Food

Veteran Barman Todd Thrasher’s Distillery and Tiki Bar Is Ready to Rum at the Wharf

Potomac Distilling Company opens Monday with a three-story tropical bar and rum production.
Potomac Distilling Company, a rum producer and three-story tiki bar, debuts at the DC Wharf. Photography by Evy Mages

Todd Thrasher isn’t afraid to lighten up these days—or as it says on the pink neon sign at his new distillery and bar, “Have a Blast.”

The 48-year-old veteran bartender will open his dream spot on Monday: Potomac Distilling Company, a waterfront rum distillery and island-style tiki bar at the DC Wharf. Bamboo creeps up all three floors (including a tropical rooftop), bartenders crank out frozen house rum and Cokes (served in the can), and the menu features packaged Top Ramen (along with a bunch of cheffy stuff).

“Bartenders take ourselves way too seriously,” says Thrasher. “I don’t want to be serious.”

Potomac Distilling rum distillery tiki bar DC Wharf drinks by the water.
Drinkers can belly up to bars on all three levels.

So says the man who pioneered DC’s super-serious speakeasy trend over a decade ago at his Alexandria cocktail haunt, PX—complete with a list of house rules (i.e. no standing at the bar). The formality was, in part, an effort to create a serious cocktail scene. But now that Thrasher has helped establish one, he’s ready to pour some piña coladas and welcome the masses to stand at his bars.

That’s not to say Potomac Distilling isn’t a serious endeavor. The distillery will produce a line of small-batch Thrasher’s Rums, which if all goes well, Thrasher wants to expand and distribute globally. Unlike the crowded market of whiskeys, there’s still sipping room for American rums, which have the advantage of being quicker and less expensive to produce on a quality scale. (Also, Thrasher drinks rum almost exclusively, with the exception of gin.)

Potomac Distilling rum distillery tiki bar DC Wharf drinks by the water.
Veteran barman Todd Thrasher in the distillery.

But first things first: opening. The distillery will launch with four styles of the sugarcane-based spirit: white, gold, warm spiced, and green spiced with gin-like botanicals such as mint, lemon balm, verbena, and lemon grass. All will make their way into cocktails as well as bottles available in a little gift shop with distillery swag.

As for the experience, it’s meant to be pure fun and “first and foremost a bar,” Thrasher says. Drinkers will find bars on all three levels of Tiki TNT, from a cozy eight-seater near the entrance up to the 120-person rooftop, which will eventually be outfitted with lounge furniture and fire pits. Over all, the decor is meant to be “tiki but not kitschy,” more true to the genre’s Polynesian roots.

Potomac Distilling rum distillery tiki bar DC Wharf drinks by the water.
Diners can sit at tables while watching the bar scene below.

Cocktails, which hover around $14, include classic tikis (mai tais, “one and done” zombies) and Thrasher’s new-wave tikis, divided into categories like “boozy as balls” and “fruity and light.” Chilly temps aside, the frozen machines will be cranking with housemade mixes like “Owen the Turtle Disliker,” a rum, brandy, banana, and coconut concoction that’s a shout out to Archipelago owner Owen Thomson and his affinity for plastic straws. (Thrasher is going to put straws in drinks by request, charge 25 cents, and donate the money to a turtle charity, because hey, 2018.) Rounding out the drinks are cheap $5 beers, fancy $8 beers, and wines by the can.

Instead of having one talent behind the food menu, Thrasher decided to mix it up and get more veteran chef-friends in the mix. Plates run small to “husky” and large. Heartier portions include flatbreads and Bryan Voltaggio‘s sandwiches, plus shareable Hawaiian classics like poke, coconut shrimp, Spam musubi, and a whole rotisserie chicken “Erik Bruner-Yang-style” with fries and dipping sauces. Bayou Bakery‘s David Guas is behind the sweets, including coconut cream pie and boozy rum buns.* 

Chefs and their ilk aren’t just given kudos on the menu: If  anyone in the service industry comes in (honor system), they can order a $10 “family meal” option that includes a plate of food, beer, and, of course, a shot of Thrasher’s rum. 

There’s a chance the place might open quietly over the weekend with limited hours/offerings; Monday opening hours will be 3 to 11 PM.

Note: This story has been updated from an earlier version, which incorrectly listed Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong as business partners.

Potomac Distilling Company and Tiki TNT. 1130 Maine Ave., SW.  Tiki TNT will open daily, Monday through Thursday, 3 PM to 2 AM; Friday 3 PM to 3 AM; Saturday 11 AM to 3 AM; Sunday 11 AM to midnight.

 

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Anna Spiegel
Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.