For fans of seafood and cocktails, the pairing of Jamie Leeds and Gina Chersevani is a match made in heaven. Leeds is known for fresh oysters and lobster rolls at her Hank’s Oyster Bar restaurants in Dupont Circle and Alexandria. Chersevani made a name for herself as one of the most creative mixologists in town during stints at PS7’s and Rasika.
The duo worked together at 15 Ria years ago, and they’re back together at Hank’s on the Hill, an attractive raw bar/cocktail bar on Pennsylvania Avenue near Eastern Market. Hank’s made its official debut on Monday, and it’s already making a splash.
Decorated almost entirely in white, the room offers some familiar beachy touches — check out the exposed boards overhead — but the substantial white-marble bar counter and conical metal lights suspended from the ceiling make Hank’s seem more classy than many of its neighbors.
Seafood is the focus — a chalkboard lists at least a half-dozen varieties of oysters on the half shell for $2 each, sake-and-oyster shooters are served on ice ($3), and half the dishes coming out of the kitchen appear to be lobster rolls ($23) or po’ boys ($15) — but this Hank’s also gets out of the water to offer a seasoned lamb burger ($18) and grilled duck breast ($20). For snacking at the bar, I’d go simple: A large plate of peel-and-eat shrimp steamed in Old Bay ($13) or a metal pot of fried popcorn shrimp and calamari in a tender batter ($10).
The 20-seat Eddy Bar, where Chersevani is in charge, is enough of a draw on its own. As with her other cocktail menus, it’s heavy on seasonal ingredients and creative twists. I’ll happily nurse the Pirate Riot, a tiki-ish mix of aged rum, pineapple, white pepper and, for a bit of fizz, Green Flash’s Rayon Vert beer. The Squeezed Melons is summer freshness in a glass: fresh cantaloupe and honeydew melon juice with gin, cinnamon and a touch of mint, and it checks in at just 100 calories. Also tempting: The PT-109, which pairs citrusy Bluecoat gin, a savory coconut-cardamom soda, and lemon.
Perhaps the most intriguing in this summer of frozen cocktails: Forgetfully Fernet, a large coupe full of Jameson whiskey, ginger and lemon juice, topped with an iceberg-sized chunk of frozen Fernet Branca. (I recommend stirring the bitter aperitif into the liquid to mix flavors as well as to prevent brainfreeze.)
As a fan of the very affordable happy hour at Hank’s in Dupont, I’m disappointed that Hank’s on the Hill doesn’t have any deals yet — even a half-price oyster hour — though there should be one in a month or so, once the bar smooths out the kinks. (Right now, those are mostly down to inexperienced bartenders; at one point last night, as my neighbors and I sat with empty glasses, I wondered if I should use semaphore flags to get some attention. But there are some familiar faces behind the bar, too, including Sebastian Zutant, the sommelier at Proof and Estadio, who is getting set to open his own restaurant.)
In the meantime, prices aren’t bad: Of the 13 cocktails on the menu, 10 sell for $9 or $10. Wines by the glass are predominantly in the $7-$9 range. It’s only the draft beers that seem steep for the neighborhood — none less than $7, $8 for an Allagash White.
If you’re heading out to Hank’s, here’s a word of caution: The restaurant doesn’t accept reservations, but if you call 20 to 30 minutes ahead, they’ll put your name on the waiting list for a table. Barstools are first-come, first-seated, and are already in high demand. It’s pretty easy to see why.
-- Fritz Hahn (July 25, 2012)