Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Drinks

Drinks Preview: Mockingbird Hill

Derek Brown was describing the concept behind Mockingbird Hill one lazy, sherry-soaked afternoon. The name came from a line in Spanish Bombs, by The Clash (“The Only Band That Matters”) and the motif was inspired by the casual wine bars of Spain. It would feature some 54 sherries selected by his wife (and famous sherry proponent) Chantal Tseng, who was leaving Tabard Inn to work with him running the bar.

“So basically,” I said, “it’s a love letter to your wife.”

Opening tonight, their new bar is a love letter to a lot of things. To sherry and time spent in Spain. To family and friends. To both self-professed “sherry addicts” and to those who don’t know anything about sherry but are happy to learn. Located on 7th Street NW in a section of Shaw that’s primed to become one of the most exciting areas in the city, Mockingbird Hill feels like a new chapter in bar life for DC. It’s a casual spot to sip and learn, eat ham, listen to punk rock, and talk. It’s, dare I say, adult, in a very sexy way. I’m sure it’ll be packed for a bit, as new places always are in our city starved for more density, but eventually it’ll settle into that perfect third space bar. Continue reading

Dupont Circle, Entertainment, Food and Drink, Special Events, The Daily Feed

Liquid Lessons: Hotel Cocktails

Photo courtesy of
‘Glasses Half Full’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

There’s something about the combination of historic grand hotels and cocktail culture that absolutely enchants me. Judging from the crowd waiting to get into the seminar on great hotel cocktails last night at Tabard Inn, I’m not alone. Hosted by Philip Greene of the Museum of the American Cocktail, Better Drinking‘s Derek Brown, and Tabard’s own Chantal Tseng, it was a fascinating evening both informative and funny on the phenomenon of the American hotel cocktail.

The three witty hosts mixed up drinks and dispensed history, from the Prohibition days of revolving bars and secret staircases, to the fabled round table of the Algonquin, to Hawaii’s pink palaces on the sea. We even got to shake up our own Ramos Gin Fizzes (the two minutes of vigorous shaking resulting in the beautiful meringue top of this delicate drink? well worth the effort) while hearing about shady Huey Long bringing that glorious New Orleans cocktail to New York City as a PR stunt. It worked. Continue reading

Food and Drink, Special Events, The Daily Feed

Hot Drinks Cure All Blues

Flaming cafe brulot. Photo by author.

If you’re like me (and half the city, it seems) you may be struggling with a hacking cough caught just in time for the winter blues. It almost prevented me from attending the Hot Drinks event last night at Tabard Inn, but I rallied to see what Chantal Tseng and Adam Bernbach came up with to showcase warming cocktails. Three rounds of soothing hot liquid later and I felt much, much better. My camera, on the other hand, has met its maker, so forgive the foggy photos! But it was just the night to lift my battered spirits and I definitely recommend future events.

In the beautiful private room upstairs at Tabard with its preppily colored walls of pink and green, guests enjoyed two courses by chef Paul Pelt including perfectly prepared duck breast, ending the evening with pastry chef Huw Griffiths’ famous doughnuts. Though the food was delicious, it was the drinks that I needed! So, fellow sufferers of the winter cold blues, I give you Adam and Chantal’s remedies. I guarantee they will cure you (at least temporarily). Let’s start with Adam’s Genever Punch, whose amazing ginger and lemon scent led me up the stairs. Continue reading

Dupont Circle, Food and Drink, Special Events, The Daily Feed

Tabard Warms You Up

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘Samer Farha’

There are warm winter drinks, and then there are hot drinks. As in flaming hot! Next Tuesday’s tasting at Tabard Inn will feature one I recently tried in New Orleans, Cafe Brulot, a combination of coffee, brandy and spices. Chantal Tseng will demonstrate how to prepare it in the classic style, as the brandy is set on fire while cascading down a long spiraling orange peel (“Wish me luck!” she says). Though the pyrotechnics are a lot of fun, they aren’t just for show – the flaming preparation gives the drink a spicy hot citrus taste. There’s a distinct thick richness that comes from the alchemy as the flaming liquid is poured down the orange peel repeatedly. I loved it in New Orleans and can’t wait to warm up with it again.

There’s lots more to the evening, with Adam Bernbach of Proof and Estadio joining Chantal to focus on other hot drinks branching out from the classics. Talented Tabard chef Paul Pelt will provide pairings for the winter warmers with three tasting-size courses, ending with dessert by Huw Griffiths. All for $50 inclusive, from 7pm-9pm on January 25. To RSVP, email

Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Drinks

Best Of: Drinks 2010

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘Samer Farha’

We Love Drinks authors Kirk and I were really spoiled this year. In 2010 with wine, beer and cocktails alike we saw a resurgence of the desire to enjoy and educate ourselves in the world of libation. Sure we still like a shot from a dive bar but we also love craft cocktails. It’s not a drunk town, it’s a drinks town!

