When I inaugurated the We Love Drinks feature back in September 2008, I really didn’t give it much thought to start with, honestly. We founding writers were tossing around feature ideas, and I said, “hey, what about drinks? I go out a fair amount.” That simple. It began mostly with bar reviews, with some coffee and tea thrown in for good measure.
But that slowly started to change when I realized there were people passionate about drinks culture in the city – not just nightlife and where to go to get wasted (not that I was writing about that! those days are over, darlings, good-bye jello shots!). It was a humbling experience to discover what a neophyte I was – when I got caught in the crossfire of a discussion on how to make your own bitters, for example, or the first time someone asked me whether I preferred green or yellow Chartreuse. Certainly the vast world of wine was still a mystery despite the wine bar explosion, and don’t even get me started about my beer ineptitude.
So why I am admitting this to you? Because these days I’m all about humility. I may be opinionated, but I’m still eager to learn and am constantly excited about the many different possibilities in our city of drinks. Respect for the taste and the balance of a proper cocktail, diving into the vast world of wine and beer, and most importantly understanding your own tolerance – that’s been my experience in 2009. Here are a few key moments that helped me on this continuing journey.
1) Trust Your Bartender. I think many people expected The Passenger to be another version of The Gibson, but its atmosphere to me is completely bad-ass. All about developing a relationship with your bartender and going on a journey through the world of drinks, from High Life to high-end. Not everyone gets it. The musical selection cracks me up. But when Tom Brown introduced me to The Kraken black spiced rum on Christmas Eve night, I almost saw God.
2) Culinary Cocktails. People are now being asked to think about a bar as they would a fine dining establishment – to give the bar, the bartender, and the cocktails that same respect. Crazy transition, and in my view, the best way to help people respect alcohol instead of abuse it. These are mixologists using fresh produce, housemade syrups, and really thinking about the aesthetics. See how it’s done with Gina Chersevani at PS7, Adam Bernbach at Proof, Jason Robey at New Heights…
3) Repeal Day Ball. I expected this to be a booze-soaked mess, but it turned out to be one of the most fashionable and friendly evenings I’ve had in a long time. Being able to try almost every top cocktail master in the city’s drinks was true enchantment. Todd Thrasher held court in the back like some mad magician whipping up cider air and brewing walnut water, reminding me I need to get to PX in 2010.
4) The Hotel Bar Resurgence. Once upon a time they were the only places to get decent cocktails; when the renaissance took off, they languished for a while. But definitely back on the upswing, and some of my favorite places to kick back and chat about cocktail history with passionate purveyors. Alex Holzer behind the bar at Quill in The Jefferson is rather daring, while Chantel Tseng at Tabard Inn continues to pour the classics with a quirky kind of skill.
5) Coffee Cures All. And now my PSA for 2009: Let’s kill the chains, please. For those lovers of caffeine over alcohol, DC’s slowly seeing the rise of some great independent coffeehouses. My own coffee nirvana came at MidCity Caffe, where the beauty of the bean comes through gently and persuasively. Not to mention, a hell of a kick all day.
Recently I’ve been experimenting with a profile series for We Love Drinks, expanding from bar reviews to actually talking to the people behind the bar – a bartender, a mixologist, and a sommelier to start. It’s been amazing fun so far and I hope you’re enjoying it. Coming up in January? Kirk will take us into the world of beer with Greg Engert of Churchkey, and I hit the scotch at Againn with Elli Benchimol. Please let me know if you have anyone you’d like to see interviewed in 2010.
Thanks for the inspiration, and have a happy new year filled with experience and love. Cheers!