When was the last time you sipped a good Sauvignon Gris or Moschofilero? Never, you say? With his new Mount Vernon Square wine bar, Latif Guler, owner of Agora in Dupont Circle, aims to change that. He has charged GM Thierry Lesparre and sommelier Edgar Salinas with putting together the list of lesser-known varietals that currently includes 300 bottles and 46 by-the-glass options. Lesparre says he plans to grow his stock to more than 800 bottles, including wines from China, Slovenia, and Moldova.
Tales of the Cocktail--the spirits bacchanal held each July in New Orleans--announced the finalists for its Spirited Awards last night. The awards honor bartenders, bars, and cocktail writing around the country and the world.
American Bartender of the Year is always among the most anticipated honors, so it's very exciting Washington's Derek Brown--owner of the Passenger and the Columbia Room--is a contender. He's up against some heavy hitters: Portland's Jeffrey Morgenthaler, Jamie Boudreau from Seattle, and LA's Vincenzo Marianella are all well-known names among the cocktail-erati.
Brown's Columbia Room, often overseen by talented 'tendress Katie Nelson, is a contender for Best American Cocktail Bar. The 7th Street lounge also made it to the James Beard semifinals this year, and again finds itself up against some stiff New York and LA competition. San Francisco's beloved Bourbon & Branch is in the running, as is the much-lauded Anvil in Houston. In the Best Cocktail Writing--Author category, the Washington Post's Jason Wilson will take on libation luminary David Wondrich along with the Atlantic's Wayne Curtis, who happens to live in New Orleans.
Winners of the Spirited Awards will be announced during a ceremony on Saturday, July 28. Don't forget to cheer on your local sons.
By Jessica Voelker
This weekend, as Washington's heavy hitters sipped some of the world's most expensive wines at the Heart's Delight auction, the next generation of drinkers were descending upon DAR Hall for Wine Riot.
Created in 2008 by a company called Second Glass, the event tours cities throughout the US and offers classes and tastings geared toward a younger set of vino swillers: Think deejays, temporary tattoos, and youth-geared company jargon like "brain juice," "die-hard experts," and "killer soundtrack." Event-goers took advantage of Second Glass's smartly devised smartphone app designed to help them tackle the trickiest part about trying hundreds of wines in one afternoon/evening: remembering what you drank. A photo booth--that must-have amenity of any Millenial-minded event--helped safeguard more memories from the vino fog.
Head to the slideshow to relive the riot.
Derby Day falls on Cinco de Mayo this year. We've already rounded up a bunch of Cinco-related bar happenings; below you'll find some of the bars offerings specials and such in honor of the race. Below that: some ideas for derby-themed parties, in case you're pondering a last-minute shindig.
The Derby Day party at the St. Regis begins at 3 PM on Saturday. Watch the race while you sip mint juleps or an original cocktail by wine director Brent Knoll--he's created a bacon-rye Bloody Mary and a ginger Old Fashioned for the occasion. (Side note: You can also get a damn fine mint julep at the lounge at Bourbon Steak). Wear the best hat, win a free drink. Predict the winning horse, win a complimentary dessert. Predict the second-place horse, win a free cocktail. And here's the kicker: predict the first-, second-, and third-place horses in the exact order they win--the so-called "trifecta"--and you'll get dinner for two at Adour.
Meanwhile, at the Willard Hotel's Round Robin bar, a $75 entrance fee buys you access to the Bonnets and Bowties Kentucky Derby Bash. The event goes from 3 to 8 PM. In addition to specialty cocktails--including juleps made using Henry Clay's original recipe, meaning there's water added--there's a Southern buffet and a chance to win prizes. For $700 you can reserve a private ten-person table. Reserve by calling 202-637-7350.
Want to watch the Caps game with the Rogue 24 folks? They're reliving all the taco and hot dog glory from the Sweetlife Festival (check out the food porn here) tonight in Blagden Alley outside the restaurant. Enjoy the same "haute" dogs and carnitas tacos they served at the festival (now $6 each instead of the jacked-up venue pricing of $10). You bring a plate, a chair, and whatever you want to drink. Contact the restaurant for more details.
