Chef Edward Lee's Whiskey Dry coming to 4th Street Live

Whiskey Dry is the first Fourth Street Live venue showcasing a local chef and farm-to-table fare.

Jere Downs
Inspired by McDonald's Big Mac, the Ed Mac by Chef Edward Lee will be a burger featured at Whiskey Dry at Fourth Street Live.

Chef Edward Lee's latest restaurant venture brings locally-raised beef and passion for whiskey to Fourth Street Live! this spring.

Whiskey Dry will pair burgers and whiskey, poured straight or into effervescent cocktails, from a bar featuring 200 selections from around the globe. Preparing burgers, buns, ketchup, condiments and pickles from scratch, the restaurant is the first branded operation by a Louisville chef at the longtime, downtown tourist attraction.

"As bourbon takes over the world, I don't want the world to forget that we have incredible Irish, Japanese and Scotch and whiskeys," Lee said in an interview Wednesday. The new venue, publicly announced Thursday morning, will host around 70 seats and could open "as soon as April or as late as June."

Home to Food Network chef Guy Fieri's Smokehouse, the Hard Rock Cafe and other attractions that draw traffic from downtown visitors, tourists, and conventioneers, Fourth Street Live! needs an outlet, Lee said, "to represent Kentucky and the best of what we do."

Marksbury Farm and Foxhollow Farm will be among local producers tapped for quality, grass-fed, organic, ground beef, Lee added.  Like the seasonal, changing menus at 610 Magnolia and Milkwood, his other restaurants here, the burger selections will vary year round according to what local farmers are growing.

One burger already developed as a standard is the "Ed Mac," Lee's "playful" interpretation of a McDonald's Big Mac. In the Whiskey Dry rendition, a fried green tomato displaces the center bun of the fast food classic.  An iceburg lettuce slaw and thick Russian-style dressing echo the McDonald's predecessor.

"I don't think you can talk about burger culture and the history of the American burger and not talk about the Big Mac," Lee said. "I don't eat fast food now but we all grew up on Big Macs. It is all embedded in our taste memories."

Grilled burgers with complex, layered flavors of smoke, cheese, condiments, crunch and savor stand up best to the multitude of nuances inside a glass of whiskey, he added.  While beer's a classic burger partner, most are "too limited in flavor profile," Lee said.  Wine, he added, "just can't stand up to all the aggressive flavors."

"To me, the complexity of a good whiskey makes it the only drink able to stand shoulder to shoulder with a good burger," Lee said.

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Chef Edward Lee of 610 Magnolia & Milkwood announced a third restaurant, Whiskey Dry.

Veggie burgers will also be on the menu, a necessary Lee invention as the chef lamented Wednesday that he has "never had one that I liked."

"We are trying to bring fun to a burger concept," Lee said. "We are really excited to offer burger and whiskey pairing."

Lee's "whiskey bar for the next generation" will lean toward modern finishes and away from dark mahogany and leather-upholstered feel of classic saloons.

Both Lee and the Cordish Company, owner of Fourth Street Live, are investors in the restaurant. Unlike Fieri's Smokehouse, debuted last fall as the first of many Fieri BBQ eateries at Cordish downtown tourist attractions around the U.S., Lee warned his new venture is not envisioned as the beginnings of a chain.

"To me, this is an opportunity to do something at Fourth Street Live and Fourth Street Live only," Lee said. "I don't see it growing from there. I don't like to look at things like that. I focus on one thing at a time."

When Lee is not sampling hamburgers, he is trying to source American single malt, rye whiskeys and more offerings from "craft distilleries," to stock the bar at 412 S. Fourth Street.

"I know that locals have a strong opinion either way about Fourth Street Live!" he said. "From whatever perspective you have, there are a lot of people coming there and there will be more people when the convention center reopens. They are going to want some bourbon."

Jere Downs can be reached at (502) 582-4669, or Jere Downs on Facebook.