Liquor Lobbyists Now Have Their Own Capitol Hill Cocktail Bar

Distilled Spirits Council has a new office with a sleek, fully loaded bar

The bar inside the Distilled Spirits Council's new Capitol Hill office. Photograph by Ron Blunt.

Not just anyone can walk into Capitol Hill’s newest cocktail bar. The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States—the trade organization that advocates on behalf of the booze industry—moved into new digs on Constitution Avenue this summer with views of the Capitol dome. Unlike other lobbying offices, however, this one obviously had to have a really nice bar. If you want to check it out, you’ll have to get an invite to an event, or from one of its staffers.

The roomy bar, with capacity for 200, features a mirrored backdrop, cozy booths with decanter light fixtures, and a wall decorated in barrel heads donated by Jack Daniel’s maker Brown-Forman, a DISCUS member. When entering, visitors also get a glimpse at an original letter written from George Washington to his nephew about the popularity of his whiskey. DISCUS bought the historic artifact at a Christie’s auction for $18,800 in 2001. The group also provided Mount Vernon with a $2.1 million grant to help resurrect Washington’s distillery.

The association has already hosted the Congressional Bourbon Caucus and a group of political fundraisers at its bar. (It’s probably the only cocktail spot that has to concern itself with FEC compliance.) The group will also rent out the space to other organizations and companies for receptions and meetings. Meanwhile, employees are all encouraged to get behind the stick to make drinks for visiting friends or family.  So far, the bar doesn’t have a name, but the organization will have an internal contest to give it one.

The Distilled Spirits Council will rent out its 100-person bar to other organizations and businesses. Photograph by Ron Blunt.

The bar is stocked exclusively with bottles from member companies, but that’s hardly a limitation considering members include Bacardi, Beam Suntory, Campari Group, and other familiar names. Ask for water in this office, and you’ll be offered three types of ice, including spheres.

The organization recently hired bartender LP O’Brien—winner of Netflix’s cocktail competition Drink Masters—to teach its entire staff how to make a few signature cocktails (including one that’s non-alcoholic). When I dropped by, a government relations manager for—DISCUS’s sister organization dedicated to safe drinking—made me a very good gimlet.

CEO Chris Swonger, who was a bartender and server in college, says he also tries to get behind the bar whenever possible: “I love it, because it’s where you meet everybody.” Swonger give a politician’s answer when I ask if he has a specialty: “Making people happy,” he says. “I have the privilege of enjoying and liking all these great products, so it wouldn’t be smart for me to pick.”

The Distilled Sprits Council’s bar is stocked exclusively with its members products. Photograph by Ron Blunt.

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.