Jack Rose Dining Saloon has been opening in stages, overlooking the seemingly interminable construction at the intersection of 18th Street and Florida Avenue NW. Now that the dust is finally clearing from the brand new sidewalk outside, its long-awaited dinner menu has debuted as well and is being served seven nights a week in the downstairs dining room and bar. The upstairs patio has been in full swing for most of the summer and is due to continue the grilling and swilling through the fall, including a Tiki bar on the back porch that served me up some killer classics two weeks ago when I visited for the official debut of the downstairs menu.
The key visual of Jack Rose is certainly its downstairs dining room’s wall of scotches, bourbons and spirits – 1400 bottles lining the bar in bookcases of booze. Between liquor, wine and beer the catalog of offerings can be a bit staggering, but the elegant room invites relaxed sifting through the menu while sipping some Ardbeg at the long bar, watching bartenders climb up ladders library-style to fetch bottles. Turn a corner at Jack Rose and the atmosphere can instantly change – every space here has its own feel, so give yourself some wandering time before deciding where you’d like to perch for a while.
Upstairs is divided into several sections, including a front balcony overlooking 18th Street off a small lounge bar complete with fireplace, the main open-air deck with a wood-fire grill and bar, and the small back bar that’s slowly turning into a Tiki spot. I started back there and almost never left, as a friend sipped a perfect Painkiller. After watching the moon rise off the back porch with a classic Mai Tai (orgeat syrup? yes please!) it was time to head downstairs and sample some whiskey cocktails from the excellent selection crafted by Rachel Sergi.
The downstairs dining room features about twenty cocktails for $13 each, divided into Classics like the Bee’s Knees and New Creations like the two I sampled. The first, Knuckleball, was a ridiculously delicious drink with Wry Moon white whiskey. If you haven’t tried white whiskey yet, “white” simply refers to whiskey that hasn’t yet been aged (also called “white dog” or well, moonshine). Wry Moon is unaged Kentucky rye made in small batches by Corsair Artisans, and in this drink it’s beautifully rounded out with Cocchi Americano, Pernod absinthe, Aztec Chocolate bitters, and Maldon sea salt. It reminded me of eating salty caramels.
The second cocktail I tried, with the clever name of Not Your Mother’s Scotch Bonnet, uses Bushmill’s Irish Whiskey as its base. Before you think it’s cheeky to use Irish whiskey in a drink with Scotch in the name, the Scotch here refers instead to the Scotch Bonnet pepper syrup (let’s not start an international incident!). The peppery heat is well contrasted by Combier orange liqueur, Dubonnet, and both grapefruit juice and grapefruit bitters. A wicked gorgeous combination of spicy, sweet and bitter flavors.
In the fall, Jack Rose will hold events to highlight the natural affinity of whiskey and cigars, as well as pairing dinners held the first Monday of every month – kicking it off October 3 with an Irish whiskey dinner featuring Knappogue Castle 12yr, 16yr and 1951 (a good friend ranks this whiskey his personal favorite, so I’m seriously excited to share the news!). There’s also something for beer lovers – on October 4 it will debut Flying Dog’s newest beer poured from a pumpkin cask (yes, carved from an actual pumpkin), along with fifteen other pumpkin ales just in time for autumn breezes. I’m looking forward to working my way through the cocktail menu, expanding my whiskey knowledge, and watching the harvest moon rise.