Besides some insanely good whiskey, what else have I been drinking around DC as of late? Here are some of the recent libation highlights, with some recommended eats at each stop along the way thrown in for good measure, too.
Rakia @ Ambar
At Ambar, near Eastern Market, brand mixologist Rico Wisner has developed a new cocktail lineup based on the restaurant’s huge and largely-exclusive lineup of Rakia, a Balkan fruit brandy. They have an estimated 42 different flavors and varieties behind the bar, which are also available to be enjoyed neat, or in tasting flights.
Cocktails with Rakia include riffs on classics, such as a G&T with grappa Rakia, herbs, handmade tonic, and lime, the Sarajevo Old Fashioned, with plum Rakia, bourbon, bitters and cane syrup, the Sofia Negroni, with apricot Rakia, Campari and sweet vermouth, and the Grappa Smash, with grappa Rakia, lemon and mint.
Wisner recently spent more than a month in Belgrade, Serbia, where he helped to launch the Ambar in that location and put together their bar program. Rakia cocktails are a way to fuse those two cultures — whereas drinkers here love cocktails, but aren’t familiar with Rakia, and drinkers in Serbia love Rakia, but aren’t familiar with traditional cocktails.
To eat, don’t pass up on a selection of Balkan meat mezze, spreads and kajmak:
Also worth noting is that one of the best hidden deals in town may be Ambar’s “Bottomless Balkan” menu. For $59, sample unlimited dishes from the entire menu, and bottomless drinks from a set menu, or $49 for the same deal minus a few of the premium plates.
New Cocktail Lineup @ Macon
Macon Bistro & Larder in Chevy Chase has a new beverage team, and lead bartender Chris Martino has crafted a fresh cocktail lineup.
Drinks to check out include the Orange Blossom, with gin, aromatized wine, orange liqueur and citrus bitters; the Bouton, with gin, blood orange shrub, lemon, vanilla honey, and soda, The Mister Brown, with rum, sweet vermouth, ginger liqueur and chocolate bitters, and We Got the Beet, a unique pairing with blended Scotch, Dubonnet, lemon and beet syrup, garnished with a beet.
Of course, any trip to Macon has to include an order of the ridiculously delicious Essie’s Biscuits:
Gintonic @ Estadio
Estadio, along 14th Street, just celebrated their 5th anniversary. Always known for their staple of Gintonics, including their specialty offering with Old Raj Gin and house-made orange thyme tonic, bar director Adam Bernbach put together a new rendition for the occasion.
The 5th anniversary Gintonic is made from Mahon gin, white pepper and coriander tonic, ginger and lemon, and it’s off the charts. Grab it while you can, and hope it makes the cut for permanent placement on the menu.
Estadio is also still serving up their perfect for summer “Slushitos”, boozy slushies. Try one with cucumber, white pepper, Manzanilla sherry, gin, and basil, or the other variation, with Campari, sweet vermouth, honey, rye whiskey and lime.
If you’re at Estadio, you can’t pass up on charcuterie plates like this, can you?
DIY Cocktails @ MET Bethesda
MET Bethesda at the Westfield Montgomery Mall has an entirely unique offering, the MET Martini Bar. Start the process by choosing from 12 different flavors, such as strawberry, prickly pear, papaya or lychee, and mixtures such as El Corazon, with blood orange, passion fruit and pomegranate, all of which are served from an innovative tap system. Next, pair it with your drink type, such as a mojito, martini or bellini.
You can also get more creative, choosing more than one fruit flavor, for instance, or choosing to skip the drink type entirely, and simply requesting your go-to booze. All told, there are limitless possibilities, and plenty of fun to be had along the way. Be forewarned though, if you put together something awful, against the bartender’s advice, you’re still stuck with it.
While you’re there, check out the Char Bar, small bites seared over a hickory and oak flame, with options such as salmon belly with torched tomato, tuna sashimi with gochujang miso, jalapeno and yuzu ponzu, brown sugar beef, or chicken thigh with a hot tangy soy sauce.
So whether you’ve been craving Balkan brandy or a Spanish “Slushito”, and you simply didn’t realize it all this time — now you have the goods to go out and find it!