All the Rage – The Dabney

Everything right in the bar world, The Dabney provides a luxurious but homey setting, exemplar service, and wonderful cocktails.

Ambiance: ****1/2

Decor: ****1/2

Service: *****

Cocktails: *****

Overall Rating: 5

If you’ve been living in a cave without wi-fi for the past few months, you might have missed all the hub-bub over the Dabney, the new restaurant in Shaw. I mean, Gordon Ramsay ate there, so you know its hot. I’m not a fan of crowds so I gave things a month or three to calm down, even though the cocktail list was like a siren, tempting me, drawing me in. Heading over on Thursday, I quickly learned that time has done little to tamp down the enthusiasm; my decision to get there at 530 pm sharp was a good one, as the Dabney’s cozy bar was full only fifteen minutes after the door opened. I’m glad I got a seat because I had such a good evening! I loved the decor, soft, wood tones, an open kitchen, and a cute view out to the alley. The service was excellent, with friendly bartenders providing a steady stream of water and delicious cocktails even as the throngs of thirsty DC residents descended.

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The Dabney’s cocktail list, overseen by Ms. Tyler Hudgens, features 8 drinks that were all very good including four standouts that I loved. The creative list makes liberal use of natural, resonant ingredients like madeira, Zirbenz, cane soda, and molasses that you don’t often find. They are listed in natural order, moving down from the light and airy to the more savory, harder drinks.

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I started with the ultra-refreshing “The Shenandoah” with D. Ciccio and Figli 5 apertivo, Dabney black walnut falernum, and old hill cider. This standout was delightful, earthy but refreshing with a wonderful cider kick. The walnut sings along the borders of the taste, finishing a rich sensation. Excellent. Next up was the “Bamboomerang” with H & H rainwater madeira, axta vermouth bianco, orange bitters, and lemon oil. Here I especially liked the madeira and the orange bitters combination, which offers this nice flowing and warm taste as you drink. Sedate but strong, I enjoyed it.

The next drink was my favorite of the evening, the “Apium” with always-reliable Ford’s gin, dolin dry vermouth, celery, lime, sugar, and whey. This was just superb, a perfect hint of sweetness leavened with a wonderful, cool celery flavor, strong gin, and an echo of lime. The drink was lent some nice body with the whey. Fell in love with this one. The “For Evergreen” with Ransom Old Tom gin, Zirbenz (a piney, floral European liqueur), green chartreuse, and Virginia maple syrup. Here, I enjoyed the Zirbenz and syrup flavors, which lent an aura of warm and woody sugar. This is smooth and easy, an understated drink with pleasant flavors.

We started the second half of the list with the “Weal and Woe” with El Dorado 5 year rum, bonal, lemon, sorghum molasses, and JQ Dickinson salt. I very much enjoyed this profoundly rich drink that revels in its molasses and rum constituency. Soft at the front, the complex, thick, and delicious drink pops so well as you drink it down. Loved it. Then, the “American Trilogy” with Old Scout 7 year bourbon, Laird’s applejack, and the Dabney stone fruit bitters. This was a straight forward burn and a nice combination of Applejack and bourbon, which I haven’t experienced before. Built to sip, this was one to savor slowly, tasting the bourbon and fermented fruit influence. Good.

We entered into the final stretch with the “Homestead” with Redemption rye, Dabney Virginia pecan medeira, and angostura bitters.The rye dominates here, relaxing enough to communicate a hint of pecan flavor from the madeira. Just a peck, though, as this is a unapologetic rye show. I concluded the evening with “Bittersweet Ending” with cynar, lemon, sugar, egg white, Boylan cane cola, and sumac. This standout was very light but certainly not boring, the egg offering the usual softness and the taste intensified by the cynar, cane cola, and sumac. It all clicks so well, I just wish I had a slice of cake with it. But I guess everything is better with cake. Wonderful time at the Dabney, I look forward to my next visit!

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