Hello Cocktails, My Old Friend – The Twisted Horn (Visit #2)

Twisted Horn is a quaint neighborhood spot with a happily sedate vibe and sweet drinks.

Ambiance: ****

Decor: ****

Service: ****

Cocktails: ****

Overall Rating: 4

It’s been 5 months since I last visited Petworth’s Twisted Horn which, in that short period, has become a fixture of the neighborhood’s thriving food and drink scene. Entering this time on a warm and sunny May afternoon, I immediately recalled what attracted me to the bar in the first place: a streamlined, dark appearance, lit by fiery liquor bottles, bright garnishes, and Bohemian light fixtures that seem to just float amidst the revelry. The beautiful weather and earlier hour lent a new warmth to the setting, as the large open window ushered in  sunlight and the sounds of Upshur Street. That combination of stimuli and furnishing, it occurred to me as we drank through the evening, encourages any cocktail fan to take time, sip slowly, and think through the onrush of flavors. That’s good cocktail feng shui. Service was very prompt and friendly, facilitating plenty of contemplative and risky imbibing.

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The Horn’s list has come a long way since my first visit, when it was six drinks rendered on a delightful hand-drawn maze. Now, the Horn features 12 house cocktails and employs a truly broad range of ingredients. Truly, there are only a few cocktail lists that I can recall that have this variety of flavors and influences, lending an air of adventure and experimentation to any night out at the Horn. My favorite drink was the “Basil Face” Acqua di Cedro, Kina (a Swiss liqueur), lime, basil, and sparkles. This fields a relaxed basil influence, some nice bitterness from the kina which is leavened by the fresh lime, and then the Acqua is a revelation, delivering an ultra-fresh citrus liqueur that solidifies this sippers refreshing character.

WORK TIME. We started with the “He’s So Bad But He Does It So Well” which “I’m told” is a Taylor Swift song. I WAS NOT FAMILIAR WITH THE SONG, PROMISE. The non-musical variant was a standout, with vodka, hibiscus, jalapeno, lime, pineapple, and angostura bitters. This was great, a delightfully smooth cut of jalapeno and soft, herbal hibiscus that goes down cool. The foam looks beautiful but I actually didn’t love the sugary mouth feel, which was a bit too heavy and syrupy. But that fluff did not take away from the wonderful taste of the drink, which is equal parts spicy, refreshing, and flowery. Very nice. Next up was the “Kumquat Says What” with Plymouth (what else) gin, rum, kumquat shrub, lemon, Dimmi (an Italian aperitif distilled from wheat), and egg. A very interesting taste that mostly delivers, the kumquat hits early and ginny, then softens into a very different citrus…kumquatty sensation. The rum echoes mostly in the background, but I didn’t love its inclusion here. Just fine.

Should’ve Got More Apples” brings in applejack, that fine colonial-era spirit favored by George Washington along with rosso vermouth and Amaro. Well-balanced, this drink was dark, powerful, and slightly bitter. The jack hits hard on the first sip but the rest of the show is exclusively vermouth. Resonant taste, but in the end forgettable. Then we have the “Allow Me to Reintroduce Myself” with confused gin, Aperol, dolin blanc, Lillet Blanc, gran classico, and Peychauds. With that ingredient list, this cocktail list surprises in its measured and even taste. The aperol is the standout taste lending the drink a nice, slightly orange bitter note, while the Peychaud’s hits at the end. Balanced and nice.

We worked our vegetables in with the “Putting 5 Carrots in My Baby Girls Ear” with Jenson’s London Dry, falernum, carrot, lime, ginger, and dill. Yeah, you read it right. This standout successfully walks the line between adventurism and palatability, delivering a wonderfully organic and surprisingly clean taste. The carrot is just prominent enough to spice up the overall sensation but doesn’t overwhelm some of the other strong influences like the ginger, which is especially complimentary. A great botanical cocktail, I loved the earthiness of this one, great great drink. Then I found out that “I’ve Got Salt in My Cuc” with Avua Cachaca (a liqueur hailing from Latin America), Maraschino, lime, and salted cucumber. I was excited for this one because I love cucumber and salt in a cocktail, but this was underwhelming. I just felt the maraschino took the taste off-course in a way, drowning out the herbal hints from the cucumber and cachaca. Not bad, but nothing special.

Then I met a nice girl, “Becky With the Good Hair” with Jenson’s Old Tom gin, Cocchi Americano, Sapins, celery, lemon, and black pepper. This pretty standout brought some welcome gin, herbal hits up front that stayed around throughout the drink. But the drink is made with the the combination of sapins, lemon, and just a hint of black pepper – that energetic mix cranks the taste up, making it refreshing and powerful. It was such a good cocktail that I barely tasted the Cocchi, which I’ve never liked 🙂

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See Venice and Die, Is That What They Say?” was next, with rye, Amaro, red wine, apple, quince, lemon, and black walnut. This was very good, resonant, an earthy, spicy kiss from the black walnut. The joy of this one is you get some nice meat to go along with it, which helps cues up the savory character of the red wine and Amaro combination. A dark and rich drink, I liked it. The conclusion of our visit was the “Wait for It” with mezcal, grapefruit, lemon, ancho chili, and HELLFIRE. This was another one I liked – just the right level of heat from the mezcal and chili, this cocktail is surprisingly temperate and drinkable. It also looks like a nice pale ale which, on a summer afternoon, communicates laid-back refreshment.

So that was another great trip to Twisted Horn, a nice low-key neighborhood bar that offers some surprisingly high-brow cocktails. Get at it!

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