A Weekend of Libations in DC

I found myself planning a last minute trip into the depths of Washington DC this past Thursday. The last time I was in the city, I was but a wee pup, and the lures of spirit and food were but a flicker in my eye. Not this time, however. I fully intended to hit as many cocktail and dining establishments as time allowed. After a perfect weekend, I return to State College giddy, full, and with mystical potions swirling around in my head.

But back to Thursday… I knew I needed to form a plan ahead of time (though as you’ll see later, throwing plans out the window and going on a whim also produces a good time), so I tapped into fellow cocktail bloggers and sent out out feelers on eGullet. I got a good response, and planned from there.

A short note: All of the pictures and many of the cocktail notes come courtesy of Char, the lovely and super fun woman I spent the weekend with. She did a fine job of keeping me in line… you know, making sure we didn’t forget 2nd dinner or a midday potion.


I was lucky enough to snag reservations for Michel Richard’s restaurant, Citronelle, and it’s always a treat to dress up and go out for a prix fixe that lasts three hours. I normally don’t touch on food on Kaiser Penguin, but I think this trip deserves exception. We started off with a mojito and pear sangria, the two most interesting items on the cocktail menu. Both were spot on and a great start. The pear sangria had unobtrusive, perfectly diced cubes of pear and a delicate, slightly sweet taste. The mojito was a delicious swamp of mint and rum, and the inclusion of pure cane sugar was quite welcome.

We decided to go with the wine pairing for the ten course meal, which turned out to be a mistake. Not because all the wines were not delicious, but because we didn’t expect to be served ten glasses of wine, port, and champagne. I’ll pull out some highlights:

  • A small cup of potato chips fried in clarified butter was doused with vichyssoise and served, to our surprise, with a glass of Vya dry vermouth. The pairing was at once strange and completely satisfying. Our sommelier was cordial, funny, and quite knowledgeable, so we made sure he stuck by the table as much as we could keep him.
  • The strawberry “cocktail” was like a wizard’s potion, layered with deliciously soaked strawberries, a mysteriously scented cream, a mint ice, and topped with a sugar-crusted strawberry stick. We were served a crazy wine that was distilled into a half-brandy, produced by a small distiller and fairly exclusive. I wish I knew more about it, because it was really good.
  • Check out the full menu.

Bar Pilar and Cork

The next adventure the following evening led us to two spots, the first being Bar Pilar. Char all but put herself in my hands for which cocktails to order, though there was definitely a good bit of discussion and sharing of potions. We ordered a Bee’s Knees and a Daiquiri made with Neisson Rhum Agricole Blanc. The Bee’s Knees was a bit tart, but still quite good. The Daiquiri was a real treat, especially with such a flavorful rum. Both were well made, single-strained, refreshing and went amusingly well with the chicken liver pate.
Bee's Knees and a Daiquiri
One block south and we were at Cork, a trendy, hip, way too loud and crowded wine bar. I won’t touch on the food, as it was mostly unexciting (especially the pea soup with a hint of mint, or “pea soup mouthwash” as we came to call it). The highlight, however, was a batch of deliciously prepared sloe gin fizzes. Fresh egg whites, Plymouth sloe gin, and lemon juice. Yum.


Before visiting the hippos, naked mole rats, seals, and various other happy animals at the zoo, we stopped at a little Indian restaurant for lunch. A couple of cocktails washed down delicious tandoori grilled quail, crab fritters, and naan accompanied by at least 5 dips and sauces. A pomegranate martini which was a fairly simple blend including pomegranate juice instead of liqueur was quite refreshing. I ordered a Camparitini (oh how it pained me to type that), which was a surprisingly delicious blend of Campari, Cointreau, and lime juice. Both cocktails offered a buzz that made the zoo all the more interesting. Especially the elephants.


On our final evening, we spent about 45 minutes trying to pick out a dining destination, then we found Proof and discarded all previous ideas. We were turned on by the fact that Proof hosted DC’s Cocktail Week Celebration in May, where many of the fine bartenders from the city gathered in support of The Museum of the American Cocktail. This turned out to be the highlight of the weekend, in food, drink, atmosphere and location. Of all the places we visited, if I had to pick one to return to, it would be Proof. Wanting to avoid the onslaught of 10 wines with the tasting menu, we opted for a couple rounds of cocktails.

