The Gibson, one of DC’s pioneering modern cocktail bars, is planning a comeback. The 14th Street haunt, which helped usher in the faux-speakeasy trend when it opened in 2009, closed in October—one of six nightlife venues from brothers Eric and Ian Hilton to shutter in tandem due to the pandemic, including sister bars Brixton, Marvin, and American Ice Co.
Eric Hilton says that the Gibson will reopen this spring in a new, bigger location (look for that announcement soon). But first, the dimly lit lounge is popping up in an unlikely place: a Florida hotel room.
News of the Gibson’s revival first came from Hyatt Centric Las Olas Fort Lauderdale, which is launching 901, a bartender-in-residence program located in a revamped, Prohibition-styled guest room this week. The new hotel is recruiting bartenders from faux-speakeasies across the country that have shuttered in the pandemic, and hosting them—all expenses and airfare paid, plus compensation—while they tend the reservation-only, in-suite pop-up bar for up to six guests.
The concept was born as a way to employ notable bartenders who are out of work, as well as draw attention to the new hotel property—similar to the trend that’s growing in DC, where hotels are renting out rooms for a few hours during brunch or dinner for discreet dining. Jewel Murray, the Gibson’s head bartender and general manager—and a cofounder of DC-based nonprofit Bartenders Against Racism—will headline the two-week series starting March 3.
Murray, who’s worked at The Gibson over the past seven years, says her drinks for DC’s 2.0 version will be a continuation “of the long history of what the Gibson has always done. We’ve returned to what the initial concept was, really sticking to pre-Prohibition-style, classic cocktails,” she says. “We’re a history lesson bar. Even the cocktails on the seasonal menu, much of that stuff was in existence 150 years ago.”
“I think the gimmick of the speakeasy has run its course,” says Eric Hilton, who’s also part of electronic music duo Thievery Corporation. “But a quiet, calm, high-quality bar? That’s never run its course. As long as you’re doing that and have a discrete storefront, I guess you can call it a speakeasy. That type of bar is always needed.”