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Photo: Trent Johnson
Photo: Trent Johnson

Behind the Bar: Women’s Issue Edition

DC has risen in the ranks as one of the most exciting bar scenes in the country as of late. At the helm of many of the buzziest bars in the city are women leading award-winning teams to craft the best and brightest cocktail programs. Whether they’re mainstays, newcomers or home to a specific spirit, each one is worth taking note of – not just because of the world-class drinks, but for the noteworthy ladies at the helm, too.


Megan Barnes (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Photo: Trent Johnson

Megan Barnes

Beverage Director + Partner, Espita Mezcaleria

Notice mezcal popping up across the city over the past few years? You probably have Espita Mezcaleria’s Megan Barnes to thank for that. The Shaw spot’s menu highlights the spicy and smoky spirit’s best qualities, converting even the most stubborn drinkers into passionate connoisseurs who keep diaries around their favorite varieties.

“I loved it from first sip,” Barnes says of the spirit.

She got her start at Columbia Room working under Drink Company’s Derek Brown, who introduced her to mezcal.

“After work, I would walk down to Oyamel because at the time, that was the only place you could get mezcal. Now, I go down to Mexico about three times a year, and that’s also opened the door for me to learn about different ranges, styles, techniques and flavors. And meeting the families who are producing the mezcal – it’s really kind of a romance.”

Although Barnes’ time at Espita so far has been a well-awarded one, including a RAMMY last year for best bar program, she credits the bar team behind her and the city’s supportive cocktail scene for her continued successes.

“The DC bar scene is probably the best in the entire country. We’re so tight-knit and we’re always rooting each other on, especially the women in the city. We love each other so much.”

Espita Margarita (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Photo: Trent Johnson

Margarita
Tequila
Lime
Ligit Triple
“Nogave” syrup

Espita Mezcaleria: 1250 9th St. NW, DC; www.espitadc.com

 


Alex Bookless (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Photo: Trent Johnson

Alexandra Bookless

Beverage Director, Eaton Workshop

Eaton Workshop’s ambitious pursuit of creating a social justice-minded hub for travelers and locals alike is a perfect match for seasoned beverage director Alexandra Bookless.

“We’ve got four concepts including the cafe [and] the coworking space, and we do events as well, so there’s a lot going on,” she says of the bars she oversees within the multi-use downtown space, which sees about a 50/50 split between natives and visitors.

Bookless and her team develop detailed menus for Allegory, American Son, Kintsugi, Wild Days and a soon-to-open bar within their coworking space. Not only do they make it seem effortless, but Bookless has helped usher in a new wave of luxury hotels as spots for community and craft cocktails.

“People really support our ideas and allow us to have a strong creative voice, which is really on theme for Eaton Workshop in general – just supporting art in all forms. It’s kind of a holistic approach to supporting creative outlets here.”

Allegory drink (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Photo: Trent Johnson

2666 from Allegory
Pechuga mezcal 
Reposado tequila
Sherry 
Creme de cacao
Mole bitters
Chocolate-covered fig made in-house 

Eaton Workshop: 1201 K St. NW, DC; www.eatonworkshop.com

 


Alejandra Martin 2 (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Photo: Trent Johnson

Alejandra Martin

Bartender + Manager, Gaslight Tavern

Alejandra Martin credits her family with her love of the food and beverage industry. Her parents owned a Mexican restaurant in California, and she says the restaurant world has always been in her blood. A bartender of 11 years, she joined the team at Shaw’s Gaslight Tavern when it opened last January.

“It’s been great to have been here from the beginning,” she says of the Art Deco-inspired bar. “We base our cocktails on the setting, so a lot are classic cocktails or spins on them. We stick to that time period but still get creative with them.”

Martin’s creativity shines in drinks she creates outside of the pantheon of classics, too. She crafted a current special called the Mezcalito, an homage to her love of the spirit. She keeps the retro feel with a float and an ornate glass.

“I like it because it’s a little different and it’s layered, with a fernet float on top. It’s cute and flavorful – a complex yet simple cocktail.”

The warm and inviting space is filled with – as the name would suggest – fireplaces, and its location sees locals stopping in to be guided into the arena of old-school drinks by Martin.

