Upon passing through the discreet, iron-clad back entrance of historic Belmont’s old jailhouse, you’re immediately transported back to the 1960s, a time when this vintage landmark once held the town’s unruly. Adorned with its original barred windows, prison cell doors, and Edison bulb fixtures, the building’s past as a temporary holding site for the city remains unmistakably evident after its recent renovation.
In 2016, the owners of neighboring Old Stone Steakhouse (which, back in the day, held the Belmont Police Department) began the careful steps toward bringing the out-of-date jailhouse building back to life to become its sister concept—one that delivers an upscale spirits and lounge experience for those of the growing community. Today, the structure is the proud home of Belmont’s very first whiskey and cigar bar, appropriately named none other than ‘The Jailhouse.’
Since its opening just this past April, patrons are free to sip, smoke, and socialize alongside the authentic remnants that pay homage to the site’s former purpose, taking customers on a true journey of what jail felt like back in the day.
“It’s the feeling you get when you walk in the building that makes The Jailhouse truly unique,” shares General Manager Giannis Koutsoupias. “The atmosphere we have here is by design to give you a tailored experience, with a touch of the prohibition era and some modern day flare. It is almost an oxymoron for effects, by giving you all the luxuries you could never have in real jail.”
We recommend exploring each and every aspect, from top to bottom, of this establishment’s creative layout during your visit, starting first by bailing out your thirst on the third floor. Two worn-in leather armchairs and a cell door overlooking downtown Main Street set the tone as you round the bend of the upstairs landing. You’re immediately met with an eye-catching backdrop of jail bars, intact from their original cell composition, hosting glass shelves stocked to the ceiling with The Jailhouse’s extensive liquor collection. An industrial stainless steel bar top lined with classy leather stools puts you face to face with rows upon rows of rare whiskey offerings, as well as access to one-of-a-kind craft cocktails, 20 beer taps, and over 190 bottles of wine. Whiskey flights are also up for grabs starting at $12 for those that want to test out their taste preferences, from Irish options to Tennessee favorites.
Since whiskey is obviously The Jailhouse’s specialty, we suggest giving one of the tasty bourbon concoctions a try when it comes to your initial pick-me-up, and you can find everything from an easy drinking blend like the “Fastest Two Minutes” to a stiff, slow sipper like the “Midnight Express,” the staff’s take on an Old Fashioned that’s smoked with hickory wood chips by way of an impressive tableside display. Prefer gin or vodka? There are some great signature options for you too, or of course, and you’re always more than welcome to ask the bartenders to mix you up one of the classics.
Now that you’re set with a refreshment, post up for the remainder of the evening in one of the custom-created crescent booths in direct view of the beautiful bar, or head to the concealed room around the corner containing (yes, real) wall carvings from former inmates and the original construction blueprints. The aged walls in this room were purposely kept preserved to offer customers further insight into Belmont’s chronicles, and the ultimate appeal of the smaller space makes it the perfect alcove to gather with friends or stretch out in peaceful solitude to watch a round of golf.
When it comes to choices, you’re surely not in for limitation here, and the cigar selection is no exception. To the right side of the bar, you’ll find where old cell blocks have been converted into a walk-in humidor complete with beautiful cedar siding and approximately 90 different facings.
Inside, customers can peruse cigars up for purchase from around the world, including exclusive brands such as Nick Syris’ Lavida Habana Cigars and Scott Weeks’ Recluse Cigars. In all offerings, blends can be found ranging from Connecticut shade mild and medium bodied cigars to Maduro full bodied for varying personal preferences.
Koutsoupias encourages all customers to let him know their wants and likes, as well as ask questions about anything they may have seen or don’t know about. “As a cigar smoker, I have taken a lot of pride in hand selecting what goes into our humidor,” he explains. “I want to be able to know and understand all of my customers’ cigar profiles, and if I don’t have the specific cigar you are asking about, I am confident I can introduce you to something similar.”
Before long, you’ll find yourself stick in hand, seeking sentence downstairs among oversized arm chairs, wine barrel accent tables, and intimate lounge seating. The enclosed, speak-easy inspired cigar lounge is the ideal place to kick back and unwind, whether it be for some solo relaxation or alongside fellow patrons for a cigar lesson from cigar virtuoso Koutsoupias himself.
From tasting events to pairing suggestions and etiquette advice, the cigar experience at The Jailhouse is modified to match each individual, whether you’re a first-time smoker or experienced aficionado. The goal here is to not only have customers enjoying a smoke, but also introduce them to new horizons and offer up a new appreciation for all things related.
If you’re not into cigars or the scent they carry, you’ll be happy to know that there’s no concern for lingering effects. The Jailhouse founders recognize that it’s not for everyone and have specifically designed the space with this in mind. The separate smoking lounge utilizes a high-end filtration system to ensure that no smoke escapes to other levels of the bar, so those who wish to distance themselves have no issue doing so.
With all it has to offer, just don’t be surprised if you lose track of time within these concrete confines. Luckily, when you do, the Old Stone staff has your hunger covered with a special bar bites menu available for delivery from next door. You’ll find made-from-scratch small plates like the braised short rib sliders topped with goat cheese and arugula, or the salmon vegetable spring rolls with lemon dill aioli up for grabs that are perfect for pairing with your craft brews.
Since there is no kitchen actually on site, The Jailhouse is considered a private club by ABC regulations. An annual membership is $12, and after initial entry, future visits are made easy with an entryway iPad that checks you in by phone number. Plus, it’s not just leisure The Jailhouse membership is good for—with multiple wireless networks and the aforementioned relaxed seating, the lounge welcomes visitors to make the space their home away from home any given day of the week. Opening at noon, the inviting atmosphere makes for a quiet, ideal workspace for those work-from-home days, plus an espresso machine offers up all the energy you need to feel productive.
The Jailhouse has already proven a welcomed addition to the greater Charlotte scene, and only further adds to the small-town charm for which Belmont is so fondly known. The tie to the community is detectable from the moment you walk in the door to the time you leave for the night. (In fact, don’t be surprised if the staff knows your name and your favorite drink after just a few visits.) From the extra steps the manager puts in to making sure you’re educated on what you’ll enjoy most, to the advice from bartenders on which whiskey glasses present the most flavor for your palate, you’ll find the answers within these legendary walls. So whiskey drinkers, wine lovers, and everyone in between, the team welcomes you to come on in to “sip, smoke, relax, and enjoy ‘The Good Life’.”