D.C. Hotel Bars That Stand Apart: Bourbon Steak, M Bar, Scotch Bar

By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 8, 2009

Washington's hotel bars have a long and proud history, from the mid-19th century, when politician Henry Clay introduced the mint julep to the city, to the early 21st century, when bars at the Topaz and Rouge hotels were on the forefront of the nascent cocktail revolution.

There are plenty of drab, touristy lobby bars dotting the area's hotels, but some lounges set themselves apart. Here are three that are trying new ways to lure local customers -- not just those bedding down for the night.

Bourbon Steak

Inside the Four Seasons Hotel, 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-944-2026.

Bourbon Steak's lounge takes elements of the classic steakhouse bar (brown leather armchairs, dim lights) and gives them a serious style upgrade, with long banquettes, low metal cocktail tables and stylish overhead fixtures. So far, so good.

Then you open the leather-bound cocktail menu and your mouth starts to water. The H.B. Shrub, made with rye whiskey, sherry, brandied cherries, burnt orange peel and a piece of huckleberry shrub, is as rich and decadent as it sounds. The Last Word, a gin/maraschino liqueur/green chartreuse concoction, is accented with lime peel and redolent of spring.

Mixologist Kevin Diedrich, a D.C. native, was recruited from San Francisco, where he had worked at Bourbon & Branch and Clock Bar, two of the most praised cocktail bars in the United States.

"It was an opportunity to do a bar program from scratch," he explains. "At [other bars], there'd be an existing program and I'd learn it. Here, I have full control."

Also, he added: "D.C. has a great cocktail scene, and I thought it would be great to be involved with it. It's my home town."

Diedrich says his is a "West Coast" style, influenced by the slow food movement; his cocktails involve lots of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Every month, he says, he goes to farmers markets and orders seasonal fruits (at the moment those include rhubarb and strawberries) and works them into the menu.

All this pleasure comes at a price, though: Cocktails are $12 to $16, as are glasses of wine. But the lounge usually stays packed from 7 p.m. on.

"I think it's phenomenal," says Clarence Wooten Jr., the president of Maryland Internet company CollectiveX. "You come in here and it's a who's who of Washington, D.C., business. And the mixologists are fantastic. . . . You'll be here for hours."

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