A Repeal Day for the ages

Free to Booze Bar

With the end of December almost here, it doesn’t look like I’m going to get to that big Repeal Day wrap-up I had planned. Luckily Tom Pearson’s all over it with Repeal Day and post-Repeal Day entries, so check over at his site for the links. See also Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s adventures in DC and “libertarian kind of guy” Lance Mayhew’s thoughtful reflections about Prohibition and the growth of government.

I was in DC too, kicking off the day at Cato’s Free to Booze event. I wasn’t able to watch the forum, being too busy setting up the bar in the lobby and teaching the interns some practical skills like how to juice citrus for 200 people. Thanks to their help, spirit donations from DISCUS, and a very last minute purchase of sweet vermouth, Jeff and I were able to mix up some tasty vintage cocktails for the thirsty mob. Here’s what we served:

Manhattan: Bulleit Bourbon, Sweet Vermouth, and Angostura Bitters
One of the first uses of vermouth in a cocktail and a true classic to this day

Martinez: Beefeater or Tanqueray Gin, Sweet Vermouth, Maraschino Liqueur, and Orange Bitters
Forgotten cousin of the Dry Martini, also born of America’s love affair with vermouth

Sidecar: Hennessy VS Cognac, Cointreau, and Lemon
An early mix of spirit, orange liqueur, and citrus, a versatile combination enjoyed today in the Margarita and Cosmopolitan

Aviation: Beefeater or Tanqueray Gin, Lemon, Maraschino, and Crème de Violette
A beautiful classic regaining popularity thanks to new imports of violet liqueur

Stone Fence: Maker’s Mark Bourbon, Cider, Angostura Bitters
Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys drank a rustic version of this drink before storming Fort Ticonderoga. What are you gonna do?

Sazerac: Hennessy VS Cognac, Pernod aux extraits de plantes d’absinthe, Peychaud’s Bitters, Angostura Bitters, and Sugar
Vintage New Orleans cocktail; though originally made with cognac, rye whiskey became standard in the 1870s

Pegu Club: Beefeater or Tanqueray Gin, Cointreau, Lime, Orange Bitters, and Angostura Bitters
A refreshing gin drink published in Harry Craddock’s Savoy Cocktail Book (1930) and credited to the Pegu Club in Burma

Jeff and I had a great time making the drinks. I hadn’t worked a busy bar shift since leaving Open City in March, so getting back into the groove and working through a long line of orders felt great. One of my favorite moments of the night was informing a person who ordered a vodka tonic that we had neither vodka nor tonic. Working with a limited bar and a small menu let us put the focus on introducing people to new experiences and I think we opened a few eyes to well-crafted cocktails.

If you missed the Cato event, it’s too late to make you a drink but you can catch video of the policy forum online. Organizer Brandon Arnold also recorded a podcast for the occasion.

Following a nice dinner with friends, I went off to DC Craft Bartenders Guild’s fantastic Repeal Day celebration, featuring drinks from some of the DC’s best mixologists. Then we took the afterparty to Gibson, the new speakeasy off U St. As Jeff notes, some of these speakeasy themed bars stand on ceremony to the point of inconvenience. At one I watched the host make a woman search her Blackberry for her forgotten codeword before granting entrance, despite the fact that every table but my own was unoccupied. There’s none of that nonsense at Gibson. There the focus is entirely on serving wonderful drinks in a comfortable, relaxed environment. And the drinks really are excellent. If you’re in DC, it’s absolutely worth visiting. I just wish it had opened before I moved across the country.

This Repeal Day will be hard to top, but the 100th anniversary is just 25 years away. It’s hard to predict what will happen then. Perhaps there will be blowback against the nanny state’s current excesses. Maybe we’ll finally overturn some of our outdated alcohol distribution laws. Given all the momentum in the craft movement right now, I’m hopeful we’ll see even broader interest in mixology and be closer to overcoming Prohibition’s legacy of crap cocktails. Whatever happens, we’re going to have one hell of a party.


