Food and Drink, Interviews, People, We Love Drinks

A Round With … Katie Nelson

Katie Nelson
Katie Nelson
Photo by the author.

The drinks team decided that this concept from the Flickr blog would be a fun way to get to know some local bartenders. So we stole it. We’re passionate about spotlighting D.C.’s finest behind the bar. Our first round is with Katie Nelson from the Columbia Room.

1. Introduce yourself. What’s your current position and how’d you get where you are today?

Katie Nelson, Service Manager and Bartender at the Columbia Room, a 10-seat private bar within the Passenger.

In a literal sense, I got my current job because I had been a regular at the Gibson, which was my neighborhood bar and, of course, where my boss, Derek Brown, worked for over a year. I was in the right place at the right time when he asked me to take a job working for him, and I’m a lucky lady. Beyond that, though, I come from a family that relishes food and unique experiences. I grew up mostly in North Carolina, but I’d also lived overseas in Saudi Arabia and traveled from a young age, which I reckon helped me to develop a wider palate. After college, I took on a bartending position in a restaurant where I’d worked as a server, and I loved taking care of the customers and making drinks, but I was under the impression at the time that the job wasn’t meant to be a permanent position. I moved to D.C., worked a few different jobs and moved around a bit more before coming back finally to the beverage/hospitality industry. I’d noticed that all of the things I’d liked about all of my previous jobs had in some way to do with aspects of this field, and considered culinary school, but realized that the immediacy of working in a bar — crafting drinks in addition to being able to personally serve and talk to the customers — made bartending a more ideal position for me. My Southern-ness comes out — I really enjoy making people feel happy, so it’s a natural fit. My particular role at the Columbia Room brings my joys to the forefront: constantly experimenting with flavor, learning from the cocktail greats of the past and present, educating my palate and passing on information to others when I can, and helping to create a hospitable experience for our guests.

2. What’s the first drink you remember learning to make (or the first drink you remember drinking)?

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Food and Drink, Special Events, The Daily Feed

Georgetown Love Potions

Photo courtesy of
‘Cinn City’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

I may not care a fig for Valentine’s Day (of course having said that, I fully expect a boatload of lilies delivered to my door, please) but I do love cocktails! So does the Georgetown BID, which has pulled together a bunch of restaurants to provide you with enough aphrodisiac concoctions to seduce even the hardest of hearts. Starting tonight, these selections (“Love Potions,” natch) will be available through Valentine’s Day all across the Georgetown circuit at 19 spots including Mie N Yu, Neyla, and 1789. Drinks are 2 for $14, for couples or friends.

Now, I rarely get to Georgetown these days but two of the sips I sampled earlier this week were tempting enough to get me to return (that and the cocktail shaker shaped like a dumbbell that I spied in an antiques window – ahem, gift?). The standout was created by Bourbon Steak’s very talented Duane Sylvestre. As you can probably guess from the name – Cinn City – it has the red hot spice of cinnamon as its top note, with the other ingredients being Four Roses bourbon and Peychaud’s bitters (First reaction? “It really does taste like a Red Hot! But not in a candy way.”). Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Thursday Bonus Happy Hour: The Bitter End


‘Campari’
courtesy of ‘bionicteaching’

I consider Jeff Faile, bar manager at Palena, a friend. This Modern Luxury article on the expanded restaurant is great on the food, but does some injustice to one of Jeff’s brilliant cocktails (vodka?!). And since he has shared the recipe with me, I can now both correct the record and share it with you.

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Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Drinks

We Love Drinks: Todd Thrasher’s Preserved Cherries

Prepared Jars
Prepared Jars by Don Feduardo
All photos courtesy of the author

We Love Drinks embarks on a series where we attempt to make our favorite cocktails and essential drinks ingredients from around town. If there’s something you’d like us to feature, please let us know!

The proper garnish is a critical part of some cocktails. DC has no shortage of bars where you can get a craft cocktail, and if you watch the bartenders at work at one of these establishments (and I have) you can see (and taste) how the garnish really can finish a drink, either emphasizing or complementing certain flavors in the liquid ingredients.

