Monday, October 10, 2011


On a muggy evening a few weeks back, I met up with Carlos on a quiet corner in downtown Alexandria.  A few revelers could be seen carousing up and down King Street, but we turned our attention down a quiet side street.  Coming to a door lit with a blue lamp, we went up the stoop and rang the bell.  As we waited, a couple ladies parked their car on the opposite side of the street and fell into line behind us.  A moment later, the peephole slid open, the darkness obscuring the observer within.  Pleasantries were exchanged in hushed voices.  The door opened a crack to let the two of us in; the women behind us were not as fortunate.

Ushered upstairs, we first passed a room full of gentlemen, nattily dressed perhaps, but clearly as an affectation, for a goodly number still had their hats atop their heads.  A gentleman does not fail to remove his hat in private spaces, much less while in the presence of ladies.  Then came the main stage, the dais upon which the master practiced his art.  A small bar with ten or so seats around it, mahogany and marble, matching the rest of the dimly lit room, all mahogany and white upholstery.  We continued on, however, into the last room, a parlour of sorts, the type that would easily play host to a salon of literary wits.

We took our seats as indicated, joining the other eight occupants in the room who were all engaged in hushed conversations.  Aside from the dim chandelier, the room was illuminated by plenty of votive candles on the side tables and mantel ledges.  The ledges also were home to a variety of vintage cocktail shakers, soda siphons and the like.  After perusing the menu, I decided to make my first drink the Dreaming of the Green Can, whereas Carlos picked the Norfolk Dumpling.  I also took the opportunity while I had the server's attention to request a move to the bar as soon as a couple seats opened up.  Habitual barfly that I am, I feel more at home in that specific habitat.

While the menu certainly had many interesting drinks, I wanted to play it safe to start; after all, I think it is more useful to judge the quality of the cocktails that are more simple.  Containing roasted pineapple juice, hibiscus bitters, pimiento dram, and Barbancourt 8, my first cocktail sounded, and indeed tasted, very tiki.  Served up, unlike most tiki drinks, I was struck by how balanced it was with mellow pineapple, allspice coming to the fore, and a subsumed rum backbone.  Personally, I think I would have preferred a rum with a bit more character to stand up to the spices, such as an agricole.

Menu, Page 1
While a very good cocktail, it was by no means as adventurous nor as exciting as the Norfolk Dumpling, which contained and tasted very strongly of duck sauce.  To be honest, it tasted like Chinese food and very little else.  Out of balance, perhaps, but it showed some signs of real creativity and funk.  Thus, for my next drink, I took up the gauntlet and got the I Bet You Won't Order This Cocktail.  We had finished our previous round with perfect timing as a couple seats at the bar did indeed become available, and we made our move to the front row.

I Bet You Won't Order This Cocktail
After making introductions, Clinton, the sole bartender behind the stick, mentioned that my order was not a challenge.  Containing soy sauce, honey, citrus vinegar, smoked Blackstrap rum and Ron Zacapa, one could certainly beg to differ.  While the beautifully creamy head was one reason why a straw was needed, the intensity of the drink would be another.  The soy sauce was not overpowering, unlike the previous duck sauce, but it did lend a very noticeable umami taste to the drink that played very well with the molasses from the rum.  This was definitely a drink for sipping.

The Bar, PX
On the other hand, Carlos picked the Sampaloc Sour for his second round based on his affinity for tamarind.  If tamarind was what he was after, then the drink hit the nail on the head.  We also learned later that the tamarind syrup that the bar uses also includes some dates, which I think really made a nice bridge between the tamarind and the rum.

Next, Carlos stuck with a dried-fruit flavors sort of theme by picking the I Don't Know off the menu, which contained figs, while I challenged Clinton to make me something with basil.  Basil is one of Jose's favorite challenge ingredients, and I thought it especially appropriate as summer was winding down.  In return, I was served a Basil N' Bourbon.  As the name implies, the drink contained basil, in the form of a basil syrup, but instead of bourbon, my drink had rye.  The drink was rounded out with lemon juice, lemon bitters and a spicy ginger ale.  I found the combination to be quite perfect, with the basil playing off the rye's grass notes while the ginger played off the spice notes, and the lemon brought everything into balance.

Basil N' Bourbon
Meanwhile, Carlos was intrigued by use of spices and decided that his last drink would be the Cure All, which featured fresh tumeric.  While one typically thinks of tumeric as an ingredient in Indian curries, the freshly grated stuff was far less pungent.  The rest of the cocktail was composed of gin, blanco tequila and a coconut-basil soda, again demonstrating the inventiveness and focus on culinary ingredients.

Menu, Page 2
As the night was quickly winding down, I decided that my last drink should be in a dessert of sorts and asked Clinton to use scotch as the base.  Thus, he made me a Ron Burgundy with Macallan 12, tamarind syrup, orange juice syrup, orange bitters and orange zest.  Despite containing no chocolate, I distinctly thought I could taste something rather chocolatey along side the malts of the scotch; it must be some interplay of the ingredients that generated that mirage.  It was a perfect way to end the evening, one that I very much enjoyed.

By that point, the bar had emptied out and the hour grew late.  I thanked Clinton for a fantastic evening and promised to visit in the future.  As Carlos and I found ourselves back out on the stoop, we made plans to meet again under the light of the blue lantern and went our separate ways, leaving behind that unmarked door and the wonderful drinks within.

Basil N' Bourbon
1.5 oz opal basil simple syrup*
1 oz Rittenhouse 100
1 oz Jefferson's 10 year
0.5 oz lemon juice
Hearty dash lemon bitters
Top with spicy ginger ale
Garnish with fresh basil
*Opal basil has a distinct purple color, which is preserved using a bit of citric acid to prevent discoloration.

Ron Burgundy
2 oz Macallan 12
1.5 oz tamarind-date syrup
0.5 oz orange juice syrup
Hearty dash orange bitters
Garnish with orange zest

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