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Photo: Trent Johnson
Photo: Trent Johnson

A Day in the Life: Potomac Distilling Company’s Todd Thrasher

The transition from barman to rum distiller was a no-brainer for Todd Thrasher. Add the opportunity to continue energizing the nightlife at the burgeoning Wharf neighborhood to the mix and you’ve got one extremely confident – and rightfully so – business owner.

Thrasher’s Potomac Distilling Company is slated to open this month, a slightly adjusted date based on a few additional construction needs. His distillery’s smokestack is quickly becoming one of the city’s most iconic structures, with the cheeky idiom “Make Rum Not War” painted on one side.

As locals impatiently await the distillery’s opening, Thrasher continues to hone the craft of distilling and prep his four rums – his flagship Green Spice Rum, as well as white, gold and spiced – for consumption. After years leading the Eat Good Food Group and its current spots, the seasoned mixologist says he’s ready to walk away from day-to-day business operations at his NoVa-based ventures.

In fact, he won’t be leading business operations at the distillery either. His wife Maria Chicas will, and he says she’s excited about it. Thrasher, on the other hand, says making rum and expanding his rum’s reach both locally and nationally is his sole focus.

Thrasher’s three cocktail bars within Potomac Distilling range from Polynesian-style tavern Tiki TNT to a grassy rooftop space including a garden with botanicals used for his Green Spice Rum – and managed by his mom, who apparently has quite the green thumb.

He is clearly an option maker, with high hopes of creating yet another reason to visit The Wharf. He wants to pique the interest of locals and tourists alike, offering them access to the distillery, and giving them multiple vibes to choose from for their bar experience.

On Tap: Why is The Wharf the right fit for your distillery?
Todd Thrasher: The water and the rum. Really, it came about because [Wharf developer] Monty Hoffman wanted me to do another Bar PX down here, but I wasn’t interested. So, he floated this idea of a distillery – legend has it there was [once] a distillery down here – and I drink rum, so it was a natural fit for me.

OT: What do you think this neighborhood is bringing to DC?
TT: A waterfront. DC has so much waterfront that has been underutilized. I don’t want to park in Georgetown; that waterfront is small, and the dining and options down there are not so interesting. I think The Wharf itself is bringing something that has long been missed: a waterfront opportunity that’s a gathering place.

OT: How late will the distillery be open?
TT: We’ll be open late, except Sundays. Monday through Thursday we’ll be open till 1:30 a.m., and on Fridays and Saturdays we’ll go until 2 a.m. Me and my business partner have had long discussions about keeping those hours, because that’s a big thing with bars. They say “Yeah, we’ll stay open late,” but when business isn’t happening, they close.


Work Must-Haves
Music
MacBook Pro
Coffee maker
Non-slip floors or mats
Comfortable shoes


OT: Why just rum? Why not multiple spirits?
TT: We may branch out in the future, but there’s a hole in the artisanal rum market right now.

OT: Is rum’s popularity shifting in cocktail culture?
TT: [Yes], and on the craft level. I think we’ve seen that big influx of whiskey, and God knows there’s enough vodka on the market to choke people. New American gin has been kind of big the past few years, but it’s time for rum now.

OT: How long did you spend learning about distilling and experimenting with different rum profiles before setting up shop?
TT: In terms of distilling, [I] probably [started] around 2010. I got into home distilling on a very small scale, and most of the stuff went in the garbage. Over the past two or three years, I’ve taken a few classes at Moonshine University and visited many distilleries.


Can’t Live Without
My wife
Our son Trystan
Vacation
My bed
The ocean (I’m an avid scuba diver)


OT: Are there any challenges to owning a distillery in an urban area?
TT: It’s small in there. I think the distillery itself is just under 1000 square feet, so moving things around is an issue. It’s going to be very tight, so I’m sure storage will be an issue, but hopefully I’ll grow out of the space because of success.

OT: What is your wife’s role in the business?
TT: Clearly she’s the boss [laughs]. She runs our other restaurants on a day-to-day operations basis, but we’re pulling her out of that role. She’s basically going to be the office manager of the entire operation, and she’ll do private parties and all that stuff. She’ll run the business aspect of the whole entity – the distillery and the bar.

OT: How do you feel about Potomac Distilling being in the spotlight? Everyone who crosses the bridge has a prime view of your smokestack.
TT: It’s unbelievable. It’s great. I mean, I joked with a friend of mine about how it’s going to be as big as the National Monument. Everyone who crosses the bridge is going to see that smokestack, and hopefully it’s intriguing to them. It’s reminiscent of the older days when there were billboards.

