WASH — July 2011
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Food Drink Spirits
Kelly A. Magyarics |

Go Deep or Go Home

There’s a long list of reasons to love a few new liquor lineups.

Restaurants are aiming higher than the highball when it comes to drink menus. Over the years, several spots have emerged as spirits experts. Kalorama’s New Heights has been stockpiling gin for years. Downtown’s Againn staked its claim on scotch, while Penn Quarter’s Cuba Libre rocketed rum to the top of its list. But there’s a new crop of spots becoming spirits savants, concentrating their liquor lists with wide-ranging selections of a single style of sip. These venues set themselves apart with an innate focus on quality, an eye for the unknown and a knack for tempting both newbies and seasoned devotees with impressive lists that offer top tipples as straight sips, as well as tantalizing cocktails. Decisions, decisions…

El Centro D.F.

Agave aficionados unite over the South-of-the-Border signature spirit and her brooding, sultry sister Mezcal at this 14th Street taqueria and tequileria. Accredited tequila sommelier Danielle Griffin’s expansive list of 221 sip-worthy options ranges from $8 to $80 per pour; Beverage Director Brennan Adams also mixes the Mexican spirits into fresh libations, like the Lavender Margarita and the ginger-, basil- and mint-tinged Tequila Smash. “Tequila for the uninitiated can be pretty confusing,” admits Adams. “But unlike a large wine list, we are really looking at one varietal from one basic sugar source—the blue agave.” He recommends imbibers with sharp palates order up an unaged, clear Blanco. The delicate and clean Ambhar Silver partners with the rich, spicy tableside guacamole. More apprehensive guests can pair their tacos, sopes and chipotle shrimp with aged hooch like Don Julio Reposado. “They are generally softer, and the casking allows for coverage of flaws in the product.” 1819 14th St. NW, elcentrodf.com


DC’s first and only sparkling wine bar overflows with copious amounts of tiny bubbles. Well-known Champagne houses like Veuve Clicquot and Perrier-Jouët pop up on the list of 13 by the flute and 50 by the bottle. But the menu also includes unexpected finds like fun and fruity Hula O Maui sparkling pineapple brut NV from Maui. “While Champagne is certainly the crème de la crème for some guests, almost every corner of the world has something to offer on the bubbly front,” says sommelier Andrew Stover. His eclectic menu uncorks gems like the complex, soft and red-hued Lovisolo Nebbiolo brut rosé from Piedmont, which he uses to convert fans of that other Italian sparkler. “Many bubbly neophytes think Prosecco is the cat’s meow, and, while sure, Prosecco is great, it is often one-dimensional. The important thing is to try something different.” 734 11th St. NW, saxwdc.com

Jack Rose Dining Saloon

For most people, owning two bars named Bourbon would satisfy a craving for the oaky Kentucky liquor. But Bill Thomas opted to go even bigger at his new Adams Morgan multistory restaurant. The walls of the bistro-chic space are lined with more than 1,200 bottles of rare, elite and far-flung bourbon and scotch. The list includes single malts from not just Scotland, but Bangalore, India, as well as cask-strength whiskey from Ireland. Up on the roof deck, Beverage Director Rachel Sergi mixes those special sips into a cocktail menu of standards like a frosty mint julep. “You can do a lot more things with scotch than people realize,” says Thomas. The oaky theme isn’t just in the glass. Thomas salvaged a fallen 300-year-old oak from a friend’s parents’ yard to use in his underground Prohibition Bar as bar tops and stair treads throughout the stunning space. 2007 18th St. NW, jackrosediningsaloon.com