Sheesh, it looks as though there hasn’t been any drinking going on around here…which is so not the case! Unfortunately, our regular “Two at the Most” columnist—aka husband Steve Ello—has been unable to write up a column for a while, so I’m commandeering his slot because I found a sleek new bar in the Penn Quarter area of DC that I must spread the word about: Barmini.
It’s a project of the famous and fabulous chef Jose Andres (who started out with one of my favorite go-to DC restaurants, Jaleo, and now runs a food empire) and the usual high standards are present: kind greeting despite our entering the wrong door, gracious hostess leading us to the right place, no reservation but snagging us a space for us at the bar, a friendly and smart bartender who is able to juggle drink recommendations and allergy concerns and come up with perfect solutions for both!
The interior is white, kind of like a laboratory (which is appropriate, as it bills itself as a cocktail lab), and kind of like what I imagine 1960s London to have looked like, as if Twiggy might stroll in. Nevertheless, there’s a sense of whimsy with a cactus-shaped couch, a wall lined with porcelain hands (I think?? I didn’t touch) holding limes and lemons, and a scary-at-my-age-now hanging basket for a chair. I think I was happy to be at the bar, surrounded by bottles and droppers and vases of fresh herbs and whatever else might be needed at this Potions Class of mixology. (See the link to photos below.)
There are 100 drinks on the menu. That’s what I read online; I didn’t count. Also, this figure doesn’t include the fact that they’re quite willing—and excited—to mix something off-menu…a conversation about mescal led to a woman seated nearby getting a tall concoction that made me drool and long for one more. (But, remember our motto: Two at the most!) Note for next time: when I asked the bartender what her favorite drink was, she mentioned the whiskey sour.
I was feeling autumn nipping at my heels, so I wanted a drink with rye, and the Brooklyn Cocktail was recommended: Overholt rye, vermouth, maraschino, and what I remember as amer picon (I need to take better notes, or, actually, notes). It was exactly what I wanted, crisp and spicy, assertive while staying friendly, all the way down to the brandied cherry at the bottom on the (beautiful!) glass…I knew I was in a good spot just from a quick survey of the wide selection of vintage (or vintage-inspired) glassware, including some pilsner glasses with colorful decks of cards printed along the side.
My friend ordered a drink with a name I can’t type because I’m too much of a tech-idiot to know how to produce a tilde sign on my keyboard—so imagine the letter N with one of those squigglies on top. Anyway, a mix of cucumber vodka, tomato water, ginger syrup, lime, garnished with cucumbers, shaken into a lovely froth.
I couldn’t resist the lure of a Rusty Nail with a float of gently whipped cream…I’m not sure why. I like the Rusty Nail fine on its own (that blend of scotch and Drambuie is magical!)—and while the drink was gorgeous (and that calcium in the cream is good for my bones!), a Rusty Nail probably didn’t need the addition of cream. Nevertheless, I drank it all.
As for bar food, I had one of the most amazing grilled cheese sandwiches ever conceived of, with that perfect crusty, butter sheen to the brioche (I think) bread and a mix of four cheeses: blue, cheddar, goat, and something else that was gooey. My only complaint would be that I could probably eat a dozen of these sandwiches and still want more. Oh, so-so-SO yummy! And my friend had some excellent Spanish ham as well as a small burger that made her look for new superlatives…apparently, mixing ground beef with bone marrow is a Very Good Idea. Just like everything about this place: it’s the exact place I would design for myself if I were 1000x smarter than I am.
Reservations are recommended, but if you must walk in, go on a slow Tuesday as we did. You will be warmly welcomed and be hard-pressed to tear yourself away.
Here are some great pictures of the interior.
Here’s a link to the menu, though I think there have been a few tweaks.
Here is the official website, with a link for reservations.
And just because I like this photograph...note the Brooklyn Cocktail in reach!!