- 161 Vester St., Ferndale, MI, 48220
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- 4:30-11 p.m. Wed.-Thurs., 4:30 p.m.-midnight Fri.-Sat.
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Status: Rifino Valentine hasn’t been in the spirits industry long, but the 40-year-old already has numerous accolades under his belt for his Valentine Vodka brand.
Valentine created the vodka three years ago after abandoning his 12-year Wall Street career in New York, and the departure from corporate America “was really refreshing,” he says.
Born and raised on a farm outside of Travese City, Valentine was an engineering major in college before joining the white collar workforce. After realizing that most of the vodka-based drinks he ordered from New York bars were made with imported spirits, Valentine began studying the art of vodka making and created Valentine Vodka.
“We’re targeting people who appreciate nice things, but not in the luxury aspect,” Rifino says describing the three-year-old brand which took home a gold and bronze medal in this year’s San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
The brand expanded in May to include a 5,000 square-foot Ferndale bar and distillery. Formerly a pool table manufacturing factory, the 1928 building began life as a lawn mower manufacturing plant.
The building was reconstructed using bricks from old local buildings, reclaimed windows and accent tables made from a Ferndale tree that was cut down. Valentine acquired the tree by trading the owner a few bottles of his vodka.
Gear: There is no dress code at Valentine Vodka, though the female wait staff evokes a pin-up girl style with their hair, lipstick, red Valentine Vodka shirts, black shorts and fishnet tights.
Mood: “This isn’t just a bar,” Valentine says. “This is an extension of the brand.” The 700-square-foot tasting room, which opened in May “gives people an opportunity to experience what Valentine Vodka is about."
A single brass chandelier accents a concrete floor, exposed duct work and an oversized martini glass hanging from the lofty ceiling above the entrance. Industrial-style windows in the 50-person tasting room open into the distillery in the back of the building.
The vodka company’s signature pin-up is painted on one of the concrete block walls and small pendant lights hang from above the bar.
Pick me up: General Manager Nick Brancaleone creates most of the recipes which include the Cucumber Chill (muddled cane sugar, lime and fresh mint topped with soda) and the Cadillac Shaker martini (Valentine Vodka shaken with Cadillac coffee and a dash of cream). Drinks average between $6 and $9.
There are no processed juices, and the vodka infusions are made with fresh fruits and herbs. Some, like the basil and mint, are grown on the property. Other items are purchased from local farmers markets.
“We only serve what we make here,” Valentine says.
The vodka is made in 150 gallon batches in the distillery behind the tasting room. Each bottle is filled and sealed by hand.
“You don’t have that hands-on approach with big name brands,” Valentine says. We don’t subscribe to the “Walmartization” of vodka. “It’s not about maximizing profits. It’s about doing things the right way.”
There’s no food other than prosciutto with mozzarella, tomato and basil skewers, but Valentine Vodka does encourage guests to order something from Como’s and have it delivered.
Happy hour runs Wednesday through Saturday from 4:30-6:30 p.m. and includes $3 off drinks.
Entertainment: Valentine Vodka rents space for events and offers free tours of the distillery and private tastings for groups of 10 or more. There is no traditional entertainment like televisions, pool tables or a DJ, but according to Valentine, “great cocktails make great conversation.”