In our ongoing “A Round With…” series, We Love DC chats with some of the interesting people behind our local bars.
In this installment, I had the opportunity to sit down with Rico Wisner at the recently-remodeled Bar Rouge inside the Hotel Rouge. The bar space has been expanded and spruced up – and, under Rico’s direction, the menu of wines on tap and craft cocktails has been upgraded as well.
The current menu is summer to the max, featuring combinations of flavors like pineapple with basil and blueberry with sage. Many of the key ingredients come from Wisner’s rooftop garden, the tending to which he describes as among the most gratifying parts of his work day. Unlike the garden he became accustomed to snipping from while working at Poste, the garden at Rouge is closed to the public and affords him a quiet moment to water, clip, and consider new recipes. Recipes like the extra-tasty San Juan Swizzle – a combination of ginger, rum, soda, and ruby port.
1. What is your current position and how did you get to where you are today?
Lounge Manager at Bar Rouge.
I started out bartending at a country club while in college. Within a couple of months I was the head bartender. I then bounced around to all kinds of places and ended up as the Bar Manager at McCormick & Schmick’s, that’s where I got into the history of cocktails and creating cocktails.
Then I joined Kimpton Hotels five years ago at Poste, where I shortly thereafter took over as the Bar Supervisor/Beverage Manager/Mixologist. Then in January I was promoted over to Bar Rouge to oversee the reconcepting of the bar and overhaul the beverage program.
2. What is the first drink you remember learning to make or remember drinking?
Brass Monkey, for both. I just remember that all I had was vodka, rum, and orange juice so I combined them and later looked into it and found out that it was called a Brass Monkey.
3. What is your favorite cocktail to make?
Right now I’d say a Pisco Sour. It requires a bit of technique, and a bit of showmanship, but you end up with a beautiful drink.
4. Where do you go on your night off? What do you order?
ChurchKey, I usually just leave myself in the hands of the great staff over there and try a new beer.
5. If you were not behind the bar (or in your garden) is there something else entirely you see yourself doing?
I think I’d be in the kitchen. At one point I was going to go to culinary school.
6. What one bottle would you suggest someone add to their home bar?
Green Chartreuse, it’s great to drink on its own but you can also add just a touch to a cocktail to give it a little depth and complexity.
7. What other bartender, sommelier, beverage director, etc do you recommend we talk to next?
Daniel Lobsenz, the sommelier at Poste Moderne Brasserie. We worked great together over there and he’s put together a phenomenal wine list and has kept the beverage program there top notch.