Mezcalito (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Photo: Trent Johnson

Mezcalito
Mezcal
Agave syrup
Pinch of salt
Fernet float
Dehydrated lime
Fresh-squeezed lemon

Gaslight Tavern: 2012-2014 9th St. NW, DC; www.gaslight-dc.com

 


Columbia Room (Photo - Daniel Lempres)

Photo: Daniel Lempres

Suzy Critchlow

Head Bartender, Columbia Room

Suzy Critchlow has risen to the top of the industry thanks to her curiosity, creativity and initiative. Despite reverence for the history of the craft, change is part of the ethos of Columbia Room. Critchlow and her team are constantly reimagining and refining their menu at the award-winning Blagden Alley spot, pushing the boundaries of classic cocktails. Their current menu Distortion is no exception.

“We’re distorting ingredients, flavors, visuals and sound,” she says. “Another menu I really loved was one called Women Rule. It was all inspired by female chefs, mixologists and bartenders. Pretty much as soon as we release a menu, we hit the ground running designing a new one.”

And although there’s no shortage of innovation in her current role, she says DC’s fast-paced drink scene keeps her on her toes and always challenges her to be even better.

“There are new places opening all the time, [which] challenges you to make sure that you’re still keeping your standards very high because there are so many people out there who are so talented and have a lot to bring to the table. It gets better [in DC] every day.”

Columbia Room_drink (Photo - Daniel Lempres)

Photo: Daniel Lempres

The Prose Punch
Gin
Fino
Pear
Roses
Whey
White vermouth

Columbia Room: 124 Blagden Alley NW, DC; www.columbiaroomdc.com

 


Erin Adams (Photo - Courtesy of AC Hotels)

Photo: Courtesy of AC Hotels)

Erin Adams

General Manager, AC Hotel National Harbor

On Tap: Tell us a bit about the offerings at AC Lounge within the hotel.
Erin Adams: AC Lounge is our bar area where guests can enjoy local craft beers, expertly made signature cocktails such as locally inspired gin and tonics, specialty wines sourced from around the world including Spanish Albarino and Rioja, and a curated selection of tapas-style small bites.

OT: Any mainstays or customer favorites on the drink menu?
EA:
To kick the evening off, we offer a nightly ritual of passing the porrón – a tradition started because of our Spanish roots. The porrón is a traditional glass wine pitcher filled with wine and tipped directly into mouths as a conclusion to the work day and kickoff to the evening.

OT: Why should local drink enthusiasts visit the lounge?
EA: AC Lounge is unique from other National Harbor bars as we highlight our Spanish roots and culture in the experience. Our bar shelves resemble National Harbor’s picturesque sunsets, and the space offers floor-to-ceiling window views of the destination as well as an outdoor terrace that can be enjoyed year-round.

AC Hotel cocktail (Photo - Courtesy of AC Hotels)

Photo: Courtesy of AC Hotels

Cherry Blossom Sour
Sloop Betty Vodka
St. Germain
Simple syrup
Cherry brandy
Oloroso sherry
Lemon juice

AC Hotel National Harbor: 156 Waterfront St. National Harbor, MD: www.marriott.com/hotels

Daniel Lempres contributed to this article.

 

Photos: Trent Johnson
Photos: Trent Johnson

Behind the Bar: Slash Run, Sotto and The Crown & Crow

There are few greater simple joys than listening to great live music with an even better drink in your hand. This month, we rounded up DC’s musically minded watering holes to find out more about their bars, drinks and live music lineups.


Slash Run - Christine Lilyea and Ana Latour (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Slash Run
Christine Lilyea, Owner and GM
Ana Latour, Bartender and Manager

On Tap: What does Slash Run add to Petworth as a neighborhood?
Ana Latour: There’s something about the versatility of Slash Run that speaks to its importance in Petworth. This neighborhood is a family spot, but also a growing place for young people who want to live in the city. Slash Run can be all of those things.

OT: As a music venue, what’s the local to national act ratio?
Christine Lilyea: It’s a mix of local and national. A lot of the people I work with are local bookers, but they always bring [artists] from out of town.
AL: We had a band here last night from Japan. They were insane! It was probably one of the wildest things I’ve seen since I got here. The band who opened for them was from down the street.

OT: Any local favorites you book regularly or try to bring into the mix as often as possible?
CL: They’re from New York, and they’re called The Nuclears. They’re just really nice guys and their music is insanely good. It’s like Thin Lizzy [or] Cheap Trick – just good, in your face, on the ground sweating rock ‘n’ roll.

