The Columbia Room's JP Fetherston has been named one of the best new mixologists in the country by Food and Wine magazine.
You may have seen Fetherston at the original Columbia Room in 2010, or behind the bar at Rappahannock Oyster Bar or Southern Efficiency in the years since, so it seems a little strange to see him listed as a "new" talent. But he's taken on increased prominence as the head bartender at the Columbia Room, which reopened this year in Blagden Alley. "It's 'new' at different stages [of your career]," Fetherston says. "I haven't been around forever. This is another stage." (Still, that didn't stop friends from the industry coming up to him at the Passenger's grand opening party on Monday night and asking, "I've been seeing you around for years, what is this?")
Though he's worked in a variety of different bars, Fetheston has flourished at the Columbia Room, with its seasonal, prix-fixe cocktail menus and attention to detail. The advantage of the Columbia Room, he says, is "the time we spend getting to know people, getting to know what they like, getting to interact with them.
"We get so much more scope to get into drinks, and the history of individual drinks, playing around with making new ingredients, and going down the rabbit hole. We didn't have the scope to be able to do that at the other places," such as Rappahannock or Southern Efficiency, where Fetherston says the pace can be "relentless. … You're making drinks, you get in a zone."
The change of pace is demonstrated in the Columbia Room's summer cocktail menu, such as the We Came for the Gold ($15 in the spirits library), with miso-infused pisco, a ginger-lime cordial and honey, garnished with a red shiso leaf, or a pair of Tasting Room cocktails using Singani, a brandy made in the Bolivian Andes. One pairs Singani with Scotch, dry curacao, orgeat, banana and passionfruit, and black-lemon bitters; the other goes in a completely different direction with Guyana rum, Cocchi Torino, Brazilian banana liqueur, and Mexican xocolatl mole bitters.
So what drink does an award-winning mixologist reach for to celebrate receiving such an honor? "I believe the first one was a glass of Knob Creek neat at All Souls," he says. "But it should be bubbles. I'm going to have to drink some tonight."
The Columbia Room, 124 Blagden Alley NW. 202-316-9396. columbiaroomdc.com. Open at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.