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A Sip of Something Presidential

With Inauguration Near, Bar and Restaurant Menus Take On a Texas Flair

By Maureen Fan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 15, 2005; Page B01

Bartender John Roberts had only a few customers for his class on Texas-themed inaugural drinks last week, and the most eager ones weren't even Republicans.

No matter, said Roberts, who works at Palette on 15th Street NW. The customers wanted to learn how to make lemon twists, and they seemed to like the drinks: a Texas Fizz, a Salty Chihuahua, an Alamo Splash and a Texan Margarita.

Palette bartender John Roberts instructs Rene Lawson, center, and Kaki Power on how to make an Alamo Splash, a classic Texas cocktail. (Photos Rich Lipski -- The Washington Post)

That's helpful, because the adjoining Madison Hotel -- a high-security favorite of visiting dignitaries and local politicians -- is full for inaugural week, and the bar is likely to be packed with patrons demanding food and drink from the Lone Star state.

All across town, bars and restaurants are getting in on inaugural fever, adding chipotle sauce to their barbecue or jalapeno peppers to their drinks or calling their offerings Texan. It's a once-in-four-years effort by Washington to capitalize on the 100,000 viewers whom planners expect the parade to draw, most of whom will be in the mood to celebrate, and to spend.

Hotels expected to be at 85 percent occupancy next week, compared with roughly 52 percent normally in January.

"We're full to capacity at least three nights next week," Roberts said. "It's just a tribute to the incoming party. I guess if Kerry won, we'd be doing Cape Cods -- vodka and cranberry -- and Rose Kennedys -- vodka, soda and cranberry."

At the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel, Executive Chef Horst Lummert conducted six tastings with the Texas State Society to make sure the menu for Wednesday's Black Tie and Boots Ball was authentic.

"It's very unusual to cook for a crowd like this," Lummert said. "We have a refrigerated freezer truck pulled up to our loading dock just to hold all the food."

Bartenders will serve Lone Star and Shiner Bock beer, among other drinks. The hotel is getting ready to feed 12,000 people during the ball, plus serve a sit-down, rib-eye steak dinner for 950. Buffet offerings will include southwestern Caesar salad (add jicama, spice up the dressing) and mesquite grilled jumbo shrimp (marinate in lime and cilantro, add chipotle) and Texas rice.

Some establishments are sticking to patriotic themes. At the Palm, the lobbyist hangout and downtown landmark, the Long Island Iced Tea has been remade into the Capitol Iced Tea, with iced blue Curacao stars.

"I'm so overbooked, its ridiculous. I could use another half a restaurant," said Tommy Jacomo, the Palm's general manager. "We have restaurants in Houston and Dallas, and my friends there keep calling me at the last minute, saying I've got to squeeze another person in."

At Palette, bartenders are lining up liquor bottles and facing their nozzles the right way so they can be grabbed in a hurry. "You have to prep like crazy," Roberts said at Thursday's bartending class, instructing Kaki Power, a lawyer at the Federal Communications Commission, and Rene Lawson, a physical therapist with NRH Regional Rehab who entertains more since recently remodeling her kitchen. Both leaned in close as Roberts explained how to transform a Greyhound (vodka and grapefruit juice) into a Salty Dog (salt the rim) or Salty Chihuahua:

Serve high-end liquor. Prepare your lemon and lime twists that day, not before. Use fresh juice, not concentrate. This is, after all, the kind of bar that mixes lavender chamomile tea with Bombay Sapphire gin. The kind of bar that once offered an avocado daiquiri, even though it tasted like cake batter.

"Rub a lime around the rim of the glass, then salt the rim," Roberts said. "Let me see your knife -- it's not even curved," said Power, marveling at the lime. "You don't get this way overnight. This is art."

Kosher salt crystals are bigger, look better and stick to the glass better, Roberts counseled. Fill each glass with ice, pour good tequila, then top it off with grapefruit juice.

"One, two, three, four, five, stop. One, two, three, four, five, stop," Roberts said. "Always count when you pour. An extra half-ounce times 240 people is a lot of money."

Lawson pronounced herself satisfied.

For the Texan Margarita, Roberts advised care with the jalapeno.

"We won't rim your glass with this; we'll just put it on the side. These things are nuclear," he said. "I had some on my hands, and I wiped my face, and it took me half an hour to come down."

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