Food

A New Cocktail Series Honors DC’s Black Bartenders, Past and Present

Eaton DC serves drinks from African American trailblazers and current talents starting September 6.

Andra "AJ" Johnson is one of ten bartenders recognized in the series. Photograph by Rey Lopez.

Allegory, the library-esque bar tucked inside Eaton DC hotel, is launching a cocktail series on September 6 that celebrates ten influential black bartenders, past and present, with a special menu that ties drinks to their stories. The three month-long event is hosted in conjunction with the lobby’s multimedia exhibition, BLKNWS by Kahlil Joseph.

“There are, in hospitality, tons of stereotypes, especially geared around black people, either as diners or as employees,” says participating bartender Andra “AJ” Johnson, a co-founder of DMV Black Restaurant Week and bar director for the forthcoming Seranata/Zumo at La Cosecha. “Being able to highlight people who are out here doing really great things in terms of promoting black people and blackness in the hospitality industry is extremely important right now.”

The Quoit Club Punch honors the legacy of Jasper Crouch, a bartender at Richmond's Quoit Club in the 1850's. Photograph courtesy of Allegory.
The Quoit Club Punch honors the legacy of Jasper Crouch, a bartender at Richmond’s Quoit Club in the 1850s. Photograph courtesy of Allegory.

Five of the special concoctions honor the legacy of pioneering African American mixologists from the early 1800s to the 1950s. Guests can learn the story of Washington bartender Dick Francis, a former slave, who worked at Hancock’s on Pennsylvania Avenue for almost four decades (his son later bought the bar). Francis became the manager of the US Senate’s bar. Here, his role in cocktail history is shared through “Flower Pot Punch” combining rum, citrus, and pineapple syrup.

“There has been a strong, rich history of blacks in hospitality. Not just servitude, but actual service,” Johnson says. “A lot of these guys were able to buy their freedom, or buy their wife’s freedom, or buy bars by bartending. It was literally a way to get out of the worst of all situations, which is slavery. And they were able to make a name for themselves.”

Also recognized on the menu is Tom Bullock, known as the first African American author of a cocktail book, The Ideal Bartender. Guests can also try a brandy punch by Richmond’s Jasper Crouch, a mint julep from another Richmond bartender, John Dabney, and a gin cocktail created by New York chef-bartender Cato Alexander.

Locos Bananas is created by Dos Mamis bartender Lauren Paylor. Photograph courtesy of Allegory.
Locos Bananas is created by Dos Mamis bartender Lauren Paylor. Photograph courtesy of Allegory.

Another five cocktails are crafted by contemporary African American mixologists who’re behind some of DC’s top bars. Johnson created “Night Flights” with gin, vodka, and Crème de Violette. She says she designed the drink for an article about how to use vodka to boost the flavor of other spirits in a cocktail, and the recipe gained traction online. When asked to participate in the series, Johnson was told she didn’t need to create an entirely new libation. “It was more so about making sure our cocktails, our recipes, are documented.”

Another creation comes from Dos Mamis bar director Lauren Paylor, a blend of tropical rum and banana drink with aromatic Angostura bitters from Trinidad. Johnson and Paylor are joined by Hanumanh bar director Al Thompson, Campari Group’s Duane Sylvestre, and Kapri Robinson, the Reliable Tavern bartender behind Chocolate City’s Best, a cocktail competition for people of color.

Hanumanh bar director Al Thompson's cocktail, Tears from a Thousand Swords, combines ingredients like ginger, all spice, and rum. Photograph courtesy of Allegory.
Hanumanh bar director Al Thompson’s cocktail, Tears from a Thousand Swords, combines ingredients like ginger, all spice, and rum. Photograph courtesy of Allegory.

“I think it’s awesome that Eaton has said hey, we want to make sure people know your name forever,” Johnson says. “People can look back and say yes, this is a recipe by somebody from DC, black man, black woman. Now it’s documented and it can’t go anywhere.”

Cocktails start at $14 and proceeds go to local literacy non-profit Washington Informer Charities.

Allegory at Eaton DC. 1201 K St., NW

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Daniella Byck

Daniella joined Washingtonian in August 2018. She is a University of Wisconsin-Madison grad and lives in Logan Circle.