Most missed in DC/NOVA

This morning I’ll be hopping on a plane from Portland and flying to DC, returning for the first time since leaving in August. I miss the place more than I expected to. I miss my friends, though with all your Tweets it sometimes feels like I’ve never left. I miss the constant happy hours and the intellectual engagement. I miss biking; I’m surprised to be driving my car here in Portland more than I ever did in Virginia. And of course I miss the food. Here’s a list of some of the places I’m hoping to get back to. Not the best places necessarily, just the ones I subjectively miss the most.

EatBar — This place combines the feel of a true neighborhood bar with a real commitment to quality. The food is always excellent, the beer list is solid, and Gina Chersevani has made the cocktails superb as well. The smoke-friendly back room is one of my favorite spots in Virginia; when the winter made our outdoor Sunday cigars impossible, this was our refuge. I spent a year living around the corner in a crappy, run down apartment. EatBar was one of two places that made that worthwhile. The other was…

El Charrito — This unassuming Salvadoran and Mexican restaurant caters equally to construction workers and white collar professionals, serving up $2 cabrito tacos, great burritos, and fried plantains. It was a block from my house. My current apartment is much nicer than my old one, but all I’ve got here are Burgerville, Subway, and Red Robin.

Murky Coffee — Where everybody knows my name, where I first got into coffee, and where I first started not hating DC. If not for Murky, I would have left the city back in 2005. (Thanks, Nick!)

Grape and Bean — I loved working here. They got their on-premise beer and wine license after I left, so I’m looking forward to getting back and seeing how it all worked out.

Crisp and Juicy — Of the many rotisserie chicken places in Northern Virginia, this was by far my favorite. Super Pollo was convenient. Pollo Rico was good, but serving steak fries instead of yuca takes it down a notch. Crisp and Juicy was, very strangely, the site of my first date with me previous girlfriend. I dream of their chicken.

Kabob Bazaar — Mondays and Fridays, ghormeh sabzhi. That’s all you need to know.

Birreria Paradiso — This basement bar is where I had my eyes opened to beer and was the only reason I’d go to Georgetown at night. I had Belgian ales and barley wines for the first time here and regret that I rarely went back after leaving my job at nearby Baked and Wired.

Baked and Wired — Speaking of B&W, I do miss their chocolate cupcakes with buttercream frosting. How did I get by having these for breakfast for so many months? They never tasted better than the night I spent closing down Paradiso and sleeping on the floor of the coffee shop to be there for the opening barista shift.

Rustico — My other favorite beer place, and damn good food too.

Brasserie Beck — My other other favorite beer place. You’ve gotta respect a joint that’s pure Belgian and has a beer knight (Le Chevalarie du Fourquet des Brasseurs) running their list. The apple curry mussels are how mussels pray to be treated in the afterlife.

Eamonn’s — Come for the fish and chips, stay for the batter burger. Oh yeah, and there’s a speakeasy on top.

El Rinconcito and the Korean cart on 14th and L — Lobbyists have no taste. Cato’s office is close to K Street. Therefore, despite our proximity to Chinatown, there wasn’t much good ethnic food in the area. These two were notable exceptions.

Pho 75 — I can get good Vietnamese food here, but Pho 75 is still my favorite; it got me out of countless hangovers when I lived in Court House.

Nam-Viet — If I were smart, I would have scheduled this trip during soft-shell crab season.

Five Guys — Suck it, In-n-Out. NOVA’s cultish burger franchise puts you to shame.

China Express — Just a typical American takeout Chinese restaurant, but they were good at it in a city where people often weren’t and the owners were always incredibly friendly.

Open City — They put up with my first experimentation behind the bar, and for that I’m eternally grateful.

PS7 — I didn’t go as often after Tiffany left the bar, but their happy hour is one of the best around. Few do cocktails and food as well as they do.

There’s no way I’m getting to all these places this weekend, plus there’s a few newcomers I’m eager to visit: Peregrine Espresso, Source, Commonwealth, and Gibson come to mind. What else am I missing?


