The Gibson is great. Everything about it makes us geeky DC wonks feel
hip: You can imagine that guests and passers-by are impressed at how
in-the-know you are for striding confidently through the unmarked
entrance. The stylish, moody interior makes everyone look mysterious
and alluring. And no one else in DC makes cocktails this good.
But the best part about those drinks is that there are more of them
than you think.
Though it rotates every couple of months, the Gibson’s menu is fairly
small. It features just a handful each of cocktails, fizzes and sours
at a time. But what do you do when your friends from New York are in
town and they want to try that Gibson drink you mentioned a couple
months ago made from Chartreuse and a rare, small-batch gin? You bring
them to the secret bar with the unmarked door, dramatic lighting and
small menu, and then look even cooler by ordering it anyway.
In just three years, the Gibson’s bartenders have created over 400
house cocktails, and you can order any of them. Anything in their
house records is fair game, any time. But if (like most people) you
aren’t intimately familiar with their employees-only mixing guides,
you can always just name an ingredient or two that you’re interested
in. If nothing in the book matches it, the mixologist will come up
with something brand-new on the spot.
(Just last night, they rose to the challenge of using blackberry
brandy—an old family favorite—to come up with a trio of cocktails that
would have been all any other bar needed to become a destination.)
Talking to such knowledgeable and skilled mixologists on a slow night
is one of the greatest pleasures going out for drinks can offer. But
if they’re crowded, or you just want to order something distinctive
and memorable without making a big to-do about it, my preferred
off-menu drink is the Scorched Earth. Created by the Gibson’s gifted
head bartender, the Scorched Earth features single-malt scotch from my
favorite distillery, absinthe and an aromatic herbal liqueur.
The next time you want to impress a date or have fun with friends, try
going off-menu at the Gibson. It just might make something you like
Written by Rick Barry, who also writes far too sporadically about pop culture at Gravy Boat (Stay in The Now).