BEST OF DAYTON: The Century, downtown Dayton’s oldest bar, takes pride in drinks, education

The Century, located at 18 S. Jefferson St., not only serves great drinks, but their staff is very knowledgeable of what they’re serving — resulting in a first place win for Best Bar/Lounge in our 2023 Best of Dayton contest.

The bar is downtown Dayton’s oldest bar, dating back to 1942 under its current name, but the history of having a bar on S. Jefferson St. dates back even before then.

Frank Steffen is said to have purchased the famous back bar you see at the bar today around 1924 for Steffen’s, male-only “coffee shop” that opened in The Century’s previous space three years after the Great Dayton Flood of 1913. The back bar was constructed in 1862 and had been in Gibson’s Hotel in Cincinnati.

Credit: Sarah Babcock

Credit: Sarah Babcock

In the 1890s, Kette & Sons Rye Whiskey Distillery was established in the bar’s previous space and lasted until the flood.

“Everyone has a story of when they first started drinking here or having food with their families,” said general manager Kelli Nikanowicz. “We have a lot of people who come in with their grandparents.”

The people of Dayton is one of the reasons why The Century continues to be recognized decades later.

“Dayton has had our back for so long and they will tell everyone they know about it. They are so proud to talk about it outside of town or with their family or friends,” Nikanowicz said. “We’re very appreciative of that.”

Back in the day, The Century was a classic dive bar with darts, pool and a jukebox on the wall. Today, the bar is known for its selection of over 850 whiskeys. The bar is primarily known for its bourbon selection, but Nikanowicz said they have much more to offer.

Walking into the bar can be overwhelming with such a wide selection, but The Century has a team of well-trained bartenders ready to help guests find their favorites.

Credit: Sarah Babcock

Credit: Sarah Babcock

Before someone becomes a bartender at The Century, they go through a six-month to one-year apprenticeship where they learn everything from flavor profiles to history of the industry.

“We want our recommendations to be on point with what you’re asking us. We want to be able to educate you,” Nikanowicz said. “It’s not just about the whiskey and pouring it — anyone can do that. This is about the history that comes with it and trying to navigate you through it as well.”

The Century’s team also has a lot of fun creating their cocktail menus. Each person gets an ingredient to use or draw inspiration from and then they must come up with a drink and present it at a staff meeting.

Nikanowicz said by doing this “there’s something for everybody,” because you have employees with 15 years of experience to new apprentices presenting cocktail ideas.

In 2020, The Century moved from 10 S. Jefferson St. to 18 S. Jefferson St., allowing owners Diane Spitzig and Joe Head to triple the size of their space. They have an event space on the second floor.

Credit: Sarah Babcock

Credit: Sarah Babcock

Nikanowicz said the bar is often described as having speakeasy vibes, but she says it is open to everyone.

“I want it to be your local downtown drinking hole, where you want to go to hang with your friends and meet people,” Nikanowicz said.

The Century will celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month throughout September with special events.

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