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Belly Up: Kim Moffatt of the Reef

Belly Up interviews our favorite bartenders around town. This week, it's the charming Kim Moffatt of the Reef. Got a bartender you think we should interview? Email candrews at

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In photographs, Kim Moffatt appears to be barely at the cusp of adulthood. Her eyes sparkle with a gleeful mischief more characteristic of a collegiate undergrad than of a seasoned bartender. Her voice is so warm and sweet, it calls to mind a batch of freshly baked chocolate-chip cookies. Not that 28-year-old Moffat, who does double duty as bartender and pastry chef at the Reef (2446 18th St., NW; 202-518-3800), would like the comparison. “I don’t like making cookies,” she confesses. “I love eating them and they’re easy to make, but I hate baking them.” What’s her problem with cookies? “Christmas comes around and you know you have to bake 50 dozen cookies because you’re ‘the baker.’ ” Fair enough.

At the Adams Morgan bar where she serves drinks to rowdy weekend crowds of twentysomethings, patrons and coworkers call Moffatt “Kim Kimmers,” and she’s got her very own Facebook fan group. The group, Moffatt clarifies, is something of a joke among her close friends, but with her infectious personality and killer looks, it’s no wonder this Atlanta native has won a steady stream of followers.

How long have you been working at the Reef?

Four and a half years—so a long time. I waited tables and worked my way up to bartending. It took three years to get behind the bar because pretty much someone has to die or quit in order for you to get to bartend. I like it; it’s good. I’m not planning on going anywhere else.

When did you start working as the pastry chef?

That’s just been recent. The girl who was the pastry chef here quit, and the chef asked me if I wanted to do it. I’ve been baking forever and I go to culinary school, so it was just a good way to keep in practice. Eventually I want to own my own bakery and then a patisserie where you come in, have good wine and beer, and eat fabulous desserts.

What’s it like working at the Reef?

It’s nice because we’re all a big family—there’s like 50 people who work here. I don’t really have outside friends anymore, so if I’m going out, it’s with these guys. I think I have three friends who don’t work here. Normally, I don’t have anytime to go out or do anything, so say it’s 4 AM on a Saturday morning, who else are you going to hang out with? If I had to leave, not seeing these people would make me sad.

What’s the crowd like?

Sunday through Wednesday, it’s definitely a lot of regulars. We have a lot of neighborhood people, and the atmosphere is pretty relaxed. When football is on, we’ll sit around and watch the game. The weekend is a whole other story: At 10 PM, we’re usually starting to get really crazy and it’s everybody—21-year-olds to 50-year-olds, but it mainly seems to be the 21-to-26-year-old crowd on the weekends. It’s fun, too. Just a different type of fun.

Do you have any funny stories from your time behind the bar?

Well, speaking of the weekends and how it’s turned into a younger crowd, I had a girl come in just a couple of weeks ago and she goes, just like this [Moffat changes her voice to a very high, annoying pitch]: “I’ll have a SoCo lime.” So I make it and give it to her and she goes, “Thanks, bitch.” I just stood there, thinking, “Who are you?” Does she think she’s Paris Hilton or was she just being rude? I don’t know, but now we all have begun to say, “Thanks, bitch,” among ourselves.

There’s a lot of really ridiculous drunk stories. But on a nicer note, people tip really well here, and the crowd is usually pretty well behaved.

What’s the beer selection like?

It’s pretty amazing. We have 14 different beers on tap. We have no bottled beers, and that’s because of environmental issues. We’ve got your standards, which are always going to be there: Bud Light or Miller Lite. Then we’ve got some cheaper beers like PBR or High Life. We always have Yuengling—which is a Northeastern staple—and we also have a lot of Belgian beers, which are pretty amazing. We have Chimay on tap, which a lot of places don’t have. We also have De Koninck, an awesome Belgian ale. Right now we have the De Koninck winter.

