey. As of 2019, the BRAVO! wine program is in the capable hands of Laura Collins, who pursued her certification while working with Lesley at Briarwood Wine & Spirits. Laura was the Sommelier at Seafood R’Evolution for nearly 2 years before joining the BRAVO! team. Laura Collin’s on becoming BRAVO!’s Sommelier: “BRAVO! has been a home to me over and over in my years in the restaurant industry! In writing this, I asked myself what made this restaurant, above all the others, so special? And I remembered, years before I ever worked here, how I thought that BRAVO! had the best food and the coolest bar! I consider myself one of the many people in Jackson who discovered a passion for food and wine through BRAVO!’s passion for food and wine! Over the years I have worked in many restaurants and bars, but this was the one where I knew I had to give it my best to stand in ranks with the staff. I also knew that I had to learn a radically new concept of service to fit in with the culture. As Jeff always says ‘Get to Yes—’ a simple, life-changing phrase.” “I began studying wine while working for Lesley and Nathan McHardy at Briarwood Wine & Spirits. I am still struck by the generosity in both time and effort that they showed me and many others! My education in wine with Lesley grew into weekly tastings at BRAVO! with Val Spellman and Kelly Boutwell. What I learned from these women about both wine and service cannot be measured and all of that grew out of BRAVO!’s wine program! Now, I have the opportunity to pay that forward to future generations of wine lovers— and I can’t wait!” Cocktail Program BRAVO! was one of the first places in town to offer a signature cocktail list. In the early days, Martinis were “the thing” and they were our specialty! One of our original drinks, the Absolut Freddo, was even adopted by the Sweet Potato Queens as their official cocktail. We have had a long string of big personalities behind our bar over the years. If you ever spent any time sitting at the BRAVO! bar, then no doubt you have spent time with any number of these folks: Lesley McHardy, Phil Petrignani, Joe Holland, Scott Barranti, Mark Roemer, Tara Blumenthal, Robert Arender, Chino Gutierrez, Karen Newman, Chris Magann, Johnny Louis, Val Spellman, Carlos Howard, Matt Bruner, Denny Burkes, Melanie Creek, Chris Robertson, Dana Guest, Antonio Williams, Kirby Coutch, Bret Sullivan…. And of course, our current fantastic staff: Alyssa Montang, Chris Cooley, Laura Collins, Sheena Johnson, and Alphonso Campbell. Today, our cocktail offerings have morphed into an extremely cutting-edge list of Signature & Classic Cocktails that are offered year-round as well as our Seasonal Cocktails. These BRAVO! family-created cocktails which change every Spring and Fall for an ever-evolving and satisfying range of flavors. Most recently, we have introduced a “Temperance Beverages” menus using the creative, new alcohol-free spirits that have come to market as an enjoyable alternative for those who choose not to imbibe but still want to enjoy an evening out. We look forward to serving Jackson delicious drinks and amazing evenings in the BRAVO! Lounge & Bar for many more years to come. Cheers! Thank you to Lesley for providing us with this amazing journey through BRAVO!’s Lounge & Bar history. You will always be a part of the BRAVO! family.