Drink Local Drink DC: Harold Black
‘Have you been to the speakeasy on 7th?’ our neighbors asked.
‘There’s a speakeasy on 7th?’ was our reply.
We’d actually read a brief mention of said speakeasy, Harold Black, in the Washingtonian’s Capitol Hill neighborhood guide when we first moved in. But we didn’t go right away, and hadn’t heard anything about it–and we do lots of reading and talking about cocktail joints; so it sort of slipped our minds.
Harold Black is very dedicated to the speakeasy aesthetic. They don’t really advertise. They don’t have their own Facebook page (there is one, but it’s unofficial). Their website is just an embedded Open Table reservation form. They basically rely completely on word of mouth. It’s either admirable dedication to a theme, a terrible marketing plan, or both. Chalk one up for admirable dedication: our neighbors did actually spread us the word.
As you’d expect, the speakeasy vibe continues as you make your way to the restaurant. You cut through a corner of Acqua al 2’s patio, go through an unmarked door, and twist and turn through Acqua al 2’s back hallways until you get to a 2nd floor dining room . . . which is, of course, not the right spot. Knock instead on the blank wall with the peephole in it. There’s at least a candlelit sign on a small table giving you a hint. Despite being completely artificial, the whole thing really does give you the fun feeling of being in the know.
Inside, it’s a small, quiet, comfortable, candlelit space. We went on a Wednesday night, and it was full, but not loud or overcrowded. Chalk another one up admirable dedication to the speakeasy feel. The staff is relaxed, open, and friendly; they treat you like you’re a guest at their house. They’re very politely not fans of phones, which is something of an impediment for bloggers like us, but also makes for a pleasant, conversational atmosphere.
What We Ordered
Ron’s Riot: whiskey, ginger, amaro
Whatever the bartender wanted to make us
They have a small rotating menu of attractive drinks, but also encourage you not to stick to the menu. We did one of each. Ron’s Riot was a perfect, sippable drink on the rocks, with just the right amount of ginger flavor.
For our second drink, we put ourselves in the bartender’s hands. He asked us a few questions:
‘What base spirit do you want?’
‘Gin or tequila’
‘What do you like in your cocktails?’
‘We like them to favor liqueurs.’
‘Fruity or floral?’
Then, he got to work. Impressively, rather than just using a recipe that fit the bill, he made something up on the spot; ; we watched with curiosity as he picked up, considered, and put down various bottles, adding a few of them to the mix. The result was delicious: an aged genever drink involving Imbue vermouth (we’re becoming quite the American vermouth drinkers all of a sudden!), a splash of black tea, and a few other things. He did admit that he poured out a first attempt that he didn’t think worked. Still, such an excellent cocktail, created on the spot, on only the second try was satisfying and impressive.
Should you go?
Yes: a little theater to going out for a drink is fun every once in a while; the atmosphere once you arrive is great for a quiet drink and conversation; and the drinks are delicious. Remember, it was fairly full on a Wednesday; so you might want to make use of that Open Table form.