Free to Booze

Do you have plans for Repeal Day yet? This year’s the big one, the 75th Anniversary of the 21st Amendment. Cato’s marking the occasion with what looks to be a fun and informative policy forum:

Featuring Michael Lerner, author of Dry Manhattan: Prohibition in New York City; Glen Whitman, author of Strange Brew: Alcohol and Government Monopoly; Asheesh Agarwal, Former Assistant Director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Office of Policy Planning; and Radley Balko, Senior Editor, Reason. Moderated by Brandon Arnold, Cato Institute.

On December 5, 1933, the 21st Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, thus ending our nation’s failed experiment with Prohibition. Organized crime flourished during Prohibition, but what were the other effects of the national ban on alcohol? How and why was it repealed? Please join the Cato Institute for a celebration of the 75th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition and a discussion of its legacy and continuing impact on America. Drinks will be served following the discussion.

Note the “drinks will be served” line. These won’t be just the usual Cato beer and wine. Though we’re still working out the details, the plan is for me to be there mixing up a menu of classic pre-Prohibition cocktails.

But that’s not the best part. A few weeks ago I was at a friend’s bar in Eugene when he mentioned that he’ll be visiting DC the very same weekend. I told him about the Cato event and asked if he’d be interested in tending bar with me there. And lucky for us, he said yes. So you won’t just be getting drinks from this lowly libertarian cocktail blogger, but also from the man himself, Mr. Repeal Day, Jeffrey Morgenthaler.

It’s going to be a fun afternoon and we’d love to see you there. If you’re going to be in DC on December 5, RSVP for the event here, and be sure to also check out Jeff’s site RepealDay.org for more Repeal Day updates.


Have a ball in DC

OK, one more post about Rocky Mountain oysters, then I promise I’ll stop. Actually I don’t promise. But check out this photo at Amanda’s blog of the General Tso’s-coated mountain oysters currently on the menu at Firefly in Dupont Circle. A big step up from the big bowl of fried, floppy discs I enjoyed in Denver, don’t you think? Anyone in DC going to try them out?


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.


So long, and thanks for all the bulgogi

David Boaz catches The Washington Post giving the DC government a little too much credit for the city’s booming street food scene:

The jump headline says, “With City’s Help, Vendors Break the Mold.” Author Tim Carman writes, “Both [new food] vendors still needed public assistance.” And “the city [has] been working with vendors to give hungry Washingtonians a taste of what they want.” All praise the D.C. government, font of good food.

But of course the city hasn’t produced the food. It hasn’t subsidized the vendors. It hasn’t put vendors together with investors. All it has done is to lift, in one part of the city, “regulations that have choked the life out of D.C.’s street food for decades.” There are licensing rules (and a moratorium on issuing any new licenses), prohibitions on hiring employees, cart size rules, regulations on where you can park a cart at night, and so on. So the “public assistance” the vendors received was to be exempted from some of the regulations, inside a 32-block demonstration zone.

It reminds me of the wisdom of Henry David Thoreau: “This government never furthered any enterprise but by the alacrity with which it got out of the way.”

Hey, I deserve credit for helping out the vendors too. I never once robbed them at gunpoint while they tried to run their businesses.

Not that I would. On the Fly’s tacos and the yellow cart’s bulgogi were a significant improvement to my life off K Street.

DC cart watch, public choice edition
DC cart watch: On the Fly tacos
Hot dogs and beyond


DC bar openings

Lots of DC area bar openings I’m missing out on. First, my friends at Grape and Bean in Alexandria opened their tasting bar this month, offering small, plates, coffee, and wine and beer by the glass or bottle. They’re taking a break till Labor Day to do some research [i.e. drinking] in California’s wine country and to attend the Slow Food Festival, but they’ll reopen then with expanded hours.