The menu was split into traditional and modern drinks, so we ordered two from each. We started off with an Aviation made with creme de violette. The aroma and subtle taste of the violette enhanced the already delicious cocktail. Along with the aviation we ordered the Coquette which is a mix of Rangpur (Tanqueray’s lime-flavored gin), elderflower liqueur, and grapefruit bitters. I had never had Rangpur before, and I must say I was pleasantly surprised, at least in this combination.
Aviation and the Coquette
Our first bite was a delicate raft of brioche topped with proscuitto and arugula; a perfect amuse bouche. Next came a sorrel soup garnished with smoked salmon and creme fraiche. As our third course came out, so did the next round of cocktails. The Corpse Reviver #2 arrived at the table. It was red. The waiter commented that they had run out of Lillet blanc and used the rouge. I thought, “what the hell?” It was actually quite good, though quite different. Our other attempt was the Duchess, a mix of limoncello, coconut milk, snow queen vodka, and egg white. Yes, we ordered vodka … it was good. Honest! Ok, I’ll blame that one on Char. :)

Our third course was a small stack of heirloom tomatoes beautifully dressed and topped with a fried squash blossom filled with goat cheese. A couple of other courses included a wonderful duck with long beans and a pomegranate sauce and a pink peppercorn short cake with strawberries and vanilla ice cream.


Though not the cocktail mecca of the world, DC put forth a good showing. I know we missed tons of bars and eateries that would delight, and I welcome a future trip to our nation’s capital. Though I think I’ll use mapquest instead of Google Maps for directions next time …

KP Questions

  1. What restaurants and drinkeries did we miss?
  2. Has anyone else had Rangpur? In a good cocktail?

7 Responses to “A Weekend of Libations in DC”

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7 Comments to “ A Weekend of Libations in DC”
  1. Mike S.No Gravatar says:

    Based on my surfing/reading, Rangpur has not been particularly well-received amongst the cocktail elite. Too bad; I, for one, love it — when it’s used correctly. Even I readily admit it makes a pretty odd (and not in a good way) Martini. Works ok in a G&T, you don’t even need a lime wedge garnish. But for me, it’s highest and best use is in a traditional Gimlet — made, please, with Rose’s as original. Delicious. So good, in fact, that it’s earned a permanent place in my LC on the back of that drink alone. I have not tried it elseways, but suspect it would match well in other citrusy cocktails. Aviation?



  2. NWNo Gravatar says:

    I cannot believe you missed PX in Alexandria. Thrasher has got his act down and the space is itself is magic. The drinks at the big sister restaurant, Eve, are solid as well.

  3. AdamNo Gravatar says:

    The Fox and Hounds on 17th isn’t particularly noted for its cocktail menu, but this is where I fell in love with gin and tonic. They bring you a glass full to the brim of ice and gin, and a small bottle of tonic water. You have to sip a shot or two off the top of the glass before you can mix them together.

  4. BANo Gravatar says:

    My wife and I stumbled across an amazing mojito in St. Petersburg, FL this weekend. I know it’s not DC, but it’s almost as hot. Anyway, we were at the Don CeSar resort on St. Pete beach and after about 6 of them we asked the bartender why her mojitos were so much better than anything we had ever tried. Turns out she wasn’t making them herself. She was using a mix called Doc Heller’s All Natural Mojito mix. Apparently, they get it from some local guys that are bottling the stuff themselves. I think other places in the bay area carry it, but does anyone know where we can buy a bottle?

  5. Dr. BambooNo Gravatar says:

    “a delicious swamp of mint and rum”

    This might be the best description of a Mojito I’ve ever seen.

    What a trip, Rick! I feel like I just watched one of those Travel Channel/Food Network shows where the intrepid adventurer goes somewhere they’ve never been and discovers all manner of great food & drink.

    I need to get out more.

  6. what can i do fun this weekend in washington dc…

    Sounds interesting but not for every one….

  7. JoeNo Gravatar says:

    You missed Citronelle’s “little brother”, Michel Richard’s Central (http://www.centralmichelrichard.com/)
    Bar manager Justin Guthrie is one of our city’s top bar men.

    Kudos for hitting Bar Pilar and Cork. Adam Bernbach at Bar Pilar is widely acclaimed as having the best cocktail menu in the city (http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/bestof/2008/foodanddrink/show.php?id=35163)
    And Tom Brown at Cork makes Cork a destination for cocktail lovers as well as food and wine enthusiasts.

    Sorry that you didn’t enjoy your meal, though. Chef Ron Tanaka is the former sous at both Citronelle and CityZen at the Mandarin Oriental, and he’s immensely talented. If you went on a Friday or Saturday night, well, God help you, because Cork is tremendously popular with the neighborhood residents.

    Peruse the Washington City Paper “Best Of” issue before your next trip here and you won’t go far wrong. This was a reader’s poll, so it should reflect how our residents actually feel:


    Believe me, Washington, D.C.’s star is on the rise in the cocktail world.

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Kaiser Penguin is a cocktail blog featuring original recipes, homemade ingredients, classic cocktails, and tiki drinks.

Why on Earth did you name your blog “Kaiser Penguin?”

It is a well-known fact that penguins are members of high society and enjoy fine cocktails. Our very own kaiser penguin would like me to mention that he also enjoys various treats from the sea.

Contact: rick@kaiserpenguin.com