The next time you drop by your favorite cocktail joint, take a look at the menu. There’s a good chance it hasn’t changed much — if at all — since your last visit. The reason is simple: Coming up with a new list of drinks can be ridiculously hard work, involving weeks of testing recipes and creating ingredients from scratch. For many reasons, it’s easier to change a menu seasonally, if at all.
That’s not the case at Hank’s Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill, where bartenders Jason Strich and Michael Saccone have given themselves an unusual mission: Create a brand-new menu of six or seven cocktails every week, based around a theme like “One Hit Wonders” or “That’s My Slow Jam.”
This could be a gimmick, except for one thing: The cocktails are great. Strich made his name years ago at Rasika, where he won awards for crafting some of the city’s most creative libations; Saccone, the bar manager at Hank’s, formerly slung drinks at the Majestic in Old Town Alexandria.
For last week’s list, the duo celebrated “Lost but Not Forgotten Cocktails,” a group of much-maligned retro classics that included the Alabama Slammer and Sex on the Beach. Unsurprisingly, they managed to breathe new life into these tired (and usually awful) drinks. The Alabama Slammer was bright, sweet and juicy, thanks to freshly pureed peaches and hand-squeezed oranges, as well as quality rye whiskey. A Blue Hawaiian was anything but a corny Trader Vic drink, taking its color from house-made blue curaçao, which actually smelled like oranges, and fragrant coconut and pineapple juices.
Most cocktails cost $12; you’ll pay $1 more for the bottled cocktails, which are aged and served in six-ounce glass bottles. The vodka-based wine cooler, dubbed Spring Break Lake Havasu ’92 Was Epic, Bro, lived up to its name (and its pink color).
“That’s My Slow Jam” is the Valentine’s Day theme, with drinks named after slow-burning R&B songs. Lovers can order the R. Kelly-inspired My Mind Is Telling Me No, But My Body, My Body Is Telling Me Yes, a fancy oyster shooter with grapefruit, while Boyz II Men fans might recognize I’ll Make Love To You, Like You Want Me To, And I’ll Hold You Tight, Baby All Through The Night as the chorus from the group’s 1994 smash “I’ll Make Love To You,” repurposed here as the name for a gin-and-pomegranate concoction. (I’m pretty sure the cocktails have ridiculously long names because the bartenders get a thrill out of hearing customers recite lyrics from a Keith Sweat ballad.)
This sense of fun is all over the menu. During “One Hit Wonders” week, I Know What Boys Like started with bacon-washed whiskey (“Because what guy doesn’t like [bacon and whiskey]?” Saccone jokes), while the bourbon-and-Benedictine based Alright, Stop, Collaborate And Listen was served over “shaved ice ice baby.”
But it’s a creative exercise, too. Stritch has big plans for the Oscar-themed menu, “And the Award Goes To.” His “Dallas Buyers Club” cocktail isn’t finalized yet, but he imagines it as a purified margarita in a paper cup, with “pills” that customers would add to create the flavor.
The downside to a constantly changing list is that you might not be able to come back in a few days and have another round of your new favorite cocktail. In some cases, Saccone says, “we’ll be able to make cocktails that were on [the menu] a few weeks ago,” but others are based around small-batch ingredients created for a certain menu, such as a bottled cocktail that contained a hard cider fermented with Brettanomyces yeast to give it a funky flavor. When that ran out, there was no way to make more.
The menu debuts each Thursday and sticks around until the following Wednesday — unless the drinks run out. Strich says that during “One Hit Wonders” week, they ran out of almost everything by Saturday night.
All the more reason to make a Thursday night date on Capitol Hill.
633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE (Metro: Eastern Market). 202-733-1971. www.hanksoysterbar.com Open Monday-Thursday at 5 p.m.; Friday
11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday at