Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Drinks

Drinks, Interrupted

Photo courtesy of Jenn Larsen
Drinks, Interrupted
courtesy of Jenn Larsen

Imagine your heart breaks. No, I’m not talking about love. Imagine it actually stops working properly. In a matter of days what started out as an innocent fluke turns deadly serious as it just slows down, and then stops. Everything in your life suffers too, all thanks to a tiny electrical glitch. Luckily there are cyborg solutions, and you aren’t completely broken. But gosh, a stiff drink would help during exhausting weeks of treatment, right?

Not so. YOU CAN’T DRINK. During Rickey Month. Now it’s really mayday!

In the scheme of everything else I’ve been through in the past three months, not drinking alcohol while being medically grounded is really not the end of the world. But it certainly does feel like injurious insult. Over the next few weeks, I’m exploring methods of crafting beautiful non-alcoholic cocktails with some of our finest local bartenders. It’s for all you fellow medically grounded folks out there for whom YOU CAN’T DRINK was yet another slap in the face. And frankly, it’s a nice distraction from feeling like I’ve reached the bottom of the glass.

Let’s start at one of my favorite bars, with an old colonial method of preservation that helps add complexity in place of the missing (and much missed) alcohol. Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Features, We Love Drinks

We Love Drinks: Return to the Columbia Room

Photo courtesy of
‘Architectural Ice’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

A lot has happened since my first visit to the Columbia Room in June of last year. Owner Derek Brown’s martini has been rightly lauded as the best in the country by GQ, for instance. I keep returning to this oasis, whether for classes or for service, because it truly is one of the most special places you can go to enjoy a perfectly crafted drink. There’s a meticulous attention to beauty, history and taste here that we are lucky to experience in DC. After reading Fedward’s round with Katie Nelson in February, I knew I had to get back even more. So last week found me at a much-anticipated girls’ night out at the cocktail spa. We weren’t disappointed.

I asked Derek Brown after my last visit if he feels much has changed since opening. “Nothing has changed dramatically from our opening. We’ve just gotten better at what we do and more popular along with it. We’re especially grateful for all the accolades -from the Washingtonian to GQ – as it’s very gratifying when you work as hard as we do to see people enjoying the fruits of your labor.”

And what exquisite fruits… that night the girls and I sat down at the bar tended by the talented Katie Nelson, with three Season Tickets garnished with mint and cucumber to start. Spring may have failed us outside in the chill, but inside was a garden of delights.  Continue reading

Food and Drink, The Daily Feed, We Love Drinks

Gin and Tonic Throwdown?

Here is another of my gin y tonic..... on Twitpic
“Here is another of my gin y tonic”
via @chefjoseandres

Who doesn’t love a little smack talk?

After Adam Bernbach’s recipe got a little love from the Post (and, for what it’s worth, from Katie Nelson in these pages) Chef José Andrés Took matters into his own hands, or at least his own twitter account, posting “thats a great drink, agree! and i love estadio but aint a gin and tonic! let me post my gin&tonic(love controversy)”.

Now Derek Brown has offered to host such a showdown at the Columbia Room. I said it to him on twitter, and now I’ll say it here: Jenn and I will be happy to assist with any judging. Just make sure that Todd Thrasher is included too, since Adam said his gin and tonic was the inspiration.

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, 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!

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

Liquid Lessons

Photo courtesy of
‘Every Food Fits – Master Mixology’
courtesy of ‘staceyviera’

The “silly season” is upon us, as a friend likes to call the December holiday rush. Suddenly everyone wants to get together and social opportunities are crammed into every evening in a frenzy before year’s end. You definitely need some relief mixed into that crazy cocktail of fun and stress!

Wait, did I say cocktail?

Luckily the city is full of cocktail classes and other libation tastings to help you connect with friends in a lively way, so you can relax and learn useful something in the process. Even our local madhouse of Type A’s can see the cost benefit in that. So here’s a sampler of upcoming events to both imbibe and educate! Enjoy, and feel free to add your favorites in the comments. Continue reading

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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Food and Drink, Special Events, The Daily Feed

Cocktail Class at The Columbia Room

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘furcafe’

Now that The Passenger is well embarked with Tom Brown at the helm, brother Derek Brown’s internal cocktail laboratory – the bar-within-the-bar called the Columbia Room – is set to start classes in February. Seminars will be held every other Wednesday at 7pm for $65 each. The current line up through March sounds fascinating. It’s an ambitious program that will be helpful not only for you libation geeks already making your own bitters and eager to learn more, but also for those just delving into the world of craft cocktails.

“A Primer on Orange Liqueur” kicks off February 17, covering the difference between major top-shelf makers and showing participants how to make your own version of triple sec. Derek will demonstrate proper Margarita, Sidecar and Fancy Gin cocktails and help elevate this sometimes over-abused ingredient. Continue reading