Eight days after the Rye Bar opened in Georgetown’s luxe new Capella Hotel, it sold out of its barrel-aged Manhattan. That was likely due in part to the cocktail’s star turn in the press—the $22 price tag transfixed local food journalists, this one included.
Why so spendy? Capella’s Will Rentschler, the drink’s creator, says the Capella team figured that’s what it would cost to turn a profit on the mixture of Pennsylvania-based Dad’s Hat rye whiskey, Dolin sweet vermouth, and Byrrh quinquina—a French aperitif—aged in a 15-gallon American oak barrel. Rentschler cites the high-end ingredients and the six-week aging period as factors that push up the price. Poured from a glass decanter behind the bar, each three-ounce portion gets a hit of house-made orange bitters and an orange peel garnish. Rentschler forgoes the traditional cherry garnish since he says the drink gets plenty of cherry flavor from the wine-based Byrrh.
Friday night’s DC Toasts event—part of the global imbibing bacchanalia known as World Cocktail Week—celebrated Washington’s historical African-American bartenders with an extraordinary evening of killer cocktails and great music.
Bartenders, including Frankie Jones (the Gibson), Patrick Sudler (Renaissance), Todd Thrasher (PX), Jon Harris (Firefly), and Adam Bernbach (Proof, Estadio, 2 Birds, 1 Stone), poured cocktails for about 300 guests at the Howard Theatre—gathered there to honor the black mixologists who mixed drinks at Washington bars of yore.
What is the local connection to the massively hyped new film adaptation of The Great Gatsby? Well, as arts editor Sophie Gilbert points out, F. Scott Fitzgerald is buried in Rockville.
But wait, there’s more! Did you know that the rickey—the official cocktail of our city—gets name-checked in the seminal American novel? It happens in chapter seven, during a lunch scene chez Tom and Daisy Buchanan. The book's protagonists consume the cocktail—gin-based in the novel, though the lime-centric long drink can be made with a number of base spirits—in “long, greedy swallows.” Washington’s connection to the rickey? It was apparently invented here.
So if you are a Washingtonian, and entranced by the film event that has the entire nation locked in its glittery grasp, you may as well mix yourself a rickey posthaste. After the jump, a recipe that uses Green Hat gin from New Columbia Distillers in Northeast DC. It comes courtesy of Derek Brown, the man responsible for rediscovering our rickey-rich history.
By sheer coincidence of the calendar, Cinco de Mayo happens to fall on a Sunday Funday this year. In años past, we’ve focused on special deals honoring the occasion, but this time around, we’re letting our pals at After Hours take care of that, opting instead to outfit you with a list of very good tequila-based drinks appearing on lists at our favorite bars.
Some riff directly on the classic margarita cocktail—a combination of tequila, triple sec, simple syrup (or agave nectar), and lime—while others resemble the ’rita less. Don’t get hung up on technicalities—they’re all going to make you happy, and, consumed voraciously enough, hungover on Monday. Hey, no one ever said Seis de Mayo was a day designed for celebration.
Fans of the bar offerings at Graffiato are likely looking forward to the libations at Kapnos (2201 14th Street, Northwest), the forthcoming Mike Isabella restaurant at which diners will chow down on meat from whole beasts spinning on spits. We sat down with Isabella and bar manager Taha Ismail to learn all about what you’ll be sipping at the restaurant, due to debut at 14th and W streets, Northwest, this summer.
Lemonades on tap
Isabella has a history with kegged drinks. The Prosecco on tap at Graffiato drew lots of attention when that restaurant first opened. Then came the on-tap margarita at Bandolero. At Kapnos, Ismail keeps the keg theme going with on-tap lemonade cocktails with spirits and fresh fruit and herbs, including one made with juice from a grilled lemon.
As you’ll recall, when Isabella opened Bandolero, he narrowly beat the Columbia Heights spot El Chucho to become the first place in town with an on-tap ’rita. On the grilled fruit juice in cocktails front, however, he may get smoked by the about-to-open Del Campo, another restaurant focusing on grilled meats, albeit the grilled meats of South America as opposed to Northern Greece and Turkey.
Lemonade flavors will change often—some even weekly. Look out for a watermelon lemonade when the restaurant opens. Refer to them as Mike’s Hard Lemonades if you like, though the servers probably won’t find that funny after the hundredth time it happens.
Greek wines on tap
You'll pick from three tap wines at Kapnos—sparkling, rosé, and white—sourced from Greek wineries that Isabella and Ismail toured during a trip to the region. There will be about 25 additional by-the-glass offerings.
Update: We have learned that the award mentioned below, dubbed the D'USSÉ Tom Bullock Award for Distinguished Service, will go to Ann Tuennerman, founder of Tales of the Cocktail. Held each July in New Orleans, the hugely influential conference brings together bartenders, liquor reps, drink writers, and other spirit-minded people for five days of seminars and parties and such.
Mixology is a word that’s easy to hate—or at least easy to hate-use, employed sarcastically after enduring snotty treatment at a cocktail bar, for instance. The fact that it has been co-opted as a public relations buzz term does it no favors. Today so many restaurants, from corporate chains to startup corner bistros, describe alcoholic offerings as “mixology programs.” It’s no longer just pretentious—it’s meaningless.
