by Borderstan.com October 22, 2012 at 9:00 am 1,303 0

"The Coupe"

The Coupe. (Rachel Nania)

From Rachel Nania. Check out her blog, Sear, Simmer & Stir. Follow Nania on Twitter @rnania, email her at rachel[AT]borderstan.com. 

The newly opened 24-hour restaurant, The Coupe, will host a cocktail event on Monday, October 22 to benefit DC Central Kitchen.

Five of the East Coast’s best mixologists will be on-hand to create craft drinks from 8 until 10 pm. Local mixologists include JP Caceres of Pisco Porton and Juan Coronado of Think Food Group. Traveling guests include Raphael Reyes of New York’s Mihoko’s 21 Grams, Ryan McGrale of Boston’s Death By Cocktails and Brendan Dorr of the B&O Brasserie in Baltimore.

Entry into the event is a $15 donation, which includes a glass of craft punch. Additional drink tickets are $5 each. The Coupe is located in Columbia Heights at 3415 11th Street NW.

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by Borderstan.com October 4, 2012 at 12:00 pm 1,421 0

From Jane Alonso. Her passion for food and spirits leads her on frequent excursions into Borderstan’s land of bars and restaurants. Email her at jane[AT]borderstan.com

"Columbia Room"

Passenger’s Columbia Room. (Luis Gomez Photos)

I discovered the Columbia Room in a fashion totally appropriate for an exclusive speakeasy – by seeing something I wasn’t supposed to see.

A date had suggested we meet for drinks at Passenger (a hip, but somewhat divey bar near the Convention Center), and while on my way back from the bathroom, I accidentally collided with a server coming out of an unmarked door.

I peered in, expecting to see a kitchen or storage area… but instead, saw a secret bar. “What was that?”  I asked. “Nothing,” he said. “You weren’t supposed to see that.”  And then he slammed the door shut. Okay, I was intrigued from that moment forward…

It is my continuing mission to find the coolest and wettest speakeasies on the eastern seaboard, but how had I somehow overlooked Passenger’s Columbia Room?  I have now been educated. Since opening Passenger with his brother in 2010, owner and Chief Mixologist Derek Brown (formerly of the Gibson, another Borderstan haunt) has won numerous accolades, including a James Beard nomination, for turning classic American cocktails into an art form.

From start to finish, the feel of the Columbia Room experience is one of exclusivity. Entry is through the aforementioned unmarked entry door into a classically decorated foyer that may or may not have an attendant (someone will eventually show up to usher you into the bar areas… in hushed and polite tones). It is a bit like visiting a spa for drinking.

The Columbia Room itself is quite small and quiet – only 16 seats, 10 of which are reserved for the tasting at a long counter in the middle of the room (customers may linger at back of the room tables after the tasting is finished). The walls are lined with apothecary jars stuffed with herbs, spices, and infusions of all shapes and colors. Several bartenders create their masterpieces behind the counter, quietly interacting with customers who express an interest in their materials and methods.

All customers sign up for the $67 three course tasting menu — an opening drink, a seasonal drink paired with a small tasting dish, and a third drink of your choice customized by the bartenders. Additional cocktails beyond the first three – plus cheese and charcuterie — are available at an additional cost.

Be prepared to sit back for several hours and enjoy the experience – like a spa, the Columbia Room is all about escape and lingering. And expect some surprises – for example, a dry sherry-based cocktail, paired with paella, the type of thing you expect to see at a tapas bar, not a speakeasy. Or a particularly fantastic mix of smoky liquor (Mezcal!), cinnamon, and red pepper. For every drink served, the bartender gives you a chance to examine the bottle of liquor chosen for that cocktail — perhaps my favorite part of the experience.

A visit to the Columbia Room is an investment in time and money, but it’s a truly unique tribute to Prohibition-era secrecy and cocktails that should be on your list.

The Details

  • Where Am I Going: Columbia Room, a speakeasy located inside Passenger, 1021 7th Street NW.
  • When Am I Going: Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 11:30 pm (last call is 1 am). Reservations are required.
  • Paycheck Pain: Customers are charged $67 per person, inclusive of tax and tip, for a threef-course drink tasting menu paired with several small dishes.
  • Say What? No concern about noise here. There are only 10 seats at the bar and a handful of seats for customers who linger after the tasting.
  • What am I eating and drinking: Cocktails are the focus here, with small plates, cheese, and charcuterie to complement the drinks.

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by Borderstan.com July 25, 2012 at 12:00 pm 4,256 0

From Jane Alonso. Her passion for food and spirits leads her on frequent excursions into Borderstan’s land of bars and restaurants. Email her at jane[AT]borderstan.com

"Borderstan "42_Bus"

Dare yourself at the Gibson. (Luis Gomez Photos)

When most of us visit a bar, we either order a familiar drink of choice – maybe an Old Fashioned or a Cosmopolitan – or we revert to the bar’s preset cocktail menu as a guide.  But what happens if there is no menu and the bartender’s sole mission is to tailor a drink to your tastes?

Last Saturday night, I found myself grappling that question at the upstairs bar at the Gibson, the venerable U Street speakeasy owned by Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation, the Eighteenth Street Lounge and neighboring Marvin.

While the downstairs section of The Gibson offers a menu, the upstairs is a free-wheeling cocktail carnival. Like a painter’s canvas, the Gibson offers a safe space to explore what good drinking can and should be.

What makes a great cocktail?  Well, not surprisingly, it’s similar to the elements that make great food – a balance of sweet, salty, sour, and bitter – and quality ingredients.  In the case of a cocktail, that means top-shelf liquor, fresh-squeezed juices, and house-made bitters and infusions.

This is not the time or place to order everyday drinking fare. Let the types of flavors you prefer in foods inspire you. It’s also a good opportunity to choose a type of liquor that you might be curious about. And if you have a drink you cannot part with, it can be re-invented with a fresh palate.  A good mixologist will be willing to collaborate with you to create something exciting and drinkable.

When the Gibson’s bartender asked me “what are you in the mood for?” I initially thought of my love of peaty scotches and asked him to create a cocktail with lots of smoke. He immediately pulled a bottle of Laphroig of the shelf, adding Chartreuse and simple syrup.  The result was surprisingly light – reminiscent of smoky scotch without the bite. Perfect for a summer evening.

For my second round, I branched out of my comfort zone.  Spotting a bottle of rye whiskey, I thought it might make an interesting base for something with sour notes. A discussion with the bartender ensued as he asked for more thoughts on what I was looking for. What came out the other end of this creative process was absolutely fantastic – ginger, champagne, lemon juice, and habanerno bitters adding a kaleidoscope of flavors to that rye base. I am still thinking about this drink days later; it was that good.

Not everyone is open to this type of experience.  I watched some patrons around me struggle with what to order (one young man told the bartender: “I have no idea what I like.  All I ever drink are gin and tonics”). I initially try to assist with ideas, but the problem is, a patron who can’t think outside the box is not going to appreciate these drinks regardless of how well they are made. If that is you, save your money and head to the local dive. For all others, don’t pass up the chance to allow some of the most talented mixologists in DC challenge your palate at a place like the Gibson.

The Gibson: The Details

  • Where Am I Going: The Gibson, 2009 14the Street NW (black door just past the corner of 14th and U)
  • When Am I Going: Open every night after 6 pm.
  • Paycheck Pain: Specialty cocktails priced at $14.
  • Say What? The atmosphere is cozy and quiet.
  • What You’ll Be Drinking: Splurge on something creative.

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