Inside the city is Commonwealth, a British-style gastropub I’d really like to visit. They offer “butcher boards of charcuterie (don’t miss the ultra-flavorful Surrey County ham), house-made head cheese, stuffed pigs trotters, deviled sweetbreads, pork belly, and Scotch eggs wrapped in sausage—the chef’s favorite.” Also a selection of English ales and a rotating cask ale.

And speaking of beer, Frank Morales and Greg Engert of Rustico are opening the first DC location for the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, and it’s going to have tons of it. Birch and Barley and its upstairs bar ChurchKey will offer more than 500 bottles, 50 drafts, and 5 cask ales. And unlike a certain other DC beer bar, I’m betting these guys will do a good job keeping their menu in stock. Amanda’s got the rest of the details at Metrocurean.


Good coffee in Chinatown?

This classified ad sounds promising:

New cafe opening in cool part of DC needs a serious barista to help establish and oversee coffee operations. Looking for someone passionate about coffee-coffee making as a craft. We intend on serving the finest ristretto shot in the District. Duties include consulting with owner/operator on equipment purchase, hiring of other talented baristas, and helping to determine overall feel of cafe. not your ordinary coffee shop.

Sounds like my friends at Cato might have an option better than Starbucks in the near future.


Your precious coffee policy

Wow, this has gotten really out of hand. A guy walks into Murky Coffee, orders an iced espresso, and is informed that the store doesn’t offer that drink. Flame war ensues.

I was at Murky when the incident happened, sitting outside away from the action. I was amazed even then at how quickly the story spread. Immediately after the guy, Jeff Simmermon, left the infamous dollar tip, the barista David came outside to show it to my friends and me. Within minutes another customer blogged about it, a friend emailed me the post, and I’d taken a photo of the bill for posting. I later decided not to post it because, really, this isn’t the kind of thing that deserves to be taken beyond the shop. It’s too late for that though: BoingBoing and Metafilter picked up the story and there’s a Washington Post article on the way.

Now I do want to write about it because my friends and the shop where I got started as a barista are being slandered as pretentious jerks who don’t care about customer service. This is especially unfair to the barista, David, who was following the store policy. There’s a sign on the register clearly stating that Murky will ice any drink except for espresso and cappuccino. David made this clear and explained why the shop doesn’t offer those. Whether or not he could have handled the interaction better (and I suspect he in fact handled it pretty well), that should have been the end of the matter. Instead Simmermon made a scene, left a vulgar tip, and got one of the world’s most popular websites to repeat his story portraying the barista as a pretentious hipster who takes coffee way too seriously. It’s frustrating to then see Murky mocked all over the internet and this guy taken to be a hero for mistreated customers.

Simmermon does raise a fair question about whether the shop should have a policy against icing espresso. It’s something the store could physically do, and isn’t the customer always right?

Well, maybe. That’s one way to run a business. But there’s a constant tension in the coffee world between giving the people what they like and trying to raise the bar for specialty coffee. If Murky was really selling customers everything they wanted, they’d be installing blenders and a giant rack of flavored syrups, too. That’s the road to becoming Starbucks, with its frappuccini, Vivanno-whatevers, and push-button mediocrity. The higher end shops define themselves not only by what they offer, but also by what they say no to. A lot of places won’t make blended drinks. Others are cutting out 20 ounce and even 16 ounce cups. At Murky, they define espresso and the classic cappuccino as their signature beverages. They won’t ice them, they won’t serve them to go. It might cost them a few customers, but it shows the pride they take in their work and their respect for the coffee. I think that’s refreshing, and it elevates the company’s image as the most dedicated shop in DC.

It’s not an arbitrary policy, either. As owner Nick explains at the Murky blog:

Espresso is a fairly volatile thing, and when it hits ice, it seems to go through a chemical change that we can’t fully explain (and I haven’t seen a good explanation within our industry quite yet). It does appear to have something to do with ascorbic acid, but when we make our iced americanos (espresso + water + ice), we pour the shots into room-temperature water before adding the ice. Believe it or not, it does make a difference. Pouring espresso over ice creates unpleasantly acrid flavors.

