Let it never be said that Congress can’t admit it’s made a mistake. OK, there was this one time in 1933 when Congress conceded it had made a mistake, after Prohibition created the Mafia as we know it. This Repeal Day (Dec. 5), celebrate the end of the nation’s noble, stupid experiment via an all-American tradition: the cocktail, which nearly disappeared from polite society in the United States when wine tastings gave way to speakeasies. We suggest toasting with one of these historic quaffables.
Coconut Ricky at Bourbon
Come one, come all and toast the repeal with a Washington original — the Rickey. According to local lore, it was created in the late 19th century by a lobbyist named Col. Joe Rickey, who liked to add lime and soda water to his morning whiskey, bourbon or gin (depending on who tells the story). Try Bourbon‘s refreshing take on the formula, with a gin base, a tropical twist and no “e” before the “y.”
» Bourbon, 2321 18th St. NW; 202-332-0800.
Boulevardier at The Gibson
Cousin to the Negroni, this mingling of bourbon, Campari and sweet vermouth is a true child of Prohibition. The Gibson serves this bittersweet concoction exactly as described in Harry McElhone’s 1927 bar guide, “Barflies and Cocktails“; he penned it in Paris as a bartender-in-exile when his craft was banned stateside. Despite the bar’s speakeasy feel, the Boulevardier is one of the few drinks actually from America’s infamous dry spell. “Everything we [usually] do is much older than that,” says head bartender Jon Harris, whose staff is trained using books dating as far back as the 1800s.
» The Gibson, 2009 14th St. NW; 202-232-2154.
Slivovitz Sour at The Passenger
Bathtub gin left drinkers searching for palatable mixers. At The Passenger, co-owner Tom Brown proves that fiery spirits can be tamed. He tempers Slivovitz — a firewater-like Slavic brandy made from plum — with grapefruit, lemon juice, simple syrup, allspice dram and a bit of egg for froth. Grapefruity and creamy, the hint of spice and plum sneak up on the front of the palate. “It’s taking something that is fiery and rustic, and just hard to wrap your mouth around, and making it something that’s delicious,” Brown says.
» The Passenger, 1021 Seventh St. NW; 202-393-0220.
Blood and Sand at The Majestic
Easier going down than its name might imply, this melange of scotch, cherry brandy, sweet vermouth and orange juice works surprisingly well. Drink to Rudolph Valentino, who starred as a bullfighter in the 1922 movie for which it’s named. The drink is part of the Majestic’s menu of pure, unabridged classics from mixologist Todd Thrasher. “You don’t want someone to come in and have had a Blood and Sand somewhere else and this be so different,” says beverage director Melissa Horst.
» The Majestic, 911 King St., Alexandria; 703-837-9117.
East India Cocktail at Founding Farmers
Part drink, part personality test, patrons who order this 1884 classic get a quick “read” by chief mixologist Jon Arroyo to determine which of two versions he’ll serve them. The drink is made up of Courvoisier Exclusif, raspberry syrup with fresh muddled raspberries, orange Curacao, Luxardo maraschino and Angostura bitters — this version is for those who take their cocktail heartier and more abrasive. A softer, sweeter edition exists in which Grand Marnier replaces orange Curacao and Hennessy replaces maraschino. Flamed orange peel — lit before the imbiber — adds light smoke, orange oil and flair.
» Founding Farmers, 1924 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-822-8783.
Written by Express contributor Becca Milfeld
Photos by Kris Connor