My first craft cocktail experience in the area came at PX, where the craft most definitely extends to the garnish. One of the cocktails I had on my first visit was listed on the menu as not just a Manhattan, but “My Wife’s Manhattan.” How could I pass that up? So I was very pleased when the Washington Post ran the recipe for Todd Thrasher’s preserved cherries. I made my first batch of them as soon as I could round up a cherry pitter and some cherries, based on the vagaries of supply and demand at Giant. And they were good, but they were salty. I had done something wrong.

It didn’t matter that they were too salty, though, because the Social Chair and I polished them off with some dispatch. We had three problems, really: 1) that first batch was too salty; 2) supply is unpredictable and the cherry season is short; 3) the recipe says they’ll last for two weeks in the fridge, nowhere near as long as our own Manhattan season. So I decided the next batch would solve all three of those problems. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Drinks

Drinks Preview: Church & State

Photo courtesy of
‘Church and State’
courtesy of ‘Samer Farha’

Consistency and creativity are the two elements Erik Holzherr strives for in his bars. Add to that the well-deserved cliche of infectious enthusiasm – after just a few minutes of talking to him about his newest venture at the media preview for Church & State, I swear fellow WLDC authors Ashley, Samer and I are ready to go forth and open our own bar! Strike that. We’ll just be content with spreading the cocktail gospel.

Erik already has two popular bars in DC, both serving as outposts in developing neighborhoods. Wisdom was followed by Fruit Bat, and now Church & State is open to the public. Upstairs from Fruit Bat on H Street NE, it’s got such a gothic sensibility I found myself seriously craving a clove cigarette. Next time you feel the need to don the vintage finery, this is the bar to visit. Dimly lit, with reclaimed wood, flickering altar candles, and plenty of stained glass make for a striking effect. Add in an actual confessional room that gave Ashley and I total Exorcist chills, plus a raised alcove with a majestic leather couch that will definitely be fought over, and you have a small temple to the American cocktail. Continue reading

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

Tabard Warms You Up

Photo courtesy of
‘Magnified’
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 wheron@gmail.com.

Food and Drink, Night Life, The Daily Feed, The District

Town & Country Goes to the Farm


‘Town and Country’
courtesy of ‘Don Feduardo’

You might have seen this already. Tonight’s last call will truly be the last for (insert-cliché-here) bar Town & Country at the Mayflower, closing to make room for a relocated Thomas Pink store in what appears to be a complete renovation of the hotel’s ground floor.

The Social Chair and I stopped by last night to have a round and toast the bar’s history, but this was actually my first visit there. I’ll miss it in theory (I love the room) but the cocktails she and I had were underwhelming at best. Have you been? Are you going tonight? Any favorite memories?

And if you need a replacement old-school, wood-paneled room for your drinks, don’t fret! There’s still Blue Bar, the Occidental, Round Robin, Off The Record …

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed, We Love Drinks

Friday Happy Hour: Fool’s Warmth

"Fool's Warmth" cocktail, Proof

Yay, we’re resuscitating our Friday Happy Hour, highlighting a drink we’ve recently enjoyed, every Friday at 4pm! Please share your favorites as well.

Is it really just a week since New Year’s Eve? Sigh. 2011 is upon us and most of DC is back at work hard. It’s cold and snow may be on the way. Does this mean no more bubbly? Hell, no!

I’ve got a mania for champagne cocktails, and over at Proof you can try a very wintery combination by Adam Bernbach, poetically named Fool’s Warmth. Though you might think it’s a hot toddy, both from the title and some of the ingredients – honey syrup and lemon juice – it’s actually a cold sparkler with a base of Champagne and Calvados apple brandy, plus the classic champagne cocktail component of Angostura bitters. Just the right balance of mellow sweet and tart, it was perfect on a chilly winter’s night (especially after having my system shocked by seeing Black Swan).

A golden, fizzy apple love. That warms me up.

