When nightlife entrepreneurs Ian and Eric Hilton announced they’d close seven of their DC bars almost a year ago, it felt like it had been the biggest pandemic-era loss to DC’s bar scene to date. Thankfully almost all have reopened, including Brixton, American Ice Co., and Players Club. And as of Friday, August 13, Eric Hilton’s pioneering cocktail haunt, the Gibson, will be back in action.
Initially, Hilton thought he’d have to relocate the 12 year-old bar from its sultry U Street space, but things worked out. Much remains the same: flickering candles, a jazz-heavy playlist, and a hidden gem of a rear patio—all outfitted with some new furnishings and fresh paint. And while the bar doesn’t bill itself as a “speakeasy,” drinkers will still search for an unmarked black door to enter.
“I know speakeasy is an overused term,” says general manager Jewel Murray. Even after the death of the faux-speakeasy trend was called in 2018 (and 2019, and 2020), a new batch of bars is claiming it—from 90s Shaw “speakeasy” Never Looked Better to Bolivian pop-up speakeasy Casa Kantuta. But things are a little more traditional at the Gibson. “When we say it we mean it’s a quiet, sit-down bar where you’ll get pre-Prohibition era cocktails,” Murray says. “We’re really trying to get back to the original concept, which we love.”
The reopening menu is filled with classics—and riffs on classics—including the Hay Fever, a vodka sour with elderflower liqueur, and the Merry Traveler, a Scotch-and-amaro cocktail garnished with a flaming cinnamon stick. Eventually, the bar plans to restart classic-cocktail classes—available to the public and offered for private parties—as part of what Murray describes as being “ a history- lesson bar.” Familiar faces will make an appearance as well. Veteran bartender Chantal Tseng will resume her literary cocktail series later this month, with drinks inspired by her favorite books du jour. Since neighboring sister bar Marvin and its kitchen are still closed, drinkers can snack on olives or pretzels—just like in the ’09 days.