Where We’ve Been Drinking: The Gibson DC
Our first experience of a speakeasy style cocktail lounge was at The Violet Hour in Chicago, and in some ways the Violet Hour still serves as our archetype of the post-modern speakeasy at its best. There was, of course, all the necessary theater of getting in: the disorientation of getting to the address, finding only boarded up windows, and wondering if you’d gone to the right place; the vaguely suspicious host at the door; the elaborate checking to see if your name was ‘on the list.’ There was no secret password, but there should have been.
And then, once you stepped inside, everything changed. Suddenly, you were part of the club. The same suspicious host was now like an old friend, exceedingly warm, hospitable, and gracious. The waitress had just finished setting up the perfect, little private table just for you. And at that private table, you slowly sipped at an expertly made classic cocktail and enjoyed an unhurried conversation in a quiet, secret world that belonged just to you and the few other people you could see by candlelight sipping at their own classic cocktails around their own perfect, little tables.
When I met some friends for drinks at the Gibson, it brought me back to that first trip to the Violet Hour. I’ve been to my fair share of speakeasies since then, and I’m used to the disguised entrance by now. Nonetheless, when I got there, I found myself checking the address, just to make sure, before stepping into what looked for all the world like a dingy apartment building. I felt a little less foolish about it when my friends who’d been there before said that they’d done the same thing. Stepping through the fake entrance and the dark door, I found myself in the same sort of relaxed room, with the same blend of friendliness and privacy, full of small parties talking quietly by candlelight.
I could have sat sipping forever, except that we weren’t allowed to. To our surprise, as we finished our second round, the host–still gracious, but also now a bit firm–came to let us know that it was time for us to go; she needed the table for the next party. We were bundled out of our cocktail dream world, and thrust back out onto loud, cold, and busy 14th Street.
What I Tried
Gloom Lifter: whiskey, lemon, raspberry, brandy, egg white
Trilby: gin, dry vermouth, creme Yvette
What I Thought
When it comes to drinks, the Gibson is even more dedicated to classics than I remember the Violet Hour being; one side of the menu contains familiar classics, and the other side unfamiliar ones. The selections on the Gibson menu seem specifically chosen to coax the uninitiated in a classic direction. The names and some ingredients are just a smidge unfamiliar, but the tastes are sure to please going down. Both of my drinks were well-balanced and easygoing, with just enough going on to keep me interested but not so much that the drink took the spotlight from the conversation. They were great mood drinks.That may sound like an insult, but I don’t mean it to be. They were truly enjoyable drinks, hitting exactly the right accent notes for a pleasant evening with friends.
Trilby Cocktail Recipe
courtesy of the Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book
- 2 oz Old Tom gin–Hayman’s is a good choice; Ransom is a great one
- 1 oz dry vermouth–we use Boissiere or Dolin
- 1/4 oz creme Yvette
- 2 dashes orange bitters
- lemon twist, for garnish
- Stir all the liquid ingredients with ice until well chilled, about 30 seconds.
- Strain into a cocktail glass
- Garnish with lemon twist