Entertainment, Food and Drink, Night Life, People, Special Events, The Features, We Love Drinks

We Love Drinks: Repeal Day Ball

The 1980's Room of the 2010 Repeal Day Ball. Photo credit: Elba Giron. Courtesy of the DC Craft Bartenders Guild.

400 people. 1,000 limes. 2,400 glasses.

Earlier this month, the Repeal Day Ball truly came into its own with an absolutely smashing party on December 4th. Or do I mean smashed? Maybe that’s why it’s taken me this long to wrap it up for you. No, no, we’re here to encourage intelligent drinking! Thrown by the DC Craft Bartenders Guild, this party celebrating the end of Prohibition is in its third year. Here are some highlights to get you excited about our local bartending talent – and get in line now for next year. DC’s drinks scene is becoming more nationally known by the minute, and its in no small part due to the Guild and its amazing members.

Am I gushing? I don’t think so, honestly. Let’s take a look. Continue reading

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

We Love Drinks: David Fritzler

David Fritzler pours up a Blue Blazer cocktail at Tryst. Photo credit: Samer Farha.

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.

I first met David Fritzler back in January when fellow WLDC author Samer and I watched him pour up an impressive flaming Blue Blazer at Tryst. You might think such pyrotechnics indicate a showy brash personality, but that’s far from the case. As I saw this summer when he served up his Rickey Contest entry, he’s a thoughtful crafter of cocktails. It was that Smokin’ Joe Rickey, somehow reminiscent of Lapsang Souchang tea, that made me want to learn more.

“The drink is never more important than the people enjoying it,” David says, “It’s not all about the cappuccino or the cocktail. It’s about the moment and memories that the drink facilitates.”

David was kind to sit down with me at Tryst this past weekend and let me sample a few of their new warming cocktails while discussing his drinks philosophy. Tryst has been an Adams Morgan neighborhood favorite since it opened in 1998, and it’s still going strong, recently winning Best Local Coffeehouse of 2010 in Express Night Out. For many of my friends it’s their “third place” – office, studyhall, living room – and it inspires a great deal of local love. David’s been there almost since the beginning, ten years of dedication.

As beverage director, it’s not all flash – at the end of our chat he was off to Open City to take apart the espresso machine. Continue reading

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

“Tiki. Tacos. Terror.”

Photo courtesy of
‘Zombies!’
courtesy of ‘spiggycat’

Trust my favorite bar The Passenger to come up with a terrifyingly terrific way to spend the night before All Hallow’s Eve. Saturday, October 30 from 7pm to close, the bar will toy with the occult by serving up the infamous El Zombie cocktail, a concoction so potent it’s rumoured to turn the living into the undead!

Regular Zombie cocktails are deadly enough – with their origins in the 1930′s Tiki craze, the deceptive fruit content of these rum-based drinks mask the alcohol, resulting in the inbiber’s doooooooooom. From a haunted laboratory within the bar, test your fortitude against the El Zombie’s “evil combination of Mezcal, overproof rum, and infierno” resurrected from a secret recipe. Shudder. Continue reading

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

Flower Cocktail Hour

Photo courtesy of Sam Vasfi Photography.

Sometimes you need to completely give in to your inner girl.

Kat Bangs understands. Not only is she the very talented sommelier at Komi, she’s got an eye for fun fashion that I seriously envy. Join her monthly Flower Cocktail Hour with the next gathering on Wednesday, October 6. From 6:30pm to 8:30pm you can relax at The Gibson’s upstairs marble bar enjoying delectable floral cocktails crafted by Jon Harris, while also learning how to construct wearable flower art. Email flower.cocktail.hour@gmail.com for reservations ($48).

I was lucky to attend last month’s flower hour and it was simply beautiful – the bar brimming with various flowers and greenery to choose from in stunning colors – featuring informal tutorials on how to make your own floral headbands and boutonnieres (the truly intrepid sported epaulettes!), or even just a simple handheld posy.