OT: Tell us about the drinks at Slash Run.
CL: I have managed restaurants before, so I’m really big on this. It’s supposed to be a dive bar and have shitty wine, but I can’t do it. I’m very picky about our wines and beers. If people want PBR, I’ll give it to them, but then I’ll find something cool too.

Check Slash Run’s website for a full list of upcoming shows, including:
Biff Bang Pow, a 60s garage/psych/glam vinyl dance party on November 10
Part Time with Bottled Up on November 19
Super Unison, Downtrodder, Coward and Bacchae on November 17

Slash Run - Spiced Cider (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Spiced Cider
Cotton & Reed Mellow Gold Rum 
Warmed cider 
Cloves
Cinnamon sticks
Star anise
Citrus butter
Orange and lemon zest

Slash Run: 201 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.slashrun.com


Sotto - Savi Gopalan (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Sotto
Savi Gopalan, Bar Manager

On Tap: How has Sotto has changed since opening three years ago?
Savi Gopalan: Sotto has really changed into a venue focusing on music. I think originally, the music was more of a perk rather than a focus; whereas now, we define ourselves as a music venue.

OT: How do you think the local jazz scene has changed in recent years? Why is it important to offer live music at Sotto?
SG: I think there’s more community behind it, not just within the musicians but the clientele as well. There’s a real connection within the jazz scene now that I don’t think was as predominant previously.

OT: Do you have any new vinos this winter?
SG: I’m really excited about the new rosé we’re offering by the glass, G.D. Vajra Rosabella. We have a smaller wine list because we are more of a cocktail-focused place, but I do like a lot of the options we offer.

OT: What’s your process for crafting new cocktails each season?
SG: When you’re going into a new season, I always look at what flavors are popular. I pick different flavors that stand out to me and I’ll build cocktails around that. For instance, the mezcal smokiness is appropriate for fall, [and] calvados too. Even though people don’t really do brandy cocktails anymore, I think it fits with the season.

OT: It seems almost all your beers are local. Why is it important to support DC area breweries?
SG: We definitely try to keep all of our beer choices super local. We try to push for local spirits as well, because there are so many great places in the area. It would be a shame not to have them on the list.

Visit Sotto’s website for a full list of upcoming shows, including:
The Lionel Lyles Quintet on November 9
Tashera on November 15
Champion Sound on November 29

Sotto - Back To December (Photo - Trent Johnson)

Back To December
Red wine
Mulled wine syrup
Lemon
Orange
St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram

Sotto: 1610 14th St. NW, DC; www.sottodc.com


Crown and Crow - Ben Sislen and Brian Harrison (Photo - Trent Johnson)

The Crown & Crow
Brian Harrison, Owner, Creator and Barman
Ben Sislen, Owner
Brooke Stonebanks, Event Coordinator

On Tap: What inspired your Victorian era theme?
Ben Sislen: We were flexible with what we were going to be. It started when we found our bar in the front room and it was [from the] Victorian era timeframe.

Brian Harrison: We thought the first room would be rustic, and the other would be sophisticated. Once that vintage feel took hold in the front, it carried throughout.

OT: Your cocktail menu seems reflective of that time period as well.What was the creative process for coming up with unique takes on period cocktails?
Brooke Stonebanks: I want to go along with the theme. The cocktails we had when we first opened were just plays off classic cocktails. Moving forward, the drinks will focus on obscure ingredients that promote smaller brands.

OT: What kinds of cocktails are you looking to make this winter?
Stonebanks: I want to focus on the spirit and and [make] simple cocktails. We have a lot of Irish and American whiskeys and we’re looking to add more. I want them to be whiskey-heavy.

OT: What’s your process for booking musical acts? Any local names you use regularly?
BS: Mostly local acts. We don’t charge a cover because we want the music to be accessible, and we want people coming in and trying out the bar.

Visit Crown & Crow’s website for shows as they’re added through the month, including:
Anthony Pirog on November 3 and Swampcandy on November 15

Crown and Crow - Le Corbeau Sanglant and The Burning Crow (Photo - Trent Johnson)

The Burning Crow
High West Campfire Whiskey
Five-spice syrup
Orange bitters 
Cinnamon stick

Le Corbeau Sanglant 
Compass Box Great King St. Glasgow Blend Whisky 
Luxardo cherry sangue 
Dolin Rouge vermouth
Blood orange juice

The Crown & Crow: 1317 14th St. NW, DC; www.thecrownandcrow.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