Food

Q&A: Cocktail Star—and Pisco Obsessive—Glendon Hartley

Here’s why he fell in love with the South American spirit.

Glendon Hartley. Photograph courtesy of Luck & Hustle PR.

Bar star Glendon Hartley, 37, is on two missions: to introduce drinkers to the ingredients of his family’s native Trinidad and to build the biggest pisco collection in North America. The former is mostly happening at Hartley’s popular U Street haunt, Service Bar, and nearby at the two-month-old 14th Street Caribbean restaurant St. James, where he has designed the drinks. As for the grape brandy, you’ll find a 100-plus-bottle collection at Bar Amazonia at Causa, his new Peruvian venture in Shaw.

What’s your obsession with pisco?

It’s the purest spirit in the world. There’s no dilution, you can’t age it in a barrel, you can’t impart flavor while distilling. It’s all about the grape harvest and microclimates of where they’re harvesting. Pisco is floral, but it can also be salty, rich, spicy. It’s really something special.

How does it play into your love of Caribbean ingredients?

It’s often misunderstood—people think pisco is like tequila. I don’t think Caribbean cocktails are showcased for what they actually are. In the Caribbean, you have so many ingredients—tamarind, hibiscus. People think the Caribbean is all pineapple and tiki cocktails. Tiki drinks aren’t Caribbean drinks. They’re faux Polynesian drinks, and it’s cultural appropriation in a way.

What else is important in Caribbean drinks?

In the Caribbean, we use everything—there’s no waste. With herbs, stalks and stems have more flavor than leaves. At Service Bar, I use the leftover scraps from my staff experimenting with their own cocktails. For example, you take pulp left over from juicing citrus, boil it, and make citrus stock—it tastes so fresh, especially when chilled.

Where did you get your start?

I’ve always been interested in art and science. I worked my entire high-school career [at Richard Montgomery in Rockville] to go to fashion school. I paid my way by bartending and started learning about the chemistry that goes into mixology. At that time, Founding Farmers was just starting. A friend invited me to orientation, and I fell in love with that farm-to-table approach, learning how to make a drink from scratch. It was like a new chemistry to me. I dropped out of fashion school and went full-time to bartending.

What was your vision for Service Bar when you opened in 2016, and how has it evolved?

My business partner, Chad Spangler, who was my barback at Founding Farmers—we have similar views. The bar industry in DC back then was trying to mimic New York so hard: dark bars where the atmosphere was nonexistent and you’re squinting at a candlelit menu. We hated going to those cocktail bars because it was f—ing boring. The places we loved were Irish pubs. They don’t care what color or religion you are. You order a pint and everyone’s your best friend. We’re always serious about everything we do—we’re just not pretentious about it. If you want to know about it, we’ll talk about it. But if you just want to come and have some drinks with friends—that’s what bars are for.


Raspberry Pisco Summer Punch

You know a bartender’s signature drink must be tasty when he has it tattooed on his arm—as is the case with Glendon Hartley’s pisco punch. The versatile concoction harks back to the early 1800s, combining fresh citrus, sugar, seasonal flavorings—here, raspberries—and Peruvian pisco. Hartley recommends the Caravedo brand of the spirit (available at local liquor stores and online) for its “beautiful, aromatic citrus notes, which add a lot of flavor to punches.” Home bartenders can also use any Peruvian pisco, but look for the citrusy torontel variety. Hartley’s punch is designed to be adaptable—try swapping out raspberries for figs (fresh or as jam) in early fall.

Photograph courtesy of Luck & Hustle PR.

Serves 1

Ingredients

¾ ounce fresh lemon or lime juice

1 ounce simple syrup*

4 to 6 raspberries, plus more for garnish (or 1½ ounces raspberry jam)

1½ ounces cold, unsweetened green tea (jasmine works well)

2 ounces pisco, preferably Caravedo torontel

2 dashes bitters or fresh pineapple, apple, or orange juice (optional)

Instructions

In a large glass or shaker, add the lemon or lime juice and simple syrup. Muddle the berries or jam and quickly stir into the liquid. Add the tea and pisco. If you want a fruitier cocktail, add 2 dashes of the optional bitters or juice. Add ice and stir or shake to combine. Strain the drink into a glass over more ice. Garnish with berries.

*If you’re making a larger quantity of the cocktail, add the berries or jam to the simple syrup, combine in a blender, and strain the bigger bits (such as seeds) through a sieve. Then skip the muddling step.

This article appears in the July 2022 issue of Washingtonian.

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.

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