After Jon whips up three cocktails with a floral element, guests are invited to try their hand at crafting their own from a lovely line-up of champagne cocktail ingredients. This month will highlight some St-Germain cocktails, which is quite appropriate as Kat points out, “It’s an Elderflower Liqueur made in Burgundy from a blossom that blooms only once a year.  It has a great honeysuckle and lychee taste.”

Mmmm… the perfect antidote to midweek dreariness. Get girly.

Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Drinks

We Love Drinks: Columbia Room

The Columbia Room. Photo credit: Max Cook.

Imagine a little room removed from the crazy world outside – an oasis of peace entered through a busy bar. Jars of spices line the walls, while chunks of the most pristine ice you’ve ever seen are gently melting in a wooden hangiri bowl, waiting to be carved up. Bottles stand neatly at the ready, watched over by a dapper gentleman sporting a perfect bowtie. This is the Columbia Room, and for a few blissful hours prepare to be transported to drinks nirvana, as Derek Brown brings you a “cocktail club” nestled inside The Passenger. It’s like a spa for spirit lovers, evoking a true intimacy almost lost to us in these hectic times.

I’ve been eager to try out the Columbia Room since I first heard whispers of its concept, unintentionally eavesdropping on co-owners and brothers Tom and Derek Brown before The Passenger ever opened, and it’s no secret that later The Passenger quickly became one of my favorite bars. So it was with much anticipation that I finally entered this gentle yet meticulous environment on two occasions last week – once for a class and once for service – and I can’t think why I wouldn’t be back again and again.

As with The Passenger, there’s no attitude here. All you need to get in is to find a open slot on the online reservation system and hold it with a card. You’ll be called ahead of time to confirm and review any preferences. There’s a four person maximum to each reservation, and the prixe fixe menu of $49 (tax and tip inclusive) includes a welcoming glass of champagne, the nightly cocktail paired with a small plate, and a customized cocktail. There are also weekly classes by Derek Brown and Kat Bangs for $65 covering all aspects of crafting cocktails. I had a wonderful time at Kat’s recent champagne cocktail class, learning how to make my own blackberry liqueur and sugar cubes. Both service and class are well worth it.

So, let’s decompress into cocktail transcendence…

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The Features, The Great Outdoors, We Love Drinks

We Love Drinks: Memorial Day BBQ

Photo courtesy of
‘Beer and burger’
courtesy of ‘Magnus D’

I hope that you’ll grill this weekend. To me, that’s what Memorial Day is all about. I don’t dream of stepping on any family tradition or intruding in any masculine domain by suggesting what you should grill and how you should grill it. That’s counter productive, in my mind. Besides, I’m no grill master, myself. I’ll leave that to better and braver souls. I want to talk to you about what you should drink this weekend. It’s easy just to run out to the grocery and pick up a 12 pack of Bud Light and some cheap white wine for your Memorial Day bar-b-que. In fact, that’s probably what most of America will do on Monday, but most of America won’t enjoy their tasty beverage nearly as much as you will, oh informed reader that follows my advice. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed, We Love Drinks

Friday Happy Hour: Cool Hand Cuke

Photo courtesy of
‘Cucumber Cocktail’
courtesy of ‘Samer Farha’ 

Welcome to the Friday Happy Hour, your single drink primer for the weekend.

Last month Samer and I were treated to a sneak peek of the incredibly refreshing cocktail Owen Thomson would mix up to inaugurate the “Farm to Glass” program in his new role at Cafe Atlantico. Beginning tonight, you can try it too. Called the Cool Hand Cuke, it has a beautiful green hue quirkily topped by a baby cucumber blossom. Perfectly balanced between vegetal and spice flavors, it features SubRosa Tarragon Infused Vodka, Black Rock Farms Baby Persian Cucumber Juice, black pepper and thyme juice and “Dr. Thomson’s” spiced liquor #2.

