We Love Drinks: Jeff Faile

Jeff Garnishes
All photos by the author

We Love Drinks continues our series where we look behind the bar, profiling the many people – from mixologists to bartenders, sommeliers to publicans – who make your drinks experience happen.

“You could just write a short little paragraph: ‘Jeff hates vodka.’ That would sum it up perfectly.”

On a recent afternoon I sat down with Jeff Faile, until next Thursday the bar manager at Palena, and soon to be the bar manager (part of an excellent team) at Fabio Trabocchi’s return to DC, Fiola.

An army brat born in Rhode Island, he has a history degree from Clemson. Previously a manager at Tower Records in Philadelphia who moonlighted as a bartender, he moved to DC about five years ago and began bartending full-time. In November he got married, became bar manager at Palena, and was invited to join the DC Craft Bartenders Guild. And he owes at least part of his success to Twitter, of all things.

I first came to know Jeff through his Twitter account. The Social Chair tweeted something drink related (I think it was Whiskey Old Fashioned Day or something along those lines) and found herself with a new follower. She said something to me (“He’s a bartender at Palena. We should probably get to know him.”) and I started following him too.

Jeff:
When I first went into it, I didn’t expect too much of the response that I had. It was to be an information feed on different brands of booze and what some of the big guys were doing around the country. I would throw out something random about a drink I had made, good or bad, and people gravitated towards it. A couple people who have come in [to Palena] asked if I was on Twitter, and they started following me, and it led to Saturday Night Sips, which completely blew my mind. From one guy mentioning it on Twitter, and next thing I’m standing next to Alice Waters and José Andrés.

Fedward:
Did they like the drinks?

Jeff:
As far as I know Alice didn’t have anything. She popped up for half a second and asked me what I was making, and I was just kind of stunned. ‘Wow! You’re Alice Waters!’ She moved on, she just did a quick down-the-line.

Jose had one of Owen’s drinks given their connection, but he was super nice as well. Very outgoing for sure.

Fedward:
Who else was working the bar, just Owen?

Jeff:
Owen [Thomson, that is], Dan [Searing, of Room 11], and Gina [Chersevani, of PS7's]. So it was just four of us. I think last year it was just those three. I was the fourth wheel. I was the new kid.

Fedward:
How do you like DC?

Jeff:
I love DC. I think it’s great. I know Philly seems to be the hip spot to be, but I’m really happy to be in DC compared to Philly. Once Tower went under I started bartending full time and really had no desire to stay in Philly. I’d been trying to get out of Philly for a while.

Fedward:
Where do you go on your night off?

Jeff:
If it’s exclusively for a drink, Passenger is it. I love going down there. Food wise, Corduroy is a great spot. Estadio of course, Proof. The usual suspects.

Fedward:
How did you get into the Craft Bartenders Guild? Do you approach them? Do they approach you?

Jeff:
I’m still scratching my head over how that all happened. Derek [Brown] and I have a couple mutual friends. I guess they were under the impression that I was in [the Guild], and they kept asking Derek about it, and my boss here [at Palena] emailed Derek about it.

Cocktails at Palena

Derek came in one night and sat at the bar and said, “whatever you’re working on.” He and Angie [Salame] came in. I took a step back and figured I was having an informal tryout. That was right after the Bitter End, right after I’d started making that here. So I gave it to him, and gave him the reasoning behind it. He really enjoyed it, and Angie sipped on her Coke. He had dinner here, and asked me to make him something else. I went classic on him and made him a Bijou, ’cause that’s still my favorite cocktail of all time. He was impressed with that.

And then when he got up to leave, he said, “oh, about the Guild, we’ll have a social event. Just come, you’ll have to fill out an application but I think it won’t be too much trouble.”

They had a social event at PS7′s, the day after my wedding. I got the invite the night before my wedding. I didn’t know how to broach the subject with my wife. We’re sitting there after the ceremony, having dinner, at the head of the table. Side by side. So I just looked over, and I said, “so, Chantal sent me an email. The social event’s tomorrow. Tomorrow night. What do you think?” And she says, “well yeah! Sure! Go for it!”

So I showed up the day after the wedding. Derek was there before I was and looked over and said, “you’re here! Jeff’s here, and he just got married last night!”

Fedward:
Do you get the people who say, “oh, I don’t like gin,” or “oh, I don’t like bourbon, I don’t like Scotch?”

Jeff:
Oh, all the time. I have people that are a little more adventurous at times. A lot of people give me leeway to do something, and my question is, “what’s your least favorite?” And that’s what I make it with. Just to show them that there is potential out there.

Fedward:
I know you’ve been working on creating a lot of new cocktails, do you have a favorite cocktail to make right now, either adapted or original?

Jeff and a Bitter Experiment

Jeff:
The most recent one is the Wayfaring Stranger. You had an early version of it, and it’s changed up a bit. It was rye and Bassano amaro, Campari, Cointreau, and orange bitters. I’ve switched it up to Ransom Old Tom gin instead of the rye. The Ransom lightens it up a bit and opened it up. It really is a beautiful drink, if I do say so myself.

Fedward:
It is.

I’m glad to be able to call Jeff a friend, and I look forward both to catching his last week at Palena and in his new digs at Fiola.

Fedward Potz has lived in the District for fifteen years. He enjoys good food, craft cocktails, photography, music, and long walks on the beach.

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