COLA Q+A with Kristian Niemi of Bourbon + Black Rooster

Kristian Niemi | Photo via Ashley Concannon

National Bourbon Day is happening on June 14 and to make sure all Soda Citizens are ready to sip and celebrate, we wanted to get to know the owner of Columbia’s Bourbon + Black Rooster a little better. Today we are sharing a recent Q+A with Kristian Niemi. For those who haven’t been to the cajun-inspired Bourbon restaurant or sat on the rooftop at Black Rooster — this is the man and mind behind these additions to Columbia’s culinary scene. 

Did you know that outside of the kitchen, he also plays ice hockey in the famously hot capital city + he was a Farsi linguist in the Army? We didn’t either — so keep sippin’ and find out what Kristian’s favorite drink to order is, who he’s watching locally, and what’s next.  

What’s your name, title, and 3-5 things you want people to know about you?

Kristian Niemi, Chief Dishwashing Officer of Bourbon and Black Rooster, Minister of Fun for F2T Productions
I was a Farsi linguist for the Army
I play ice hockey. Yes, IN Columbia, at Plex Sports. Join us!
I remember pet’s names but not people’s names. Seriously, I will forget your name, but I’ll remember your pet’s name. Don’t take it personally.

Convince a friend to move to Columbia in 15 words or less. Go.

Perfectly sized city with a small town feel.

What’s an improvement you’d like to see in Columbia?

LESS TRAIN TRAFFIC. I feel like I’ve been saying that since I moved here in ’93 and nothing has happened. Hello?? Is this thing on? Can anyone hear me?

What local dish do you crave + rave about? 

Spicy Chicken Tacos at Duke’s Pad Thai

What is your favorite dish to make yourself? 

Steak over an open fire

What do you hope Columbia is like in 10 years? 20 years?

More cosmopolitan, less stodgy. We sometimes seem to get in our own way and have let Greenville and Charleston bypass us.

How did your parents or parental figures influence you?

They taught me to have empathy towards all. You never know another person’s story, so don’t judge. They also told me it’s more important to remember pet names and not people names. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.

What 3 people (living or dead) would you invite to an imaginary dinner party?

This isn’t as easy as it seems when you are filling it with well known figures in history, which is the tact I’ll take here. You need to have a cohesive dinner party that isn’t just a mishmash of people you simply like. They need to be able to feed off one another. Sooooo…

Benjamin Franklin — He’s worldly, erudite, a lover of gastronomy, and quite cheeky. He’d fit into any group.

Anthony Bourdain — Simply one of my favorite human beings who is the patron saint of restaurant workers and an overall great conversationalist
Ernest Hemingway — His stories alone would keep us all enthralled. Of course I’d have to keep tabs on the booze.

Name 3-5 other local leaders/influencers/movers + shakers you’re watching.

Daniel Rickenmann — I’d love to see a restaurateur/businessman be the next mayor of Columbia.
Lindsay Cox — one of the most dynamic women in Columbia that only a few people know about…yet.
Emile DeFelice — quietly making Columbia a better place every week with the Soda City Market.
Vanessa Bialobreski — my business partner at F2T Productions who makes our amazing events come true.
My staff at both restaurants — their resilience and amazing presence through all of this past year is truly inspiring.

If you were taking someone on a tour around Columbia, where are the 3 places you’re going? 

Down the river on a kayak
Bike ride around downtown and surrounding areas
Drinks and food at Bourbon and Black Rooster

What’s something every new Soda Citizen oughta know about? 

The river. The River. THE RIVER.

You’re taking someone on a date in Columbia. Where are you going? 

Rooftop at Black Rooster.

Other than yourself, who would you consider to be the local expert about Columbia?

I don’t consider myself an expert. I still learn something new about Columbia every day.

You’re ordering a drink from Bourbon or Black Rooster. What’s in it?

I’m partial to the original Mai Tai created by Trader Vic back in the 40s.

You just expanded Bourbon’s Main Street location, what’s next?

TIKI WEEK at Bourbon!! June 17-July 3!

We all know Bourbon has 1 of the best bourbon collections in Columbia, what are your 3 favorites to recommend? 

Geez, that’s not easy. MY faves include Woodford Reserve, Booker’s, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, AND Wild Turkey 101 Rye.

How will you celebrate National Bourbon Day? 

Hold on now. Let’s not forget it is also National Strawberry Shortcake Day, so I’ll be sipping on some fine bourbon and inhaling plates of my favorite dessert.

Who should we interview next?

Michael Krajewski. My favorite Columbia artist!