Repeal Day in Washington, D.C.

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You guys don’t realize how good you’ve got it. See, when I was a young blogger, we didn’t have all these new, fancy blogs that you guys have got nowadays. There was none of this Kaiser Penguin business, and certainly not the Scofflaw’s Den. Hell, Boudreau was probably still in Canada back then, for all I know.

All we had back in those days was The Art of Drink, some of Paul’s early material, and a now-defunct little blog called DC Drinks. Put on by a couple of wiseacres from our nation’s capital, the guys from DC Drinks were not only some of my biggest influences as a blogger, but they were also instrumental in helping me start spreading the word about Repeal Day online.

So when Derek Brown called me and asked if I’d like to come out to Washington and celebrate Repeal Day with the Washington, D.C. Craft Bartenders Guild, I didn’t have to think twice, I jumped on that plane and ran back East for yet another adventure.

Our weekend began with a quick cocktail at Bourbon, and then a beautiful ten course dinner at Vidalia, with a special food and cocktail pairing menu prepared especially for us by chef R.J. Cooper. We recoiled with delight as wave after wave of plates arrived at the table, accompanied by solidified twists on cocktails and traditional drinks paired brilliantly by sommelier Ed Jenks We sat and chatted with Tony Abou-Ganim, Guild President Owen Thompson, Melanie da Trinidade-Asher of Macchu Pisco, Eric Seed, Emma Davis of Martin Miller’s Gin, and Bill Thomas, owner of Bourbon.

Nightcaps were brilliantly prepared by Chantal Tseng at the Tabard Inn, however by this point I was feeling the effects of a full day’s travel and a full belly’s meal, so I bade farewell to my friends and found my way to bed.

After some light sightseeing the next day I was ready to get my hands dirty. I’d previously agreed to tend bar with my friend Jacob Grier at the Cato Institute’s policy forum, so afterwards Jacob and I put out a few hundred Martinezes, Manhattans and Sazeracs for the thirsty crowd. But, as in any social situation, the place I feel the most comfortable is behind the bar, so while I had trouble tearing myself away from the event I knew it was time to get ready for the party.

The Great Hall at the City Tavern Club is painted in history, having played host to practically every major American political figure in history, from George Washington and John Adams right up to Ronald Reagan. Which is great, because when you’re in Washington you want to feel that connection to the nation’s history – especially when celebrating such a historic day as we were.

One thing you’ve got to love about Washington D.C. is the glamour you’ll find at a major event like this – it’s certainly not like anything you’ll ever find on the West Coast. Really, people went all out with period dress, flapper costumes, tuxedoes, and more hip flasks than LeNell could shake a bottle of Pre-Prohibition rye and tiny funnel at.

But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that I can’t really do this event justice through words and photos. The Guild did the most incredible job of transporting everyone in the building to the Eve of Repeal, from the live swing band and our mustachioed toastmaster to the myriad bars scattered around the Hall serving pre- or Prohibition era cocktails to the thirsty masses.

But soon the hour was fading yet again, and while I could (or should) have found my way back to the hotel, I instead opted to join our hosts at the private after-party at DC’s newest speakeasy, Gibson.

I’m not usually a huge fan of private clubs and speakeasies. I’ve been to bars that were exclusive to the point of being inhospitable. I’ve experienced – on two separate establishments – being stalled at the door by a host, only to find an empty room upon entry. I think that while the speakeasy concept can work, the point is often missed by the employees of the establishment and the whole thing becomes poorly translated into a worthwhile bar experience.

But not so at The Gibson. Upon gaining entry through the unmarked front door you are taken through a dark hallway to one of the warmest, friendliest, most inviting spaces I’ve ever been in – and I’ve been in a few bars. The staff is incredibly hospitable, there seem to be no unrealistic expectations of inebriated human behavior in place, and the drinks are downright incredible. It’s everything you want from a speakeasy, and you can still whisper the F-word across the table to your friends without fear of castigation.

We broke no-standing-room-only policy as a hundred-plus of us filled the room; bartenders, rabble-rousers, bloggers, Repeal Day advocates, liquor tradespeople and cocktail aficionados all rubbed elbows around the never-ending punch bowl in the back room of The Gibson.

But oh-my-head, and soon I found myself sitting at the bar with Derek in a thinned-out version of the earlier scene, being served some magnificent cocktails by our infatigable and persistent bartenders John and Tiffany until the wee hours of the morning.

There’s more to this trip – much more – including a trip to Alexandria to visit with the brilliant Mr. Todd Thrasher at two of his three bars, but that will have to wait for another post as I’ve already taken three days to write this. So talk amongst yourselves, what did you do for Repeal Day? Were you at the party in DC? Have you ever been to The Gibson? What are your experiences with speakeasies around the world? Leave a note in the comments section below.

13 Replies to “Repeal Day in Washington, D.C.”

  • Rick says:

    Jeff,

    It was a wonderful time and quite good to see you. I’m glad to see you picked the most flattering picture of all of us to use 🙂

  • Jay says:

    Jeff,

    Solid post. Truly made me rue the decision to not be in my hometown of DC for the festivities. I have not been to The Gibson yet, but I have been to PX, Todd Thrasher’s “speakeasy” in Alexandria. Truly one of the better looking bars I have been to in a while and also the best damn mug of Grog I have ever had. I am sure you enjoyed.

  • mcauliflower says:

    congrats on the Clyde Commons news- it made the Willamette Week today.

    Operation find-a-place-to-live going well?

    Give a shout if Steve and I can help in any way.

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