So much rum under one roof
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, January 25, 2013
Before you grab a Hawaiian shirt and head to the new Hogo near the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for a mai tai, you should know that it’s not a traditional tiki bar. With its circular leather booths, a large painting of a zombie Elvis and a soundtrack of Motorhead and Steely Dan, the stripped-down bar is about as far from Trader Vic’s hackneyed rattan furniture and Easter Island statues as you can get.
Really, it’s a place to enjoy some of the best rum drinks in the city.
It has 75 rums behind the bar, including rare bottles for connoisseurs that cost $20 per ounce. It serves potent cocktails in fancy ceramic mugs or flaming bowls, sometimes decorated with paper umbrellas or a plastic monkey dangling from the rim. And it’s the brainchild of Tom Brown, one of the veteran bartending brothers who made the Passenger a destination for D.C.’s cocktail cognoscenti.
The idea for the bar grew out of Brown’s passion for rum, which he has demonstrated over the past decade at Corduroy, Cork and the Passenger. The name, he explains, has Caribbean origins: “Hogo” is derived from the French term “haut gout,” or “high taste,” used to describe the funky flavors found in well-aged rum.
At Hogo, Brown and fellow Passenger alum Julia Hurst have crafted a menu of originals with Caribbean flavor alongside such classics as the Singapore Sling or the less-well-known Jungle Bird. Tom’s Punch blends both Cruzan light and Black Strap rums with spicy falernum syrup and ginger liqueur. The Queen’s Royal is a sweet and fizzy mix of strong barrel-aged rum with ginger, honey and lime, topped with a healthy pour of sparkling wine.
Of course, man can’t live by rum alone. What looks like a mai tai is actually made with mezcal, so it’s less sweet. And there’s a serious tequila list, too, including a two-ounce shot that costs $40. If you want cocktails made with whiskey, vodka or gin, or a beer more complicated than Pacifico, head two doors north to the Passenger.
Housed in the former Ruppert’s Restaurant, Hogo has a layout similar to the Passenger: Prime seats are by the front windows and booths run down one wall. The simple art includes a pin-up girl painted on the hood of a 1930 Pontiac.
Keep heading back and you’ll land in an unpretentious show kitchen where barstools line a prep counter. It’s like a 21st-century diner. Brown says the kitchen will be used as a pop-up space where food-truck chefs can show off their chops or cooks who want to try out recipes in advance of a new restaurant can get feedback from the public. Former 2941 chef Aaron Silverman, who plans to open his own restaurant on Barracks Row later this year, will have a Hogo residency in March.
At the moment, Passenger chef Javier Duran is making Hawaiian dishes, including Spam musubi ($7), a large brick of Spam served on rice and wrapped in seaweed, sushi-style; miso saimin ($9), a bowl of noodle soup with pork belly, egg and bok choy; and the Loco Moco ($12), a choice of a bunless burger topped with a fried egg or fried mahi mahi mixed with scrambled eggs and tartar sauce. Either way, it’s topped with sausage gravy and served with a macaroni salad and a large ball of rice.
If you want to be transported to the Caribbean instead of Honolulu, ask your bartender for a classic Ti Punch: grassy, rustic Rhum Agricole mixed with sugar cane syrup and lime. It’s the best way to taste the flavors of Martinique and the easiest way to close your eyes and pretend you’re somewhere warm and sunny.