A fashionable brunch and booze post in Clarendon, Cava Mezze provides a relaxed setting for some surprisingly good cocktails.
I don’t have much of a process for finding good cocktail spots. Usually I just stumble onto them through twitter or sites like the WaPo’s Going Out Guide. Recently, talking to a bartender I trust, she recommended Cava Mezze in Arlington. I know, weird, right? When that restaurant is mentioned I think of delicious feta and hummus, not cocktails. But this bartender can make a mean drink, so on a steamy Sunday I headed up to brunch-crazed Clarendon Blvd for some primary source research.
I’m a sucker for symmetry and process, so I started at the top and worked my way down (I skipped the Martini and tequila, as I was interested in walking out under my own power). The “Dancing Koumbara” (on the left) was the first and probably the best – just a delicious easy drinker with the right amount of citrus and smoke. Honestly, it went down like water but had one of the better after tastes I’ve experienced, a icy and fond memory. After that came a “Great Green Garden” which is actually a good partner with the Koumbara as the drinks share the same cool bite. A bit more complicated than the Koumbara as the basil (which was a little overdone) mixes oddly but not poorly with the lemon and grapefruit bitters. Oh, and kudos to Cava Mezze for using local favorite Green Hat Gin — keep meaning to tour that distillery.
Next up was the “Sun Also Rises” which was probably my least favorite: I’m not a fan of grapefruit in any form, and the inclusion here with the maraschino came across bitter and just didn’t work for me.
My last two drinks were probably the most complex and formidable. The first, the “Left Handed Greek” (would love to learn where that name came from) was sweet but not in a summer sipper kind of way. The chocolate tinge was strong especially mixed with the brandy — this was a dense and syrupy drink that takes some time to consume and enjoy. I liked it, it’s not accessible in the same fashion as the Koumbara and Garden, but rewards those who brave the darker and thicker taste. After polishing that off, I had one last challenge — and it was a challenge. The aptly named “Bitter End” is a killer of a drink — look at all that! But it’s great and simple, spearheaded by my favorite, Catoctin Creek Whiskey. It’s a full mouth drink that you can gulp pretty well and goes down a bit easier than the Greek. Great way to end the tour.
All told it was a great time at Cava Mezze — obviously on a Sunday it gets ultra crowded and loud, but the bar is very well managed. I’m so impressed by a bar crew that takes the time to put some great drinks together in the midst of Clarendon-brunch madness. Really enjoyed it and looking forward to getting back there!