The best things in life should be savored with friends. That's the takeaway from the menu at Provision No. 14, which opens Wednesday in the former Diego space at 14th and W streets NW. While it's full of a variety of drinks – frozen cocktails, local and regional wines and beers, an Old Fashioned fat-washed with buttered popcorn – a good portion of the drinks are designed for sharing.
The centerpiece of the menu, crafted by former Washington Post Express Best Bartender Chad Spangler and cohorts Glendon Hartley and Kevin Rogers, are four large-batch cocktails, served in 34-ounce French presses. Each contains about 25 ounces of liquid, equivalent to the volume of a bottle of wine, along with ice and a variety of fruit and mint.
There's an interesting level of customization here. Order the Pisco Rambler, and you'll find a delicate, sweetly fruity take on Pisco Punch made with Macchu Pisco, orange juice, pineapple, lemon and chamomile, steeping in a layer of mint leaves and orange and lemon peels. If you decide you want a more intense flavor, press down on the plunger, which releases more citrus and mint into the mixture, and fill your glass again.
The tactile sensation of plunging the handle makes the drink fun and interactive, but a greater sense of satisfaction comes from being able to choose exactly what the drink tastes like. Anyone who's lingered over a large cocktail knows the flavor changes over time, as ice dilutes or the garnish steeps, but the action of pressing allows for greater control over how quickly this chemical reaction occurs.
And, Spangler says, there's another, more important benefit to plunging: "When you press the mint, it's gently releasing the mint into the drink, so you get way more oils and concentrated flavors." Slapping or crushing the mint to release the aromatic oils, as many bartenders do, can also release the chlorophyll stored in the leaves, resulting in a bitter flavor. This way, Spangler says, "It's more like tea, so you're not going to get that vegetal component."
(A bit of background at this point: Spangler was named the area's best bartender by Washington Post Express readers in 2012, when he worked at Founding Farmers; he's since added the Chaplin, Del Campo and Farmers, Fishers, Bakers to his resume. He was D.C.'s representative in the national "Most Imaginative Bartender" competition sponsored by Bombay Sapphire and GQ in 2013.)
Other French press cocktails, which also include the Grapefruit Press, a far-too-easy-to-drink mix of Stoli vodka, grapefruit, mint and basil; and the Ticket to Ride, with Bombay Sapphire gin, chartreuse, pineapple, grapefruit, chamomile and honey. All cost $38, and contain roughly five cocktails, Spangler says.
But they're not the only drinks designed for sharing. Provision's two cocktails on tap are served in tall chimney glasses for $10 a pop, or brought to the table in 750 mL bottles – again, the size of a wine bottle – for $36. Choices include the Happy Gilmore – a vodka-and-chamomile take on a John Daly – or the rich and fruity Provision Mai Tai. Spangler points out that the house orgeat syrup, an essential ingredient in a proper Mai Tai, is made with a "hypoallergenic" almond extract instead of whole almonds, so the cocktail can be enjoyed by people with nut allergies.
The upstairs lounge at Provision, filled with early 20th century sofas and armchairs, broad wooden tables and stools made from tractor seats, seems a natural place to gather with a group. Seating is for cocktails only at the moment, and available on a first-come, first-seated basis.
Of course, you don't have to share: Drinks for one include a pair of frozen drinks, including a seasonal mix of gin, watermelon, basil and grapefruit topped with a field of micro-basil, and a Moscow Mule that derives its complex flavor from Chinese five-spice.
Provision no. 14, 2100 14th St. NW. 202-827-4530. www.provisiondc.com. Opens at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, April 29.