But the utility of a word ebbs and flows. In the early- to mid-aughts, “mixology”—coined in an 1856 Knickerbocker magazine article—helped bartenders reclaim pride in their profession. Their parents may see “bartender” as a dead-end gig, but “mixologist” could be a career choice. (Though anecdotal evidence suggests baby boomers remain wary of the vocation, fancy neologism or not.) And for a group of 19th-century black bartenders in Washington, the term represented an opportunity to band together and use their profession to get ahead in a world that offered little outside opportunity.
Cocktail historian and Esquire contributor David Wondrich says an interest in understanding bartending history outside the contributions of “mustachioed white guys” led him to discover the Black Mixology Club, a group of pre-Prohibition African-American barmen who formed a club to support one another and—since these are bartenders we’re talking about—throw big parties. Other than Tom Bullock, who in 1917 became the first black bartender to publish a cocktail book, Wondrich knew little about early African-American bartenders when he started. (Odd factoid: That work, titled The Ideal Bartender, features a foreword by the grandfather of George Herbert Walker Bush.)
Records of black bartenders popped up here and there in cities such as Cincinnati, but Wondrich discovered they were more common in the South—particularly in Washington and Richmond, Virginia. Source material about the Mixology Club is scant, but Wondrich found some documentation in papers like the defunct Washington Bee. “The white press saw them as a curiosity,” he says. Sadly, reporters were seldom curious enough to publish recipes, though Wondrich believes elaborate garnishes may have been a trademark of the era’s black bartenders.
When attending a Passover Seder, we like the idea of bringing a kosher wine to the party so our kosher-keeping friends can partake. However, by reputation many kosher wines aren’t among the tastiest. To help us find some good options, we hit up the obliging Michael Dumas, a serious vino geek to whom this blogger regularly turns for excellent value-driven bottle selections. Dumas can be found assisting customers at Cleveland Park Wines, a neighborhood wine shop that stocks a lot of good cocktail stuff, too—Dolin vermouth, Fever-Tree tonics, Scrappy’s Bitters, and the like.
Here are Dumas’s choices for kosher bottles. Handily, he also offers advice on which wines pair well with traditional Passover dishes such as maror (bitter herbs), charoset (apple-walnut relish), karpas (green leafy vegetables), beitzah (hardboiled egg), and zeroah (roasted lamb shanks).
The big value:
“There is a good, inexpensive brand from Chile—Terra Vega—that is kosher. Terra Vega has a whole line of affordable Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Carménère that sell for $8.99 each. Out of those, my favorite is the Sauvignon Blanc; it has good acidity, good minerality, and a nice fruity mid-palate followed by a slightly spicy, clean, crisp finish perfect for cheeses, grilled chicken, or fish and light salads. Out of the red, I like the Carménère—a light body red wine with nice dark-berry aromas, soft tannins, and a spicy finish that is easy to pair with a variety of foods and is really good with roasted lamb dishes.”
When it came time to chose a new beverage manager, however, owner Roger Marmet looked closer to home. Matthew Fisk (not to be confused with Columbia Room bartender Matt Ficke), a sommelier and staff trainer at the restaurant, is taking over the cocktail program following Joshua Berner’s move to the Kimpton-run modern Asian spot Zentan. Fisk will also continue to do wine things alongside general manager Danny Fisher, who hired him in the first place.
Bar manager Adam Bernbach is featuring spins on three classic drinks. First up on the 6th: the Manhattan (classic recipe: whiskey, vermouth, bitters). On the 13th, the focus will be on the daiquiri (rum, sugar, lime). Finally, on January 27, try variations on a whiskey sour (whiskey, sugar, lemon). Why those three drinks? They “are amongst my favorite cocktails,” the bartender told us, “and I’ve thought quite a bit about them throughout the years, tweaking them to various tastes.”
On each of the three Sundays, Bernbach’s creations will be on offer from 6:30 to 9:30 in the bar and lounge only and will cost between $11 and $14. The Manhattan options are: Eagle Rare Bourbon and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino with Angostura Bitters; Old Overholt Rye and Dolin Rouge with Peychaud’s and Angostura bitters; Templeton Rye and Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth with Regans’ Orange and Angostura; and Bulleit Rye and Cocchi Vermouth di Torino with Angostura bitters and a dash of Fernet Branca.
Daiquiris will feature El Dorado Three Year Cask Aged Rum and Rhum Neisson ESB (the ESB stands for élevé sous bois, a reference to the 18 months the Martinique-made spirit marinates in new French oak barrels). No specifics about those whiskey sours yet, though, says Bernbach, “some will, of course, include egg.” (When an egg white gets whisked into a whiskey sour, it is often then called a Boston sour). If you haven’t yet tried an eggy cocktail, we can think of a lot worse places to start than across the bar from Bernbach.
Bosses, if all of your employees call in sick on Thursday, December 6, here’s why: In celebration of Repeal Day—that is, the anniversary of the date on which we did away with the 18th Amendment and made alcohol legal once more—Firefly bar manager Jon Harris has designed a special menu featuring $10 cocktails all evening on Wednesday, December 5.
The cocktails are all themed around our nation’s dark era under the Volstead Act. So for instance the 12 Miles Out—from the famous Savoy Cocktail Book—refers to the fact that 12 miles away from American shores, Volstead was void. The rye-based scofflaw, meanwhile, references a slang term for a person who flagrantly disobeyed the law and drank liquor anyway. (So, you know, everybody.)