Maybe Simmermon’s just being sarcastic, but it sounds like he really enjoyed the iced Americano he eventually received. If he’d listened to the barista’s advice in the first place, he would have discovered the drink sooner. And at the very least he shouldn’t have publicly mocked the barista for upholding the store’s policy.

Anyway, there’s three things to take away from this. One, don’t be a dick on the internet. Two, trust your barista. Three, pay a visit to Murky. Despite the insults swirling around online, they’ve got a friendly, talented crew right now, and they make a damned good espresso.


The Belgian buyout

The InBev buyout of Budweiser is going through. Paul Krugman catches my favorite observation in a story from the WSJ:

“I’ll tell you one thing,” said the 21-year-old concrete worker during his lunch break at The Brick of St. Louis bar, in the shadow of this city’s storied Anheuser-Busch Cos. brewery, “if Budweiser is made by a different country, I don’t drink Budweiser anymore. I’ll go back to Wild Turkey.” (Wild Turkey, a Kentucky bourbon, is owned by French drinks giant Pernod Ricard SA.)

Dan Mitchell looks sees in the buyout a lesson for the US tax code:

Rather than engage in demagoguery against foreign investment, maybe Senator Obama and his colleagues should fix the tax code so that U.S. companies are not disadvantaged in global markets. America’s high corporate tax rate, combined with a pernicious policy of taxing worldwide income of American-based firms, makes it very difficult for those companies to compete.

Belgium, by contrast, has a lower corporate tax rate. More important, it has a territorial tax system — the common-sense notion of taxing only income earned inside national borders. As such, it makes sense — from the perspective of all shareholders — for Anheuser-Busch to be taken over by InBev rather than the other way around. Indeed, that is why American companies almost always become the subsidiary rather than the parent when there is a cross-border merger.

Fans of real Belgian beer should plan to knock a few back this Monday, July 21, Belgium’s Independence Day. Brasserie Beck in DC is celebrating with half-price drafts all day on 18 different beers. The list is online at the restaurant’s stupid, unlinkable Flash site.


Nando’s Peri-Peri

DC’s first location of the South African, Portuguese-themed chicken restaurant is now open in the city’s increasingly non-Chinese Chinatown (right next to Hooters and Mehak Indian restaurant). The specialty is spicy roasted chicken cooked with sauce seasoned with peri-peri, an African chili pepper. The sauce isn’t that hot, but it has good flavor and bottles on the table let customers add as much medium, hot, or extra hot as they please. The chicken is tender, juicy, and served on the bone with plenty of tasty skin. They also serve liver dishes, which sound intriguing but weren’t what I was going to choose on my first visit (despite Tyler Cowen’s general advice). The sides aren’t exciting — the fries were standard, the “spicy rice” very mild.

What I’d really like to see in this part of DC is a good Peruvian rotisserie chicken place, but Nando’s is a welcome addition to a neighborhood that has so many characterless restaurants. And call me insensitive, but this ad idea made me laugh:

Nando’s is known in South Africa for its humorous but often controversial adverts. One such television advert from 2000, involved a blind woman being led into a pole intentionally and knocked unconscious by her guide dog, which then proceeded to eat the chicken that the woman had just purchased. This caused an uproar within the blind community and caused the South African Advertising Standards Authority to call for the withdrawal of the advert.

Nando’s is at 819 7th St. NW.


Moving to the wrong coast?

The blue dots represent cities with a surplus of single women. Tan dots are cities with a surplus of single men. Here’s the map. Richard Florida says I’m moving in the wrong direction:

By far, the best places for single men are the large cities and metro areas of the East Coast and Midwest. The extreme is greater New York, where single women outnumber single men by more than 210,000. In the Philadelphia area and greater Washington, D.C., single women outnumber single men by 50,000. I met my wife outside Detroit, where the odds were greatly stacked in my favor – single women outnumber single men by some 20,000 there.

