The Features, We Love Drinks

Friday Happy Hour: Almost Home

For this week’s edition of Friday Happy Hour, a road trip is necessary. Given how many excellent bartenders we are lucky to have here in our city, you might object, but this is for one of our own. The lovely Katie Nelson, formerly of the Columbia Room, is currently at Rappahannock Restaurant in Richmond, VA helping to establish their bar program. Having been an ardent fan of Katie’s craft in the past, I simply had to travel down south to see what she’s up to – plus she’s a wonderful friend.

You can enjoy Rappahannock’s oysters right here in DC at Union Market with a very fine drink program helmed by the talented J.P. Fetherston, also a Columbia Room alum. But if you have the time, take the train for an easy trip to see Katie at Rappahannock’s restaurant in downtown RVA. The space is industrial warehouse chic, dominated by a concrete bar, and the food is top-notch (especially a cured salmon dish which frankly I would’ve ordered twice in a row that same night).

The cocktail menu features highballs in a variety of styles – classic, Southern, Spanish (gorgeously garnished with a twiggy licorice root), and Japanese – and cocktails crafted with Katie’s mixture of botanical whimsy. The Almost Home is made with Yamazaki 12-year-old Japanese whiskey, La Gitana Manzanilla sherry, lavender honey, and grapefruit zest.

To my mind, a great cocktail invokes memory, and enjoying one is the essence of sensuality. Sipping Almost Home, I was reminded of a sunny day touring the rooftop garden of The Passenger, among the honeybees. Of all sunny summer days, relaxing on a blanket in the park with a good book. It’s a beautiful drink. The combination of the Japanese whiskey and the Manzanilla sherry is a tricky one to describe, it’s so very light – nut, floral, apple – and they are both delicately balanced against the lavender honey, which slowly mellows as you finish.

It’s worth a lazy train ride.

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, 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)?

Continue reading