OT: Who is your ideal customer?
TT: Everybody. I want everyone who’s going to the Fish Market to have a cocktail. I want everyone who’s going to Arena Stage to have a cocktail and a bite to eat. The great thing about DC is it’s a great melting pot of people, and every four years, you get an influx of new people too. I’m equal opportunity.

For more information on Thrasher’s Potomac Distilling Company, click here.

Potomac Distilling Company: 1130 Maine Ave. SW, DC; 202-900-4786; www.wharfdc.com/restaurants/potomac-distilling-company

Photo: Kelli Scott
Photo: Kelli Scott

NoMa’s The Eleanor Offers Bowling and Bragworthy Bites

Don’t label The Eleanor just a bowling alley. It’s much more than that, according to founder Adam Stein.

Ever since he was a student at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, Stein dreamed of opening a lounge with a bowling component to make it a multi-use entertainment space. That vision is realized with The Eleanor.

“You can come here for lots of different reasons,” Stein says. “You can come here because you want to bowl. You can come here because you want to play pinball games. You can come here because you want to have a three-course meal. We’ve got tons of events booked already and through the end of the year.”

Since opening June 19 in NoMa, The Eleanor has offered a place to enjoy 20 beers on tap, well-crafted cocktails, a projector for movie nights and, of course, two mini-bowling lanes with duckpin-sized balls.

The lanes are 45 feet long as opposed to the standard 60 feet, which Stein says can be harder, but it’s also a lower bar of entry. The floors aren’t waxed, so there’s no need to change shoes to play. Also, all of the balls are four pounds. While it’s best to reserve a lane and prepay online, walk-ins are accepted on a waitlist basis. Pricing is $10 per person for one hour of bowling with a $10 ball rental fee.

If you’re not interested in giving bowling a spin, choose from arcade games like Mortal Kombat 3, Pac-Man and Battle Royale, or head over to the Skee-Ball lanes.

When describing The Eleanor, Stein says he didn’t want anything “super slick” or “overly designed.” Instead, he opted for a laid-back but funky lounge with a hometown vibe. There are counter-height tables instead of low-tops to add to the casual atmosphere, and the local focus is found not only in the ingredients but in the name itself, which is a reference to DC Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton.

The menu adds humor to the spot with cocktails like Wildflowers Don’t Care Where They Grow. Other drinks are named after friends and family such as Jody’s Appletini, inspired by Stein’s mother as appletinis are her favorite cocktail. There are also two refreshing vodka slushies made with Spring 44 vodka, one with house-made horchata and Zeke’s cold brew coffee and the other with a house-made lavender lemonade.

The fare might seem typical at face value – burgers, nachos, fried chicken – but each dish has its own original twist. The buttermilk fried chicken thighs come with masala-spiced carrot puree and braised greens with a bacon and fish sauce. The chicken wings are coated in a General Tso’s-style sauce, the hushpuppies are made “elote loco-style” and the loaded hot dogs come with the optional add-on of kimchi.

Along with its quirky menu, The Eleanor offers a very convenient location across the street from the NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station. There is also free, onsite parking.

Stein considered Ivy City before settling on The Eleanor’s NoMa space on Florida Avenue. He was tempted by Ivy City’s warehouse spaces because they could fit full-sized bowling lanes, but he says he ultimately chose the right neighborhood.

“[NoMa is] only going to see an explosion of growth in the next two-and-a-half to three years,” he says. “We’re looking forward to it.”

Follow The Eleanor on Instagram and Facebook at @TheEleanorDC, and learn more about the bar at www.eleanordc.com.

The Eleanor: 100 Florida Ave. NE, DC; 202-758-2235; www.eleanordc.com

Photo: M.K. Koszycki
Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Behind the Bar: Hummingbird, Succotash and Farmers Fishers Bakers

Celebrate warm weather this June with boozy treats by the water. This month’s roundup will keep you hydrated no matter what neighborhood you find yourself enjoying the sunshine in, so read on for our top picks.


[Pictured above]

Chris Sollom
Bartender, Hummingbird

On Tap: Your slush cocktails were in high demand last summer. What makes them so popular?
Chris Sollom: We use fresh ingredients – fresh coconut water, fresh
coconut milk. It has the typical sweetness that people think of with slushes, but I think it takes people by surprise how refreshing and boozy they are.

OT: Based on last summer’s popularity, are you making any changes to your slush menu offerings?
CS: We have two different slushes this year: the frozen aperol spritz and a Painkiller, which is similar to a piña colada, except it includes fresh orange juice for a bit of a different twist.

