|Celery-Fennel Shrub at Columbia Room|
If there was ever evidence of DC’s arrival, the ColumbiaRoom is it. A cubby of a bar in the back of über popular watering hole The Passenger, Columbia Room is riding the national wave of interest in craft cocktails with a finesse rivaling San Francisco or the Lower East Side, minus the pretension.
Like most foodie world “secrets”, this one takes some planning- our reservations for four of the twelve coveted bar stools at Columbia were made weeks in advance. And though the eleven pm Saturday night slot we scored is not late for drinking by urban standards, the two and a half hour cocktail performance at Columbia proved a bit challenging arriving as we did on very full stomachs post-dinner.
Kate, the lead bartender, eased us in with a modern wine cooler of sorts, allowing some room for post dinner digestion before getting on to the serious cocktails.
|Crostini with Quail Egg and Crispy Kale|
Just as interesting as the shrub itself were the long ice cubes, a perfect rectangular block that was the exact height of the highball glass. Where does one get an ice cube that size, I asked? Did they have special trays? Maybe an outsourced company that cut them with high precision equipment? No, Kate explained, the ice cubes were made by her bearded counterparts behind the bar cut from large blocks of ice using nothing fancier than your garden-variety chain saw.
Even though the focus of Columbia Room is the drinks, they do not let patrons go hungry. Along with the second course shrub came a simple bite of food- a crostini topped with a fried quail egg and crispy kale was a luscious fatty contrast to the sharp sweet-sour bite of the shrub.
At least, I thought that was our last round of cocktails until one of the bearded bartenders starting working The World’s Largest Cocktail Maker into a back-and-forth frenzy hoisting up over his shoulder. My arms quivered just watching him.
DC might never have a nightlife as neon bright as New York, it might never be as raucous as New Orleans, but I also don’t think it will ever think as highly of itself as some of these so-called hipper cities. As for me it is just was well, I like my martini’s straight up without the dash of pretension or spritz of condescension that come with so many artisanal cocktails these days. At Columbia Room it is just inspired cocktails served up with an unobtrusive garnish of humility.
Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell