Like Adele, those master mixologists are known by one name. And they return the bouquet to the bar crowd when they’re asked to explain the city’s “liquor renaissance,” as Todd Thrasher of Restaurant Eve declares the scene. Whereas guests of the four-star dining destination in Alexandria used to ease in with champagne, they now toast first with cocktails, he says.
The availability and diversity of good spirits and garnishes have also enhanced the cocktail experience, says Derek Brown of the Japanese-inspired Columbia Room near the convention center. He’s considering ending his long-running class on making bitters because of the ease with which users can now buy the condiment. His sessions, he says, have become “irrelevant.”
If the heightened status of cocktails prompted any doubt, last year’s move by the James Beard Foundation to add a national award for Outstanding Bar Program to its prestigious restaurant and chef honors pretty much — dare I? — liquefied it.
Recently, I (virtually) bellied up to the bars of five of the area’s most prominent cocktail practitioners and asked them to talk about their favorite subject. They poured forth on everything from tipping and rules for drinking to where they imbibe away from home and signs of a top-drawer bartender. Drink up.
Favorite drink on your own list: The sherry-fueled El Cazador ($10).
Classic of choice:
The sherry-fueled Adonis.
Excluding your own bar, where would you rather be?
Room 11 in Columbia Heights.
Biggest mistake lesser bartenders make: Not learning the subject in great detail; not studying.
How to tell if a bartender knows his stuff: If someone can execute a good daiquiri (or other classic cocktail), “I have confidence in everything else.”
Next “it” cocktail: Highballs.
The most important thing besides the recipe is ...
Technique: how you stir, how you shake, how you garnish.
Tip per drink: Twenty percent.
Proudest liquid accomplishment: “Whenever I see a sea of gin and tonics at Estadio.”
Personal drinking rule: “No shots.”
Cocktail hero: “No one makes a cocktail like Todd Thrasher does.” His approach is “very culinary.”
Favorite out-of-town watering hole:
PDT (Please Don’t Tell) and Pouring Ribbons in New York.
Guilty pleasure: “Wine purchased from liquor stores with bullet-proof glass.”
Favorite drink on your own list: Martini ($17 with tax and tip).
Classic of choice:
Excluding your own bar, where would you rather be? Barmini, JoséAndrés’s culinary cocktail lab.
Biggest mistake lesser bartenders make: “Sadly, not learning the classics”; “No reverence for what came before.”