It changes every month. If it’s warm out, we’ll have a lot of Hefeweizen on tap. Paulaner is one that we get. We do a lot of smaller brands, like Allagash. The owner of Allagash likes to come in and have “beer dinners,” which is awesome because he’ll bring in beers that you can’t really find and our chef will make a bunch of food and everyone sits around and learns about the different beers. You go into it thinking you’re going to have a nice, fancy dinner, but at the very end we’re all doing kegstands. It turns into one of those programs.

Are you a beer or liquor kind of gal?

I’m a liquor gal. My favorite drink is a mint julep, hands down. I make the best mint juleps ever. I just have a magic touch when it comes to sweet stuff. Actually, I put a little too much sugar in it, which gives me a racing heart, and combined with bourbon . . . .

I also love Patron, Jameson, Grand Marnier. I’m starting to get into bourbon more. I used to not like it at all. I had an incident when I was a child—well, not a child, but I was 16 and had too much. So I cleared away from it. Being at a bar, though, you don’t have time to mix up drinks, so the drinks of choice are GM or Jameson.

Walk me through your schedule.

I’m in the kitchen one day a week. I usually come in at 8:30 in the morning on Thursday and stay until I’m done making enough pastries and desserts for the week. Fridays and Saturdays I bartend—usually 12-hour shifts—and then Sunday I’m off. Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, I’m at school all day, from 11:30 to around 7. So just keeping really busy, but it’s good. It’s nice that I can come here and actually use my education, which I didn’t use as an undergrad.

Where can people find you when you’re not at the Reef or at culinary school?

If I have a Friday night off, I’ll go to DC9 for Liberation Dance Party, which is awesome. I am a dancer—I am a dance champion. That’s another thing: If you see me behind the bar, I’m always dancing. It makes me happy. I’m not good at all; however, it used to be you had to look good while dancing, but when you get into your late twenties, you don’t care about that anymore. It’s just about having fun. You can be an idiot.

I love Pharmacy Bar. It’s a pretty safe, good place to be. I used to go to Asylum a lot. I don’t really go there as much as I used to. I love the Black Cat, but I don’t get down there as much, either. Pretty much, if I’m off and there’s a dance party, I’m going to go to that.

Which do you enjoy more, bartending or baking?

They are completely different. When I bake, I come in so early that there’s no one else here, so it’s my time—which is what I like about baking in the first place. You’re doing your own thing and mostly keeping to yourself—making people happy without having to talk to them. Whereas with bartending you pretty much have to make everybody happy at every second. Your coworkers, the customers, or whomever. But I do like interacting with people. It’s fun getting to talk about your experiences, whereas baking is more therapeutic.

Do you listen to music while you’re baking?

Yes. Music is actually a really big part of my life. Anywhere I go, I put on my headphones, or sometimes on a Friday night here I get to play my music.

What type of music do you listen to?

I listen to a lot of everything. There’s a local band, Cast of Cohorts, that I like. I’m friends with a couple of the guys and really enjoy their music. I love old Metallica, Brazilian Girls—everything from country to death metal. It really ranges.

Is this the type of music you play on Fridays?

I like to incorporate everything. I put in a lot of the jams, which makes everyone comfortable. You’ll hear Brazilian Girls and then you’ll hear Britney or Wu-Tang Clan thrown in there. It makes everybody happy, and it makes me happy. I think that when you’re listening to music you really like, and it’s loud, it helps you get through the night with a more positive attitude.

What’s your favorite thing to bake?

I make one hell of a cheesecake. They’re pretty easy to make, but for some reason I make really good cheesecakes. We have a bread pudding on the menu, and I like making that because it’s easy and it’s fabulous—you can’t mess it up. You do it, it’s done, it’s great. I also like soufflés, and I made sour-cream donuts the other day.

The reason I bake is because it’s something that I can do that people are going to appreciate, but I also find it really challenging. Today I had an off day—the top of my cake fell off, and then I burned the sauce—but even when aggravated I can still find it challenging.

Do you have a secret ingredient?

I always use vanilla. I like using vanilla bean, which is just a richer flavor. Also, anytime I put nuts in stuff. I love nuts. [Moffatt pauses and then laughs.] “I love nuts”—that should go over well.

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