They use us, then they lose us. This weekend, A- (also B-, C-, and D-) list celebrities will descend upon our fair city in droves for the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner and related parties, then disappear as quickly as they arrived. Once the pretty people are gone, it's our hardworking locals who will have to roll up the red carpets and repolish the ice buckets. Steve Oshana--who recently took on the role of beverage director at the forthcoming Quench in Rockville--won't be clocking in this year to service the celebs. He says he had his fill of that last year, when he was in the employ of the Jefferson Hotel.
"I don't own a television and so I don't know who celebrities are," he explains. "Managers had to come by and tell me who was who." This fact handicapped him at the Jefferson--which, according to the beverage pro, has a very clear VIP policy when it comes to celebs: Drop everything for them. But that's easier said then done when you have a full bar and the room service attendant has the night off.
Here, Oshana's star-studded account* of his worst shift ever, which occurred on the eve of the White House Correspondents' Dinner in 2011.
By Jessica Voelker
A lot of restaurants opening around Washington claim they'll have a "craft cocktail program," but what that means exactly--beyond the fact that you'll be paying $10 and up for your drinks--varies from venue to venue. Quench, a new cocktail bar and eatery opening in Rockville, is aiming high: Newbie restaurateur Michael Holstein hired barman Steve Oshana--last seen at Elisir--to run the beverage program, and has purchased a Kold-Draft ice machine, an expensive apparatus that produces large cubes that melt slowly. Bitters, infusions, and fancy cocktail accoutrements like pâté de fruit, applewood-smoked cherries, and a black tea reduction will all be made in house. Oshana says each of the 41 mixers on the list will be made to order (a lot of bars "prebatch" their drinks prior to service, then just pour them as they go), and he's insisting that the staff use jiggers to measure ingredients, creating consistent drinks every time. "We want to be at the same level as the Gibson or the Columbia Room," says Oshana. "We can't afford to get it wrong."
On Thursday, March 29, Shirlington wine emporium the Curious Grape reopens officially with a new wine bar, retail shop, and private event space. "We wanted everything under one roof," says co-owner Suzanne McGrath, a trained pastry chef who serves as the Grape's general manager and will be making desserts. The retail section will continue to stay global in its selection, stocking the wines McGrath believes are the best values at their price points.
The Curious Grape will open with its winter menu, which includes dishes such as chicken thigh with cannellini bean stew and braised lamb shoulder (see the slideshow for pictures of the food). McGrath says she selected executive chef Eric McKamey--who has previously toiled at Passionfish and Local 16--in part for his versatility and willingness to toy with different styles and cuisines. In addition to the regular wine-bar menu, he'll be creating meals for special events. The Curious Grape will work with diners to put out meals focused on wine regions, varietals, etc., as well as events and classes that showcase its carefully curated cheese and chocolate inventory. Public wine tasting and pairing classes will also be offered in the back dining room.
What with all the craft distilleries popping up everywhere, new spirits enter the Washington market all the time. One notable newcomer is Angel's Envy bourbon, made by a legend--the longtime Brown-Forman distiller and all-around gentleman Lincoln Henderson. Angel's Envy has shown up on liquor store shelves all over town,* including those at Ace Beverage, Potomac Wine & Spirits, and Harry's Reserve Liquor. While it's not likely to replace your favorite sipping bourbon, it works well in a variety of bourbon cocktails--for advice on toying with Angel's Envy at home, I'd refer you to Jeff Faile over at Fiola.
Jamie MacBain has a pretty classy gig over at the lounge at Bourbon Steak, Michael Mina's restaurant in Georgetown's Four Seasons. Make that two classy gigs--he also does a weekly shift at the Passenger. In his younger years, however, he put in some time slinging beers to college kids in Worcester, Massachusetts. In honor of St. Patrick's Day this weekend, MacBain shared the story of his worst shift ever, which happened to go down on one of the drunkest days of the year.
"It was my first bartending job, and it was St. Patrick's Day. It was at this steakhouse, Cactus Pete's Steakhouse & Saloon. One side was a steakhouse and on the other side was a bar separated by swinging saloon doors. Worcester loves its St. Patrick's Day. The parade would go by the restaurant and we'd take out all the stools; all the bar tables would come out. We opened at 10 AM. So it's, like, 2 PM, and the parade has gone by already. We're packed, and we have police on the exit and entrance on either side. It's standing room only--some of the people have been there since 10. And this fight breaks out at my end of the bar.