OT: What’s your top food pick to enjoy while sitting outside sipping on a slush?
CS: The crab cakes are phenomenal. They’re all jumbo lump crabmeat from right here in Maryland. We’re also bringing softshell crabs back when they’re in season. The octopus is great as well.

OT: What drinks do you recommend behind the slush?
CS: I created a drink called Thinking of Summer. It’s a draft cocktail similar to a rum punch. It has coconut rum, dark rum, light rum, passion fruit, orange juice and cranberry, and it’s on draft, which puts CO2 through it for a bit of a different taste. We’ll have that on draft all summer long.

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Chris’ Pick
Thinking of Summer
Lemon
Cranberry
Passion fruit
Orange juice
Coconut, dark and light rum

Hummingbird: 220 S. Union St. Alexandria, VA; www.hummingbirdva.net


Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Darlin Kulla
Beverage Director, Succotash

On Tap: Whiskey seems to be the liquor of choice on your menu. What’s your top whiskey-based drink to enjoy now that warmer weather is upon us?
Darlin Kulla: We are a Southern-inspired restaurant, so bourbon is our big draw. We carry over 100 different whiskies. We love the Belle’s Punch, which is one of our most popular drinks. It has mango-infused vodka and a little bourbon, plus ginger and peach. We finish with bubbles. You get the booze, but also sweetness and spice from the ginger and the peach. It’s a refreshing, easy drink.

OT: You offer four distinct flight selections, some showcasing local ryes and even a collaboration with Maker’s Mark. Tell me more about these curated selections.
DK: We went with a really bold, spicy flavor profile, and finished with a French cuvée for our Maker’s Mark Private Select. Maker’s Mark is usually one of the first bourbons people will try. It’s really interesting to try different iterations alongside the tastes we are going for.

OT: What beer selections do you suggest at Succotash?
DK: We carry different seasonal selections, things that are really bright and citrusy for summer. The one beer we [offer] in both of our locations is a rye beer, which has a hop backbone to it in addition to that rye bitterness. It’s very balanced, because our food is really bold and flavorful.

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Photo: M.K. Koszycki

Darlin’s Pick
Belle’s Punch
Mint
Peach
Ginger
Bubbles
Jim Beam bourbon
Mango-infused vodka

Succotash: 915 F St. NW, DC; www.succotashrestaurant.com


Photo: Aja Neal

Photo: Aja Neal

Jon Arroyo
Beverage Director, Farmers Fishers Bakers

On Tap: What’s your favorite drink from Farmers’ extensive tiki menu?
Jon Arroyo: The Zombie is the king of tiki cocktails. I would suggest either the 1964 or the 1968. I would kick off your tiki experience that way!

OT: Many of your drinks are available in bowls, so what would you suggest as the best option to satisfy different palates?
JA: The scorpion [bowl], for sure. The cool thing about scorpions is that they can feed half a dozen people easily. Send out a of couple bowls to a party of 12, and that’s a great way to get a fast drink or quench your thirst while you’re waiting for your zombie.

OT: How does using your own Founding Spirits liquor affect the recipes you put together for your menu?
JA: Our spirits are showcased along with some other projects I’ve worked on in the past. We have the amaro daiquiri and the negroni swizzle, just to keep these drinks in the fun vein of tiki. Every time I make a drink, it always goes back to, “Does this fare well with our food [and] our overall guest experience?”

OT: What do you offer beyond cocktails?
JA: We have a rosé that we call Our Virginia Vines. It’s a project that I work on closely with Ben Jordan of Early Mountain Vineyards in Virginia. We’re happy and very proud to be using a local vineyard to partner and produce this rosé with.

Photo: Aja Neal

Photo: Aja Neal

Jon’s Pick
Negroni Swizzle
Swizzled and served in a tiki glass
Lemon
Campari
Cinnamon
Founding Farmers Gin
Founding Spirits Arroyo’s “Never Bitter” Amaro

Farmers Fishers Bakers: 3000 K St. NW, DC; www.farmersfishersbakers.com

Photos: Amanda Weisbrod
Photos: Amanda Weisbrod

Behind the Bar: April 2018

Looking for a little hair of the dog? These brunch spots offer some of the best – and most unique – brunch cocktails in the city. On Tap sat down with Green Pig Bistro, HalfSmoke and Whaley’s to find out what makes their brunch cocktails a cut above the rest.


