Policy's downstairs bar

Policy's downstairs bar

I stopped by Policy last night for a drink before heading to St. Ex for some crazy dancing. My companion and I were only able to get to the first floor bar/restaurant area as the upstairs had a private party that we weren’t cool enough to be on the list for. I understand that’s where the more loungey area is, and as we overheard, where all of the “hot girls” are. U street girl and her companion were a little offended by this, but we let it roll off our shoulders. The vibe, of at least the downstairs of the place, is a little more mature, I’m in my early 20s and I definitely felt a little young. The crowd tended towards the older 20s/early 30s, downstairs. The service at the bar was rather quick though, as you can tell in this photo, the bar was pretty crowded.

Libertinis at Policy

Libertinis at Policy

We ordered Libertinis, which had pineapple juice, champagne, and other ingredients that were forgotten after a night of dancing at St. Ex, clearly there was something red in there by looking at that photo. Can’t remember what, but they were good. The specialty cocktails ran $10, which was pretty reasonable in my mind. Also, I realized I went to college and knew the event coordinator, Kevin Murray, at Policy. Does that¬† make me feel cool? I don’t know, but I figured out it wouldn’t help me with getting to the second floor lounge by saying I had a few English classes and went to a few parties with Kevin, and could describe what he looked like. So no thoughts on upstairs, sadly.

Buzz to get into the Gibson

Buzz to get into the Gibson

I finally made it to the Gibson last night, and it was a perfect place to celebrate the first day at my new job. Making reservations for 9, when I arrived I was somewhat surprised to find that not every seat at the bar was full. I thought no matter the day or time, this place would be packed (or as packed as a bar can be when it has a no standing policy). I liked though, the uncrowded feel.

The Gibson, with it’s expensive, fancy, and complicated cocktails, was a place I expected to find a bit of pretension, but I was surprised to almost immediately feel comfortable and relaxed in the little booth next to the bar I was seated at. Perhaps because it is so small, so intimate, that it felt more relaxed. I found the atmosphere nearly devoid of pretension.

Now, the important part: the drinks. My companion and I tried four cocktails:

  • First Snow – which sounded lovely (vodka, muscat syrup, white cranberry juice, lime, champagne) but however tasted mostly like champagne. I tried my best to pick up on the subtler flavors of cranberry or lime, but it pretty much felt like drinking champagne. Pleasant, but not what I was expecting.
  • Jackelope – a real winter drink (bourbon, American-oak infused maple syrup, lemon, orange). The fun part was the waitress took an orange peel, took a lighter to it, and awakened all of the essences hiding in the zest. She then swept it around the rim of the glass and put it in the cocktail. The booth smelled pleasantly of orange for a few minutes afterwards.
  • Brunswick Sour – strangely delicious (white rum, lime, Merlot float). I ordered this mostly to see what a Merlot
    Brunswick sour, with a Merlot float

    Brunswick sour, with a Merlot float

    float was, and somehow, the Merlot was suspended above the rest of the drink, maybe it’s differences in density, high school Physics was a long time ago (or at least feels like it). Regardless, the result was great, it was tangy from the lime, sweet yet complex from the Merlot, the combination was unexpectedly pleasing.

  • Martinez – complex (gin, vermouth, maraschino liquor, orange bitters). This drink also came with the great burning orange peel garnish. It had a complexity that worked, with all of the components “talking” to each other well.

Mentioning all of that, there was one downside I picked up on pretty quickly: you get faster service at the bar. You also get to interact with the bartenders (duh) and I imagine learn more about the cocktails, ask more questions. When I made a reservation, I wasn’t expecting to get a seat at the bar, I expected a booth. But because of this, my companion and I ended up waiting about 10-15 minutes for our first two drinks. I know that making complicated drinks like this takes time, but I also observed as patrons got seated at the bar they got their drinks quicker than those not at the bar.

Beyond that though, I really enjoyed my experience at the Gibson.¬† What surprised me the most was the relaxed feel of the place, and that’s something not to be discounted.

Bar Pilar, on 14th street

Bar Pilar, on 14th street

Bar Pilar is perhaps my favorite bar in DC (that might change when I finally go to the Gibson though). I especially like it on a weekday night, when it isn’t too crowded, I can talk to the bartender (I don’t know her name, but she’s always there when I go and while it took her time to warm up to me, I think she likes me now), peruse the ever-changing menu, and enjoy the company of whomever I’ve gone to the bar with.

I know that there has been a lot of criticism of Bar Pilar’s menu after it went from well-done comfort food to something more fancy. First, it was two years ago, let’s all move on. But listen, more importantly the food they serve is so good. Whatever I get there, I’m always blown away. On my last visit, the roasted beef sandwich with demi-glace sauce was AMAZING. Unfortunately, their most recent menu isn’t up on the website, or the dish I had was a special add-in, but if it’s on the menu, order it. Even when I ordered chicken there, which I don’t usually get at restaurants because it’s so normal and blah, their braised chicken was out of this world.

Bar Pilar is consistently rated as one of the best places to get a cocktail, but if you didn’t know to ask, you probably wouldn’t know. The thing to do, is to go on a Tuesday night, early, get a seat to enjoy the interesting, unusual creations of mixologist (don’t you hate that word?) Adam Bernbach.

Sure, it can get crowded with suburbanites looking to have a cool night out in DC on the weekends, and no, the service is nothing approaching good, but at its heart it’s a neighborhood place to swing by and have a great drink and bite on random night.

A regular feature in which I spotlight local businesses.

I have yet to make it to the Gibson, first heard of over at Going out Guru’s blog in WaPo. As many know, it’s a secret, no-standing, speakeasy-type bar with (reportedly) phenomenal cocktails. Making a reservation is definitely at the top of my to-do list when I get back to DC. DCist gives us a great peak into the bar:

A cocktail mixed at the Gibson, courtesy of Fitsum Belay (Flickr)

A cocktail mixed at the Gibson, courtesy of Fitsum Belay (Flickr)

“The space is a good match with its sister establishments, Marvin and the Eighteenth Street Lounge. Brian Miller, the designer who also worked on Marvin, has made lush appointments with intricately embossed black leather and warm unfinished wood on the bar and cozy booths. A patio will open soon in the back, and the back room sports an absinthe fountain. A chalkboard is updated with the list of drinks to give imbibers a quick view of the menu. The joint is a tribute: not to the Gibson cocktail, but to Elsworth Gibson, a much-missed D.C. native, pianist, and Eighteenth Street Lounge house band resident.

The cocktail menu is arranged by primary liquors: vodka/gin, rum/tequila, whiskey/whisky, brandy/other spirits, and bubbles. Wines are also available for those who are not interested in cocktails.”

I’m definitely excited that all of these new places are opening in my ‘hood, but do wish more of the abandoned storefronts were full.