When Wisdom owner Erik Holzherr’s Tortoise and the Bare cocktail won the 2009 Artini competition, it took a lot of people by surprise (as in, who is this guy and where exactly is his bar??). I knew I had to get over to sample his concoctions as quickly as I could get someone to venture into the wilds of Pennsylvania Avenue SE with me.
Inside Wisdom’s shopworn exterior is an enveloping dark and shabbily elegant space, with cosy curtained nooks featuring tin ceiling plates on the walls. Moroccan glass lanterns abound. It’s all very Victorian professor’s idea of a medieval tower by way of the harem.
First up to try was the Wealthy Missionary – with a name like that, how could it not be? It turned out to be a luscious mix of Surreal Ginger Peach Vodka and Stone’s Original Ginger. My metaphors went into overdrive – “it’s a southern summer, a debutante’s ball!” Seriously, this cocktail is off the charts good.
But then I had a sip of my friend’s Pears of Wisdom and couldn’t decide which I liked better. This cocktail, featuring vodka and pear cognac (they make pear cognac??) with elderflower, was just like slipping on a vintage French silk slip and lolling around in a field of flowers…
I warned you about my metaphor overdrive.
The Sophomoric Sazerac was my last drink of the night. Made with Old Overholt 80 Rye, St. Germaine Elderflower Liquor (of course! it’s everywhere these days! I need to buy stock in this stuff!), and Pernod Absinthe. Served in a lovely antique etched glass, this is the drink for those of you not excited about the anise taste of absinthe, as the rye cuts it. Best sazerac I’ve had outside of New Orleans.
Speaking of absinthe, if you are one of the faithful, there is a little back bar dedicated to the green fairy and Wisdom serves probably the largest selection in the city – Absinthe Verte, Lucid, Pernod, Kubler, and Le Tourment Vert.
I worry slightly about the longterm prospects for Wisdom. At 12:30am on a Saturday night it still had plenty of space open. But perhaps they are really going for the neighborhood vibe, they were definitely a lot of locals talking about living nearby. In any case, the cocktails are on par with (if not better than) The Gibson. Both casual dress and elegance fit right in. Pretension doesn’t (hell, it’s next to Trusty’s and the local “coffee donuts hot dogs dry cleaning” spot). If you’re looking for a seriously sexy spot with wellcrafted cocktails and no attitude, make the trek.
1432 Pennsylvania Avenue SE
Washington, DC 20003