This DC Transplant Was Shocked by Washington’s Drinking Culture. Now She’s Trying to Make Your Happy Hour Healthier.

Sip City brews swichel—an energy drink that can be used as a cocktail mixer. Photo courtesy Sip City.

If you’ve lived in Washington for any time at all, you know that this is a very happy hour-happy city. You can do happy hour outside, you can do happy hour by a fire, you can do happy hour for dinner, you can do happy hour for less than $10. You can even do two happy hours in one day without changing bars. Happy hours are such a big part of the working culture in Washington, it can start to feel normal to never go home without downing a couple of $6 cocktails first.

But it’s not like this everywhere. Nikki Blank was working in digital news in Boston when she started traveling down to DC twice a month. In Boston, the strict drinking laws are, according to the Boston Globe, not just “puritanical—they’re worse.”

“The drinking culture in DC was a shock to my system,” says Blank. “My body couldn’t handle the DC weekend drinking marathon of Friday night to Sunday night.”

Not only was there more drinking in Washington than she was used to, but it was being done by Washingtonians who otherwise appeared to be very health-conscious.

“Most people we know in DC are fitness nuts—they’ll run six miles before work in the morning. And then they’ll go to a happy hour after work, and drink six drinks,” says Blank. “People in this city work really hard and play really hard.”

At the time, Blank had already started playing around with crafting her own healthier cocktail mixers, which she sold to her colleagues in Boston. She’d learned to brew switchel—an old-school energy drink made with apple cider vinegar, juiced ginger, juiced lemon, and a homemade spiced maple syrup. Though switchel has yet to hit the mainstream quite like kombucha, it’s got similar benefits. Like kombucha, switchel is fermented, which means it’s good for your gut. Additionally, the apple cider vinegar in switchel has been tied to everything from suppressing appetite to clearing acne.

When Blank moved to DC in May, she was looking for another media job when she came across Union Kitchen’s accelerator program. She gave up her job hunt and decided to make her switchel hobby a full-time gig. In August, she and her business partner, Josie Gibbens, pitched their concept to Union Kitchen: a healthy beverage that could be drunk on its own as an energy drink or stirred into cocktails as a mixer. Now working under the name Sip City, Blank and Gibbens are several months into the accelerator program.

While they still have several months in the program to go, Blank and Gibbens are focused on trying to get people to be more mindful about what they’re drinking. While a switchel-mixed cocktail isn’t exactly a health drink—there’s still sugar in switchel, and the alcohol is still, well, alcohol—Blank says she believes it’s a better alternative to typical mixers.

While they continue to work on their business, Blank and Gibbens are looking to ignite conversation around making healthier choices. On November 9, Sip City is hosting a night of healthy cocktails, snacks, and discussion on staying mentally and physically healthy through the holidays at Georgetown’s Take Care store. Leah Beilhart, host of women’s event series Behold.Her, and Sam Attard, the nutrition and yoga guru behind Happy Healthy Human, will also be on hand to talk about holiday healthy habits and self-care tips. Tickets to the event, which are $18, can be purchased on Eventbrite.

“At the cocktail parties we’ve hosted, we found that people want a healthier option that also tastes great,” says Blank. “We’ve nailed that product.”

Associate Editor

Caroline Cunningham joined Washingtonian in 2014 after moving to the DC area from Cincinnati, where she interned and freelanced for Cincinnati Magazine and worked in content marketing. She currently resides in College Park.