Speakeasy shutdown

“If you are a member of the press/blogger/other media type person you are not permitted to write about our location or our operation in any way shape or form.” That was the first rule people who scored a reservation at DC speakeasy Hummingbird to Mars were required to abide by. Washington Post spirits writer Jason Wilson, whose job is to help Washingtonians drink better, publicized it anyway. Now the project is shutting down and DC drinkers have one fewer place to go for an outstanding cocktail. Bravo, Mr. Wilson.

(Serious ethics question: Is this not akin to reporting something a source explicitly asked to be off the record?)

The Best Bites Blog has the story here. Check out the video for an intriguing cocktail technique: using sous vide to infuse a liquor with spices, the airtight seal preventing any damage to the alcohol. That’s something I’d like to try.

Update: Jason Wilson clarifies in the comments that the real reason the speakeasy is shutting down has to do with the organizers’ busy schedules, not his column. So I apologize to him for getting that wrong (and for assuming the Washingtonian blog knew what it was talking about). He also says:

No, it’s actually nothing like a source asking for a conversation to be off the record. The rules clearly stated that if I chose the break those rules, I might be “unwelcome” in the future. The same as if I chose to show up 45 minutes for a restaurant reservation, my table might be given away. Hummingbird to Mars is free to make me “unwelcome” at future events.

I’m not sure I buy that just attaching consequences to breaking an informal NDA makes it acceptable to do so. Unethical? Perhaps not. A dick move? Absent the permission or tacit approval of the bar, certainly.

Comments

  1. RumorsDaily says:

    I would say it’s more akin to going to a private political fundraising event and being asked by the hosts not to write about what happens there.

  2. B says:

    The general public has a much greater interest in knowing what’s going on at a political fundraising event behind closed doors than in learning of small establishment frequented by private citizens that wishes to be kept secret.

  3. Jeff says:

    As a journalist, Wilson’s behavior is completely unethical. Jacob, in a way you’re right. This is much like a source specifically asking to be kept off record.

    Rumors analogy is also pretty spot on. And I would go as far to say it is unethical to report on a closed door fundraiser as well, but sometimes you can make a case for the public well-being to break information from inside a political event.

    I like to think of it as violation of contract and personal property. The proprietors of HtM specifically outline acceptable behavior in their establishment. Wilson knowingly went against at least two of their rules.

  4. Barzelay says:

    Is it very difficult to get a liquor license in DC?

    RE: the sous vide technique, a few thoughts. First of all, just because the alcohol isn’t evaporating does not mean that it isn’t undergoing any changes. Moreover, pure alcohol boils at 172 degrees Fahrenheit. Why can’t you just put the infusion in a pot and heat it to 125, leave it there a few minutes, then strain?

    And why 125? Why not 170?

    Vacuum-sealing is often used to infuse food

  5. jason says:

    No, it’s actually nothing like a source asking for a conversation to be off the record. The rules clearly stated that if I chose the break those rules, I might be “unwelcome” in the future. The same as if I chose to show up 45 minutes for a restaurant reservation, my table might be given away. Hummingbird to Mars is free to make me “unwelcome” at future events.

    As for the project shutting down. I believe one of the three owners has already posted on DCist that the speakeasy is shutting down temporarily because he is a law student and is very busy with midterms. So before you start playing journalism professor, maybe you should get your facts straight?

    To quote from the DCist post:

    “My apologies to any and all conspiracy theorists, as the General Manager of Bourbon and one of the guys behind Hummingbird I would love to let you in on a little secret. The reason we are shutting down for awhile is because I am also a second year law student and I have to study for my midterms. Sorry it’s not an exciting reason I know but it’s all I’ve got.”

  6. Barzelau says:

    Your webhost went down in the middle of my comment posting. It should have read:

    Is it very difficult to get a liquor license in DC?

    RE: the sous vide technique, a few thoughts. First of all, just because the alcohol isn’t evaporating does not mean that it isn’t undergoing any changes. Moreover, pure alcohol boils at 172 degrees Fahrenheit. Why can’t you just put the infusion in a pot and heat it to 125, leave it there a few minutes, then strain?

    And why 125? Why not 170?

    Vacuum-sealing is often used to infuse foods with a marinade, because the vacuum-sealing can draw out a lot of the air in a food, leaving gaps which are then filled with the marinade. In addition, the compression created by the sealing process can break down some of the structures of the food, allowing better penetration (and other physical changes to the product). But all of that is inapplicable to an infusion of a liquid.

    It seems like the best thing about the sous vide infusions might be the fact that the loose bag as a container leads to the sediment in the infusion being constantly agitated. That might provide the only advantages over just pot-infusing–an advantage that disappears if you simply stir your infusion in a pot.

    Also, his end product comes out quite muddy. That’s fine, but there are ways he could clarify it without heating.

    So yeah, I’m poo-poo-ing that whole thing for now, although I still applaud the effort. And I’m not saying sous vide has no place at the bar. I’d like to see bars selling, for instance, alcohol-infused fruits. The old vodka watermelon trick, for instance, would be a nice garnish for the right cocktail, and the vacuum-sealing would improve the vodka penetration, as well as giving the watermelon an interested texture. And a vacuum-sealer might be an invaluable bar tool when working with garnishes that oxidize, like apples, pears, etc. You can make your garnishes during the day’s prep, vacuum-sealing small batches of them to prevent oxidation, then just open the bags as needed.

  7. Barzelay says:

    And I misspelled my own name in that comment. Oops.

Leave a Comment

*