In addition to the old favorites, a number of new places opened up. We found ourselves covering everything we could despite busy day jobs (it certainly improved my tolerance level. shut up, pesky liver, wine is good for you!). There was the continuation of the wine bar explosion with cosy Dickson Wine Bar, DC’s raging beer love with Biergarten Haus and the promise of DC Brau, luscious cocktail smoothies at Fruit Bat, the rough-and-tumble American Ice Co. – I know we missed a few, and I’m going to do my best to stay on top of 2011. We’ve got burning questions in the coming year – will the winter opening of Jack Rose get me to hang out in Adams Morgan again, or will the Bier Baron successfully revive the faded Brickskellar space (and reputation)?

Anything you’d like to see covered? Interested in joining our merry drinks band? Drop me a line, I’d love to know.

Now, on to my favorite Drinks moments of 2010!

Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed, We Love Drinks

Imbibe Loves DC Too

Photo courtesy of
‘The Tabard Cocktail’
courtesy of ‘Samer Farha’

The September/October 2010 edition of Imbibe magazine is out and features a sampling of the DC cocktail and beer scenes. With cocktail recipes from Gina Chersevani of PS7, Alex Bookless of The Passenger (recent winner of the Rickey Contest), and Chantal Tseng of Tabard Inn, the ladies represent!

Try your hand at mixing up Gina’s “Beetiful Bubbles” with, yes, beet syrup, or Alex’s “That Cucumber Drink” muddling cucumber and mint, or my personal long-term favorite, Chantal’s “Tabard Cocktail” combining sherry and tequila. Fantastic.

The current issue also breaks down 20 beer spots both inside and outside the city highlighting both the usual suspects like Greg Engert’s program at Birch & Barley/Churchkey and a few surprises.

The best part about DC being featured in Imbibe this month? The tone is congratulatory, not condescending in that way we sometimes see other national publications yap about DC’s food/drink offerings (Grey Lady, I am looking at you). I love it when our local talent gets recognized!

Food and Drink, Special Events, The Features, We Love Drinks

Drinks Preview: ARTINI

Erik Holzherr of Wisdom's ARTINI. Photo credit: T. Silva. Courtesy of the Corcoran ARTINI 2010 Committee.

This Saturday the Corcoran Gallery of Art presents ARTINI, and if you’ve been waffling about attending I hear there are roughly less than 100 tickets still left, but going fast and not available at the door. So jump!

ARTINI is a fabulous event mixing two of my favorite things – art and cocktails. Twelve local mixologists have created drinks inspired by works in the current exhibit at Corcoran, A Love of Europe: Highlights from the William A. Clark Collection. Preview events featuring the submissions have been ongoing this month (I know, I know, I should’ve told you earlier, mea culpa, it’s been a crazy time lately). Tonight you can sample Art & Soul and tomorrow try out Rasika from 6:30pm to 8:30pm at the respective restaurants. The Washingtonian is a co-sponsor and handles the voting, with the winning artini announced Saturday. The inspiration works will be on display that night as well.

The cocktail reception runs from 8pm to midnight, with $85 tickets for 1869 Society members and $100 for non-1869 Society members. That includes a cocktail bar, music by DJ Chris Nitti, and tours of both the Clark exhibit and Turner to Cezanne: Masterpieces from the Davies Collection. Proceeds support ArtReach, which provides free high-quality arts education programs to underserved communities in DC.

So many mixologists already take their inspiration from art. It’s a natural collaboration. Here’s a quick rundown of who’s on board and a few teasers to get you in the mood. Continue reading

Food and Drink, Interviews, People, The Features, We Love Drinks

We Love Drinks: Chantal Tseng

Chantal Tseng at Tabard Inn. Photo courtesy Chantal Tseng/Tabard Inn.

Chantal Tseng at Tabard Inn. Photo courtesy Chantal Tseng/Tabard Inn.

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.

It’s no secret that one of my favorite bars in the city is Tabard Inn. The creaky lounge – a Victorian Medievalist’s fantasy, with its eccentric patrons circling the fireplace – seems somehow out of time and place, a bit dreamy really. Thankfully its mixologist’s first reaction to the bar’s collection of quirky old ingredients wasn’t to throw them all away, but to find a way to incorporate and celebrate them. It makes perfect sense.

Because Chantal Tseng sees stories everywhere. Stories for cocktails, that is.

As she describes for me her foray into the great old stock of the hotel, I have a vision of her browsing through dusty bottles in search of new worlds to uncover – like some cocktail archeologist. “Wait, what’s that? Don’t get rid of it, that could be fun to play with…” Her enthusiasm pulls me along, for mixing drinks is obviously Chantal’s love, an artistic outlet fueled by the history behind a drink and the stories it weaves afterwards.

Take the tale she spins for Odette’s Curse. It begins with her standing in front of a painting of a man ice-skating. “In a silly pose,” she says, “like a dandy on ice.” Continue reading

The Features, We Love Drinks

2009, A Glass Half Full

Glass Half Full

"Glass Half Full" by Jenn Larsen on Flickr

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. Continue reading