Cocktails Under the Glimmering Starlight – Iron Gate

Impossibly beautiful in the low light of evening, Iron Gate exudes old Washington elegance while serving up some potent drinks.

Ambiance: ****1/2

Decor: *****

Service: ****

Cocktails: ***1/2

Overall Rating: 4.25

“So when the iron portal shuts behind us,
And life forgets us in its noise and whirl,
Visions that shunned the glaring noonday find us,
And glimmering starlight shows the gates of pearl.”

-Oliver Wendell Holmes

I’ve always had a good time eating at the cozy and splendid DC restaurant Iron Gate but, sadly, never sampled the cocktails.  This is unforgivable, as Iron Gate recently found its way onto Eater DC’s 15 best DC-area cocktail bars, while beverage director Jeff Faile’s drink list at B Side in Mosaic is amazing.  First off, I love the bar’s aesthetic – built into a Civil War-era stables (read the interesting history here), its high ceilings and Old Yankee furnishings lend a sophisticated and elegant aura to any evening. Regarding the drinks, Iron Gate offers ten quality and adventurous cocktails, with one standout.  Faile’s selection brings in a lot of interesting and diverse ingredients particularly the gins, Italian liqueurs, and bitters, so you’ll probably leave Iron Gate with some tastes you haven’t experienced before.

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We started with the big standout, the “Nicolaki” with Aylesbury vodka, greek yogurt (!), honey, lemon, and rosemary.  No surprise, the yogurt is the most intriguing ingredient, and brings a soft and delightful sensation that is perfectly matched to the rest of the drink.  The rosemary also kicks in at the end, and the honey glint offers a really nice aftertaste.  I really love this drink, and might try to work it into my home-bar rotation at some point.  Next up was the “One by One” with Green Hat Gin, blackberry liqueur, lemon, and tonic.  This was a pretty standard fruity drink, with the blackberry working well with the herbal notes of the Green Hat.  I’m not a huge fan of the blackberry flavor, but it’s fine here.

The “Fattoria” is made of Sobieski, St. Germain, Contratto Aperitif, lime, and ginger beer.  This is a very faint and light drink that makes nice use of the elderflower, ending in a sensation the recalls a Moscow Mule.  Like the “One By One” this is a nice, no-frilles, standard sipper. Next up was the “Carry the Zero” with Hendrick’s Gin, Rothman and Winter pear, Wigle spiced honey, and lime.  I was really excited when I ordered this one because I love all the ingredients on their own.  The end result was a little underwhelming though – the honey plays well here and lends good texture to the overall mix, but I felt like something just didn’t “click.”  The front half just tasted a bit off to me.

On to “Bijou” with Old Tom Gin, Boomsma Cloisterbitters, and Cocchi Torino.  This was very intriguing, bitter taste, heavily influenced by the bitters and Torino.  I sensed an almost Coca-Cola tinge, and it has a little too much licorice taste in it for me.  So not great, but very very interesting; a taste to mull over.  Next was the “Maybe on Monday” with Bols genever, Amaro Zucca, and Mancino vermouth.  Again, a fascinating and new taste, I sensed an almost grape and, again, licorice hint off of the Zucca and vermouth.  It’s smokey, very rich, and thick – I liked it.

Woven Birds” brings Cabeza tequila, mezcal vida, beatnik liqueur, and lime.  I was intimidated by the tequila and mezcal mix but the final result was very good.  The tequila is strong up front but gives way to a rich, consistent, and complex sensation through the rest of the drink.  Liked it.  Then we had the “Meletto #3” with Daron calvados, Cardamaro, cinnamon syrup, and lemon.  This was one of my favorite drinks at Iron Gate, a great and measured taste.  With an almost ginger-ish pop off of the cinnamon syrup and lemon mix, this was a really refreshing and pleasant experience.

Moving into the home stretch, I had the “Rattled by the Rush” with Barr Hall gin, Amaro Nonino, Domane De Canton, and honey.  This was a very good, almost orange-ish taste that is heavy on the citrus.  Rich and vibrant, it relays a good bite throughout.  We finished with the “Whisper Tames the Lion” with Pikesville Rye, Nardini Bassano, Contratto bitters, and cointreau.  The rye in this drink just hits you hard right in the face up front – this is a pretty simple drink with a heavy rye bent, didn’t pick up much on the cointreau or anything else.

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