MIDWAY — The Black Tulip is an elusive and beautiful flower, the name of a novel by Alexandre Dumas and a 1937 film. Utter the term around here, however, and the first association that comes to mind is one of Midway's premier food spots. The bistro-style restaurant is known for casual elegance, local ingredients and fine gourmet meals.
But it also has a small, romantic bar that serves a well-chosen selection of beer and wine, and is poised to receive a full liquor license before long, possibly by the time of this article's publication. Its history has earned its wine props.
In 2001, between years working in the Thoroughbred industry and becoming a restaurateur, Bill Van Den Dool opened Bacchus, a seriously intelligent wine shop. Four years later, Bacchus had moved to the other side of the railroad tracks, and Van Den Dool had built The Black Tulip. Bacchus shut its doors last November and is being renovated to become an additional dining area with a wine-tasting room.
Bacchus was among the first stores to revitalize Midway's Main Street district. The shop established its reputation on a formidable stock of reasonably priced wines not available elsewhere — I still remember the New York state Rkatsiteli — and oenophiles in Lexington thought nothing of driving the distance to Midway to see and buy what was on the shelves.
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“I always look for wine that is affordable, tastes good and that I can get a stock of,” Van Den Dool said. That last is sometimes a challenge; it's one thing to have the odd bottle in the retail business and quite another to develop a menu in concert with too many strays.
One solution was to conceptualize a dedicated quaffing section at The Black Tulip where food is available but not the main focus. So a bar was added. The bar seats about eight, giving a cozy feel, and having those seats face away from the dining area further suggests privacy. Perfectly muted lighting warms things up while you're enjoying special wine. It's a good formula: smaller and cozier, added to warmth and intimacy, automatically equal romantic.
The bar's success is a credit to three people.
Van Den Dool gets kudos for his collection of jazz CDs that set the mood — doesn't music make the place? — and his wife, Deborah, gets credit for adding the love, the warm cranberry- colored walls, the glass and mirrors that reflect candlelight from nearby tables, and the minimalist brushed-chrome racks displaying the many bottles. She is modest about her contribution.
“I wanted it warm and comfortable,” she said. “The red was a color that I had custom-mixed. I already had the oriental rugs and actually used them to soften the noise. Many people see a European influence to the interior, and although it wasn't intended, we do have family living in the Netherlands.”
Summer Cooper, the general manager, who does a bit of everything, plays a vital role in The Black Tulip's wine selection.
“We have responded to customer demands for a broader spectrum of varietal differences in tastes, growing regions and price points,” she said. “Bill and I constantly work on improving the palates of our clientele with wine varietals from different parts of the world, such as torrontes from Argentina. We are always looking for a new addition to our list that displays a beautiful wine of good value that we can pass along to our guests.”
Seventeen wines are available by the glass. The whites progress from a light German sparkling wine to an Italian pinot grigio to a couple of bold Napa chardonnays. The reds, too, move from California and Chilean pinot noirs to an Argentine malbec (seemingly everyone's current love interest) to heavier-bodied cabernet sauvignons from Napa.
If a romantic occasion calls for a bottle, the list has three pages of choices from all the right places: pinot gris from Oregon, sauvignon blanc from New Zealand, pinot noir from Oregon and California, about 10 Bordeaux and lots of Australian and West Coast reds. What is especially considerate is that, within varietal category, the bottles are ordered by price, from the most to least expensive, making value-seeking quick and discreet.
Beer, the other bubbly, is available on tap and in bottles from the United States, United Kingdom and, of course, Holland, tulip capital of the world.