In our ongoing “A Round With…” series, We Love DC chats with some of the interesting people behind our local bars.
In this installment, I had the opportunity to sit down with Rico Wisner at the recently-remodeled Bar Rouge inside the Hotel Rouge. The bar space has been expanded and spruced up – and, under Rico’s direction, the menu of wines on tap and craft cocktails has been upgraded as well.
The current menu is summer to the max, featuring combinations of flavors like pineapple with basil and blueberry with sage. Many of the key ingredients come from Wisner’s rooftop garden, the tending to which he describes as among the most gratifying parts of his work day. Unlike the garden he became accustomed to snipping from while working at Poste, the garden at Rouge is closed to the public and affords him a quiet moment to water, clip, and consider new recipes. Recipes like the extra-tasty San Juan Swizzle – a combination of ginger, rum, soda, and ruby port.
1. What is your current position and how did you get to where you are today?
Lounge Manager at Bar Rouge.
I started out bartending at a country club while in college. Within a couple of months I was the head bartender. I then bounced around to all kinds of places and ended up as the Bar Manager at McCormick & Schmick’s, that’s where I got into the history of cocktails and creating cocktails.
Then I joined Kimpton Hotels five years ago at Poste, where I shortly thereafter took over as the Bar Supervisor/Beverage Manager/Mixologist. Then in January I was promoted over to Bar Rouge to oversee the reconcepting of the bar and overhaul the beverage program.
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)?