The “Farm to Glass” program is part of Cafe Atlantico’s Farmers’ Market Dinners, a three-course menu (priced at $45) sourced from the Penn Quarter FRESHFARM market by newly appointed head chef Richard Brandenburg and served every Friday evening during market season. The “Farm to Glass” cocktail program will complement the dinners and their seasonal ingredients.

A green cocktail for a green program. Sip up what Samer called “summer in a glass,” and don’t forget to eat the baby cucumber garnish too – it’s part of the fun!

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Drink to Win RAMMY tickets!

Tabard Inn's RAMMY cocktail, courtesy of ThreeLockharts

This year’s RAMMY awards mark the first time that there will be a Mixology category, which is great news for lovers of craft cocktails. To help celebrate, from now til June 3 every time you purchase one of the RAMMY cocktails at the five restaurants nominated for “Mixology/Beverage Program of the Year,” you’ll be entered in a contest to win two free tickets to the 2010 RAMMY awards gala on June 6. Just purchase one of the featured cocktails below, fill out an information card, and the winner will be chosen at random.

I don’t think you need more incentive than that, so I’ll skip my usual flowery language and just encourage you to head over and sample the following drinks (riffing on this year’s Casablanca theme, “We’ll Always Have… Restaurants”): Continue reading

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

We Love Drinks: The St. Regis Bar

Photo courtesy of
‘Adour 11′
courtesy of ‘maxedaperture’

Of all the venerable hotel bars that this city offers, the one that never really spoke to me was the St. Regis Library Lounge. With an air that screamed lobbyist power broker, it just never provided the quirky elegance that I find essential in a grand old hotel. That changed for me this past autumn when I popped in for a look before the most scrumptious Thanksgiving meal ever (if you have a serious special occasion coming up, go to Adour, it’s incredible). I knew the hotel had been renovated but I assumed it would be more of the same. Wrong.

The Bar at the St. Regis (its official name) is soothingly decorated now in shades of violet and grey, adding Art Deco touches like crazy 1960′s biomorphic light fixtures to a 40-seat room dominated by an intensely elaborate Italianate ceiling. Lacquered, metallic, mirrored surfaces abound. It’s simply gorgeous, but not overwhelming. You can easily tuck into a soft corner and broker your deal or impress your date. As for the drinks, they’ve undergone a change too. Sure, there’s the high-end madness one might expect (Remy Martin’s Black Pearl Magnum, anyone? $1,926 – the year the hotel opened – for a two ounce pour out of the only bottle in DC…).

But you can also have a little luxury for less, and enjoy some wacky molecular mixology too! Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Features

WeLoveDC DRINKS: Fresh Squeezed Wisdom

Photo courtesy of
‘Wisdom #51′
courtesy of ‘Chris Rief aka Spodie Odie’

In the calm before the storm (what? there’s another blizzard coming?), we were able to take a breather and have a little fun out of the house on a day when the brown/green grass was just starting to show itself again.

Good times were had last night at Wisdom Cocktail Parlour in SE DC. Guests who arrived with an ingrained hatred for the taste of gin were quick and surprising converts to the smooth and simple pairing of fresh squeezed grapefruit juice.

Cocktails in hand, the near-sellout crowd was buzzing with the talk of juices and liquors — with occasional pleas for another educational happy hour mixed-in. It was a moment of true concentration on and excitement for the subject at hand, with no fear or discussion of impending snow.   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

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed

Details Loves Tabard Too

 Photo courtesy of
‘Magnified’
courtesy of ‘Samer Farha’

Details Magazine has included our own venerable Tabard Inn in its list of the Top Ten Hotel Bars, joining such illustrious lounges like London’s Connaught (though not the Algonquin in NYC? that’s an omission shocking to this lover of creaky cosy hotel bars).

They may get the clientele a little wrong (“policy wonks”? come on, that’s just lazy, there’s more to it than that) but they get the atmosphere right. And it’s fantastic to see one of my favorite places get well-deserved props.

Later today I’m continuing the love with a profile of Tabard’s mixologist Chantal Tseng. No better time to relax in that well-worn lounge in front of the fire than in this neverending winter…