Where We’ve Been Drinking: Left Door on DC’s 14th Street
On the corner of 14th and S NW, on the second floor of what looks like it was not so long ago a townhouse, you’ll find Left Door. Except for the big bar in the middle of it, it feels like it’s still a townhouse parlor, with a casual, familiar feel and small clusters of well-worn, comfortable furniture like you might find in your great aunt’s front room.
We stopped in just after opening at 5pm on a Thursday night, and though there were a few other parties already there before us, we easily found a place at the bar. It’s possible that it gets busier later in the evening, or maybe it’s always a relaxed and quiet place to get a drink. In our experience, at least, it had all the comfort of a neighborhood bar, but with drinks you might expect at one of the hot cocktail lounges. If we lived nearer to 14th, it’s easy to imagine we’d make this place a regular haunt.
What We Tried
Gu-Ba-Ga-Bi: fino sherry, Cocchi Americano, Suze, and Peychaud’s
On a Date: rye whiskey, amontillado sherry, Royal Combier, calamus bitters, flamed lemon peel
What’s Your Sign: rye whiskey, Brenne French single malt whiskey, Cynar, Carpano Antica sweet vermouth, aromatic bitters, Peychaud’s bitters, calamus bitters, Amargo-Vallet rinse
Two Shakes of a Lamb’s Tail: mezcal, blackstrap rum, lime juice, old fashioned bitters, cane syrup, tonic
What We Thought
We’re always on the lookout for a good use for Suze, the bitter aperitif popular in southern France. Gu-Ba-Ga-Bi wasn’t quite that, with the sherry outshining the Suze to a surprising degree. It was, however, quite a pleasant drink, sort of a half-sherry version of a Half-Sinner/Half-Saint. It was smooth, and eminently drinkable.
On a Date and What’s Your Sign are both Manhattan variants, and both interesting ones. The use of amontillado sherry instead of sweet vermouth gave On a Date a lighter body and a drier flavor, with the Royal Combier bringing a mysterious whiff of herbal bitterness. What’s Your Sign was a sort of a kitchen sink of a Manhattan, with two or three of everything a Manhattan might call for, plus a rinse. Throwing everything at the drink in this way worked surprisingly well, producing a rich, well-rounded, and unexpectedly well-integrated flavor.
Two Shakes was a very satisfying, sophisticated take on a tiki drink. A little smoky, a little sour, deeply sweet, a little bitter. Somehow both dense and light at the same time. In a pretty decent round of drinks, this unassuming one took the prize.
If you go
The entrance can, of course, be a bit tricky to spot. Look for the hipster standing by a door, trying to go unnoticed and look slightly menacing at the same time. That’ll be your doorman.