Meet the Bartender Brothers Who Are Dominating Shaw

Tom and Derek Brown let us in on their favorite—and least favorite—things about the cocktail world.

Tom and Derek Brown. Photograph by Jeff Elkins

Bartender brothers Tom and Derek Brown, who grew up in Olney, are behind two of the year’s most exciting drinking spots. In January, Tom opened the Deco-cool Left Door in the 14th Street corridor. A month later, Derek revived the bar that was once DC’s most serious cocktail destination—Columbia Room—in a leather-and-gilt Shaw space three times the size of the original. We talked with them about mind erasers, hangover cures, and a whole lot in between.

best cocktails in washington; Columbia Room, Tom and Derek Brown
The arsenal of flavorings at Columbia Room. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Tom Brown

Age: 46.

Education: Sherwood High School. “I showed up for the first three days.”

Now lives in: Brookland.

First bartending job: Phineas Prime Rib in Rockville.

Career stops: Corduroy, Cork Wine Bar, Hogo, and the Passenger.

Other projects: Working on reopening the Passenger in Shaw later this year.

Tom and Derek Brown
The Passenger’s Michelada cocktail: beer, hot sauce, black pepper, salt, and lime. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Drink he’s best known for: Manhattan.

First drink he learned to make: Singapore sling.

Favorite spirit: Whiskey.

Post-shift drink of choice: A shot and a beer.

Drink he secretly loves: Champagne.

Favorite local spirit: Catoctin Creek brandies.

Feelings about vodka: “My problem is I never count it on my drink tally, so I always end up wasted. I try to avoid it.”

Favorite drink trend: “Armagnac, a rustic French brandy.”

Least favorite drink trend: “Multi-nationals buying up liquor companies and becoming larger and larger.”

Secret weapon behind the bar: Fiji Rum.

Most overrated bar accessory: Televisions.

Best holiday to celebrate at a bar: New Year’s Eve.

Worst holiday to celebrate at a bar: Cinco de Mayo.

Favorite band to play at his bar: AC/DC.

He’d never play: Tom Waits.

Favorite local dive: Ivy & Coney in Shaw.

Best drinking city outside Washington: Savannah.

Favorite drunk food: Jumbo Slice—“in the alley, standing there with all the drunk girls.”

Hangover cure: A red eye.

Tom and Derek Brown
Derek Brown co-owns Mockingbird Hill in Shaw. Photograph by Scott Suchman

Derek Brown

Age: 41.

Education: Sherwood High School, George Mason University.

Now lives in: Capitol Hill East.

First bartending job: Rocky’s Cafe in Adams Morgan.

Career stops: Palena, Citronelle, Komi, the Gibson, and Columbia Room.

Other projects: Co-owns Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich, and Southern Efficiency, all in Shaw.

Drink he’s best known for: Dry martini.

First drink he learned to make: “Drinks with names like vodka soda and rum and Coke.”

Favorite spirit: “I drink more bourbon than I drink anything next to apple juice, which is what I drink the most of.”

Post-shift drink of choice: Bourbon, Champagne, a dry martini, or sherry.

Drink he secretly loves: Mind eraser.

Favorite local spirit: Green Hat gin and Catoctin Creek rye.

Feelings about vodka: “It’s boring. But it has a time and place, like with a seafood tower or caviar. And when in Moscow.”

Favorite drink trend: “The death of mustachioed, suspenders-wearing bartenders.”

Least favorite drink trend: “Smoke is starting to jump the shark.”

Secret weapon behind the bar: Salt tincture.

Most overrated bar accessory: Muddlers.

Best holiday to celebrate at a bar: Christmas.

Worst holiday to celebrate at a bar: St. Patrick’s Day.

Favorite band to play at his bar: The Clash.

He’d never play: 311.

Favorite local dive: Showtime in Bloomingdale.

Best drinking city outside Washington: Richmond.

Favorite drunk food: Chinese at New Big Wong in Chinatown.

Hangover cure: Orange Gatorade, two Advils, and a salty soup.

This article appears in our April 2016 issue of Washingtonian.