[Pictured Above]

Alexander Taylor

Bar Manager, HalfSmoke

On Tap: What’s the story behind the Breakfast of Shaw cocktail?
Alexander Taylor: The Breakfast of Shaw was created by the owner, Andre McCain, and it’s a local take on the ostentatious Bloody Marys that have come about over the years. Ours consists of a couple of our fried goods – sweet potato tots, mac and cheese bites, Mexican corn bites, French fries – [and] we also throw some chicken wings and a sausage slider on there.

OT: What other drinks make your brunch cocktail menu so special?
AT: I’d say the more popular item that makes our brunch menu special is the fact that we offer free bottomless mimosas. Our mimosas are different in that we source craft bitters, and we use Triple Sec along with champagne and orange juice.

OT: What gives HalfSmoke its whimsical vibe?
AT: Our motto is “Don’t grow up – it’s a trap.” And we’re very nostalgic. You’ll find that we use Trapper Keepers as our menu binders, and we use old Disney VHS cases as our bill folders.

HalfSmoke Breakfast of Shaw (Photo by Amanda Weisbrod)

Alexander’s Pick
The Breakfast of Shaw
Tomato, lemon and lime juice
Worcestershire sauce
Salt and pepper
Tabasco
Tito’s Vodka

HalfSmoke: 651 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.halfsmoke.com


Whaley's Alahin Mentado, bar manager (Photo - Amanda Weisbrod)

Alahín Mentado

Bar Manager, Whaley’s

On Tap: What is Whaley’s most popular brunch cocktail?
Alahín Mentado: The Number One, which is a rum-based cocktail. It has a little bit of St-Germain, which is a nice elderflower, and that brings some sweetness to it. It’s mixed with fresh grapefruit juice and some sparkling rosé, so you’re going to have a little bit of tartness from the grapefruit, which is a nice balance with the rum, and then a nice, sweet flavor from the sparkling rosé. It’s beautiful.

OT: Do you have any off-the-menu cocktails that guests can try?
AM: If a guest wants to try something different, our bartenders are world-trained and can make anything. We ask [our] guests about their preference of alcohol and from there, we can go make a nice cocktail for them and make them happy. I love to see smiles on people’s faces after they taste a drink. I like to experiment, and that’s a good thing about Whaley’s. You can always come back and try different things at our bar.

OT: What’s the vibe of Whaley’s rose garden?
AM: The rose garden is a unique drinking experience for the city, and an opportunity for diners to forget they are in Washington. The space is very transformative, with the pink and white umbrellas, lush greenery and amazing view of the water. We offer a dozen or so of some of the greatest still and sparkling rosé wines from all over the world – from Israel to Australia. We don’t have a specific opening date for the garden yet, but it’s looking like it should be mid- to late April, depending on weather.

Whaley's Number One2 (Photo - Amanda Weisbrod)

Alahín’s Pick
Number One
Caña Brava rum
Sparkling rosé
St-Germain
Grapefruit

Whaley’s: 301 Water St. SE, DC; www.whaleysdc.com


Tim and Starlynne Vogeley, Green Pig (Photo by Amanda Weisbrod)

Starlynne and Tim Vogeley

Assistant GM and GM & Chef, Green Pig Bistro

On Tap: What inspired the full bar menu for brunch?
Starlynne Vogeley: That’s what our guests want. Our prices for Arlington [are] pretty comparable. But one thing we do have that’s different is if the ingredients call for fresh-squeezed orange juice or lemon juice, we try to get the freshest possible. If we can make it, we do that.

OT: What’s your most unique brunch cocktail?
SV:
I would say the Iced Morning Moonshine. This was actually highlighted by Belle Isle. They came here specifically and interviewed our bartender, Lily King, who is the creator of that drink. Our bartenders are very creative and very talented.

OT: Do you ever experiment with new brunch cocktail recipes?
SV: [We] experiment all the time – constantly. We have a total of six bartenders, my husband as well. I like to drink them. I call myself the official taste tester. I like to consider everybody here perfectionists, and they’re trying to perfect their craft. These cocktails are all original creations by our bartenders.

OT: What makes Green Pig Bistro a sustainable dining option?
Tim Vogeley: We buy a lot of food products from local farms – some are organic, but not all of them. We have a 60-acre farm in Purcellville, and we’re thinking of growing hops. We might even open a small brewery there. We make our own pickles, cheese and hamburger buns.

Green Pig Bacon Bloody Mary1 (Photo by Amanda Weisbrod)

Tim & Starlynne’s Pick
Green Pig Bacon Bloody Mary 
Spicy bloody mix
Vodka
Old Bay
Citrus
Bacon

Green Pig Bistro: 1025 N Fillmore St. Arlington, VA; www.greenpigbistro.com