For many people I know, Tryst is “The Office.” Well, now they can drink on the job in style!
Last week the Adams Morgan coffeehouse pioneer rolled out a new cocktail menu, and fellow WLDC author Samer and I were treated to some fine libation as they branch away from the bean. And as we all await the impending snowflakes of doom, it’s nice to note that Tryst will be open throughout the storm!
In operation since 1998, Tryst has always aimed to be a neighborhood gathering place true to its fun motto, “No Corporate Coffee, No Matching Silverware.” Of course they opened the year after I’d already left Adams Morgan for Logan Circle, so I’ve never been one to hang out there – but several friends really do treat it as their office, setting up with laptops and getting social over the screens, fueled by lots and lots of coffee. Just as the java isn’t corporate, when it came time to debut a new cocktail menu, Tryst wanted to do the same for drinks. With David Fritzler at the helm, Tryst’s beverage director for the past ten years, and two new bartenders – J.P. Cacares and Lana Labermeier – the new menu is billed as “quality cafe cocktails” ranging in price from $6-10.
As David told us, “I want to bring pre-Prohibition cocktail knowledge, quality liquors and fresh ingredients out of the speakeasy and expensive hotel bars and to the general public.” As a member of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild, he’s already dedicated to a high standard of cocktail culture. We parked ourselves at the bar and knocked back a few to see whether the drinks would succeed.
I went right for the least accessible taste first. My love of the bitter spectrum of flavor has been developing pretty strongly, and the Bitter Ex did not disappoint (ha! really, that’s a genius name. billed as “helps one forget past regrets.” mmm… more regrets please!). Beefeater gin, Campari, Cynar, grapefruit juice and bitters – this may sound terrifying to those not accustomed to such hard-hitting flavors, but it’s a well-balanced cocktail that’s a good introduction to the beauty of bitter.
Another good cocktail to introduce different flavors is the Winona Ryeder, which tempers the distinctive taste of rye whiskey with Averna Amaro and sassafras bitters. Amaro being both bitter and sweet, it’s a sneaky way to get your less-adventurous friend to fall in love with complex flavors. An easy drink to sip and admire, I heard it ordered quite a bit that night.
J.P. then convinced me to try the Smoke & Mirrors, a mix of Mezcal and Anejo tequila with grapefruit juice, honey, and Aztec chocolate bitters. I loved the citrus match to the tequila and the kick of the chocolate was just enough to keep things lively. At this point we began to deviate from the menu, with J.P. delivering intentionally comic lines like, “My English, it’s not so good-looking but my drinks are delicious” while torching sugared apple slices to make a kind of cotton candy drink. Apple vodka, Averna, apple simple syrup, and egg whites topped with the carmelized apple slice – oh you know the girls will love this one! He made a “not-so-feminine” version for Samer with a carmelized strawberry. It went over very well, so well Samer was soon convincing David to make the afore-pictured Blue Blazer…
At this point the bar was hopping. The actual bar area is small, but that allows for a good degree of interaction with your bartender, and of course you can get the drink menu while sitting at one of Tryst’s many quirky corners. In addition to the craft cocktails (divided into liquor type for easy decisions), there’s also a “Day Drinkin’ Favorites” list including a John Daly with vodka, tea, and lemonade, plus an extensive selection of champagne cocktails like the Pomme Rose (lemon vodka, grenadine, rose water and cava? I think I’ll be back for that one). And of course there are coffeehouse cocktails using tea and coffee, like the Tryst Toddy – bourbon, Punt e Mes, honey and Sambuca with a flamed star anise in spiced black tea.
Actually, that last one sounds just about perfect as the wet snow is coming down and I’m getting a bit numb with cabin fever. I’m not even snowed in yet. Time for a toddy. Stop in, they’ll be open.