In fact, single women outnumber single men in many large cities around the world, even though men outearn women at all ages, according to Lena C. Edlund, a Columbia University economist. One reason young women in the prime marriage years – the 25-44 age range – flock to big cities is to compete for the most eligible men. And smart women who gravitate to vibrant cities are more likely to stay single – for longer, at least – because they rightly refuse to settle for someone who can’t keep up with them intellectually or otherwise.

But women do have an advantage in the American West and Southwest. In greater Los Angeles, for example, there are 90,000 more single men than women. In Phoenix and the San Francisco Bay Area, single men outnumber single women by roughly 65,000. There are considerably more single men than women in San Diego, Dallas, and Seattle, too. Each of these regions has grown substantially over the past two or three decades, offering jobs in everything from high tech to construction and services. As numerous studies of migration show, men – especially those in regions with declining economies – are initially more likely to move long distances for economic opportunity, while women are more likely to stay closer to home and family.

At least Portland’s got distilleries. And hey, gin never turns you down and goes home with the guy who has the bigger blog.

Relatedly, here’s Tim Harford explaining Edlund’s economic theory about why big, successful cities tend to be home to more single women than men.

[Thanks to Zack for the link.]


Raw milk rally in DC

Unfortunately, I won’t be able to attend, but it should be an interesting experience:

Raw Milk Rally on Capitol Hill, Monday June 2

Dear Raw Milk Lovers:

The Food Network is working on a show about raw milk and how it has changed people’s lives. As a part of this, they want to show their viewers the political side of the raw milk battle. To do so they are hosting a raw milk rally and would like to invite you to demonstrate your support for raw milk, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, which will be filmed as part of a documentary about the growing consumer demand for raw milk.

This will be a chance to tell your personal story on national television, about how raw milk has helped you and your family achieve better health or heal from chronic disease. Or, why you feel it should be an available choice to all who want it. The main purpose of this event is to help spread the word via our stories to be aired on the Food Network.

CAPITOL HILL RAW MILK RALLY with Special Guest Speakers:

Richard Morris, Author of A Life Unburdened

Liz Reitzig, President of Maryland Independent Consumers and Farmers Association

DATE: Monday June 2, 2008

TIME: 9:45/ 10:00 am

WHAT TO BRING: Pro raw milk signs/t-shirts, raw milk fed babies, raw milk flyers, brochures etc. If you can, bring some raw milk in a cooler so we can offer tastings to passersby that would be great!

Real Milk Rocks T shirts (for $20.00) and A Life Unburdened books will be on sale at the event.

WHERE: Meet on 3rd Street SW Corner.

So we can get a feel for who is coming: Please email kimberly@hartkeonline.com if you are planning to attend.


Perigrine Espresso wanders to Eastern Market

Great news for DC coffee lovers: the former Eastern Market location of Murky Coffee is going to be filled by Ryan Jensen, former Murky manager and the current DC representative for Counter Culture. Ryan and his wife Jill plan to open Peregrine Espresso there this summer. They’re a wonderfully nice couple with a deep love for coffee, so this is sure to be an excellent addition to the neighborhood.

In other DC coffee news, Baked and Wired has shut down the Buzz Zap Graphics portion of its business to make room for more cafe seating. Also, Grape and Bean, my current shop, got a nice write-up at the Washingtonian blog.

[Story via Metrocurean.]


No guns, no smoking, no ping-pong

How’s a guy supposed to have fun in this city? Last year I posted a video shot by Frank Winstead, obsessively nit-picky Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner, of an allegedly dangerous outdoor ping-pong table at Comet Pizza in northwest DC. Winstead was widely mocked at the time, but this being DC, he eventually got his way. Marc Fisher reports that the scourge of outdoor ping-pong has now been forcibly eliminated.

I finally paid a visit to Comet earlier this winter. It’s a charming place and serves up a very tasty pie. It’s sad that there are people like Winstead using the levers of the state to harass a business that adds so much life to the neighborhood.

[Via DCist.]