Summer Heat – Radiator

Radiator’s cocktail list is daring and wonderful, served up by one of the best bar staffs I’ve ever watched work.

Ambiance: ****

Decor: ****

Service: *****

Cocktails: ****1/2

Overall Rating: 4.5

Strolling around the surprisingly quiet Logan Circle neighborhood one weekend afternoon, I spied the construction of what looked like a deck. Hmm…intrigued by the potential for outdoor drinking, I did some detective work. That’s when I learned about Radiator, a new bar attached to the Mason and Rook hotel, part of the Kimpton chain. Kimpton and I are on good terms: they give you cheetah spot robes in their hotel rooms, and they house one of my favorite cocktail bars Brabo in Alexandria.

So when I heard Radiator opened AND offered an extensive cocktail list, I was quick through the door. I’m happy to report I had a great time at the sleek and sophisticated new bar, so much so that I’m adding Radiator to my uber-elite hot list! Modern, comfortable, but not overly stark, Radiator’s scene is welcoming with just the right touch of class. They also maintain a fun outdoor drinking area with games like shuffle board, although those weren’t in the cards for me this day, just boozin’.

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My big takeaway from Radiator honestly wasn’t the drinks or fancy decor but the crackerjack, A-1 staff. From head bartender Sarah Rosner to bartenders Justin and Tony to bar back Jill, I found everybody at Radiator friendly, well-versed in the drinks, and very enthusiastic about making them. It’s nice to see an outfit like Kimpton put as much energy and thought into the bar staff as the aesthetic – it really helps elevate the entire drinking experience.

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On to the drinks! The aforementioned Ms. Rosner is a Hawaiian native and brings the Aloha State to her cocktails: many of the drinks at Radiator feature ingredients little known in the lower 48 like Li Hing powder, Mahia Fig spirit, and Okolehau root spirit. So not only do you get to down some superb mixes at Radiator, but you get to experienced some new and daring flavor profiles. Of the 11 cocktails we tried I thought five were real standouts, but all the drinks at Radiator take some chances and are worth sipping.

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The party started with the standout “Rickey Goes to Hawaii” with Ford’s gin, lime, soda water, and Li Hing powder, which is made from dried plum and carries a distinctive sweet, sour, and salty taste. Ricky comes with a great, unique punch – heavily floral, that bright flavor blanket almost subsumes the gin, which stays quiet in the background. The lime and the Li Hing are the real showpieces here, with this earthy, subtly fruit tint that hits up front and simmers throughout. And its gorgeous to boot! Loved this one. Then another standout, the “Bolivia Sage” with Singani 63, pineapple, house-made orgeat, lemon, strawberry, and sage. Great drink, nice citrus level that ends in a simple and clean finish. The sage has a nice herbal hit on the latter end, while the subtly nutty orgeat teams well with the lemon for a slightly thicker mouthfeel. Very good.

It was time for festive colors with the “Sherry Cobbler” with Olorosa sherry, citrus and berries, vanilla, and cinnamon syrup. This was nice, with a faint cinnamon kiss on the edges of a sweet taste. I thought the sherry was a little off here, though, and didn’t gel right with the rest of the taste. Beautiful though, and not a bad summer sipper. Then a riff on the classic Bee’s Knees, the “Barr Knees” with Barr Hill gin, yellow chartreuse, lemon, raw honey, and grapefruit bitters. Good, the honey is stringent and definitely raw, with a powerful punch up front. The chartreuse is mostly quiet, and the rest of the drink is pretty level-headed, culminating in a clean, sober lemony-fresh cocktail.

One of the more imaginative drinks came next, the “Ricotta Situation” with Mahia Fig spirit, ricotta cheese (!), lemon, raw honey, and vanilla. A cheese cocktail you say! One of those that you just have to order, you’ve probably never had anything like it. With a tangy, almost yogurt consistency, the up-front taste is pretty heavy and dairy, but culminates in a faintly sweet, citrusy sensation. Definitely one of a kind, and not a bad drink to boot. Then the “Eddie Would Go” with Okolehau (Hawaiian ti root spirit), fresh grapefruit, green chartreuse, cinnamon syrup, lime, and bitters. Named after a legendary surfer, there’s nothing revolutionary here but it is fresh and nice, with a measured, floral pop from the chartreuse, some herb off of the cinnamon, and a very interesting, sweeeeeet  Okolehao taste. The spirit itself has a pretty interesting history, having been a favorite of Hawaiian nobles starting in the 18th century. It works well here, adding to a fresh and up finish.

I put on my “Fancy Pants” with aviation gin, sparkling wine, luxardo maraschino, absinthe, bitters, tarragon, and cucumber. This was a smooth, fairly easy drink which was perfectly measured, but I still don’t like that maraschino kick. Honestly, this is such an even drink that I almost didn’t notice it, but any maraschino is too much for me. If you want to introduce yourself to the flavor, though, this is the sort of drink to try. Then a standout, the “Folk Art” with plantation rum, cynar, green chartreuse, mint, and pineapple juice. Loved this one, pineapple, rum, and mint never go wrong. I don’t love chartreuse or cynar, but they could do nothing to dampen my appreciation for this fresh, poppy flavor with just the right hue of rummy slickness. Stately and gorgeous. Loved it.

Keep this train going with the “Pedro Does Provence” with Milagro blanco, Lustau palo cortado sherry, lavender syrup, mezcal, and lemon bitters. This was trippy, with an AMAZING lemon scent that takes your breath away and suggests you’re about to quaff an easy lemon sipper. That is not the case. The blanco, sherry, and mezcal hit hard as you sip, and this is a strong and hot one. The lavender softens it a bit but brace yourself for this heavy striker. We ended the soiree at Radiator with two standouts, the “Big Boy Pants” with Highland Queen blended scotch, lemon, raw honey strawberry, and rosemary. Delightful and distinctive, the scotch is in the background but the lemon, strawberry, and rosemary are LIT, so refreshing and herbal. This icy sipper is perfect for the summer and the white cup is a nice look as well. Superb.

The finale at Radiator and a standout was the “Walkabout” with Grey Goose, mandarin, lemon, tumeric, and raw honey. Loved this one – everything is in the tumeric with a spicy, gingerish edge to this otherwise easy sweet sipper. The honey was a sublime influence here, granting some resonant earth to the mix. Just a cool little taste to mull over and sip slowly, I liked this one a lot. A nice way to end a great evening at Radiator!

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