Ashlar’s mixes a stunningly beautiful décor with awesome service and some solid drinks.
Overall Rating: 4.25
Wandering around Old Town on a quiet and warm evening last week, I almost stumbled upon the newly-refurbished Morrison House, a boutique hotel smack dab in the heart of Old Town. Its gentile brick storefront, grand double-staircase, pearl white windows, and dark blue shutters fit so seamlessly into aesthetic of historic Alexandria that you’d be excused for walking right by it.
But I’d recommend you don’t just walk by. Inside, you enter into Ashlar, the fine dining restaurant and bar, where you’ll find antebellum furnishings straight out of Garden and Gun or Southern Living magazines. It’s a good look; afterwork happy hours or Friday wind downs are always more enjoyable in subtle elegance. In addition to the relaxing surroundings, service at the bar was excellent.
The airy glamour of Ashlar screams fine dining/wine bar, but similar to Kimpton properties Brabo and Radiator, it’s a front. That old South decor belies a creative and imaginative cocktail program that pays homage to the tastes of the colonial commonwealth like porter, madeira, sherry, and applejack. Barmaven Maria Concepcion did a great job architecting a fun and impressive drink list that relies on solid spirits and some down-home American ingredients. Of the 9 cocktails we sipped, I though four were standouts including the “Old Fashioned Cock-Tail,” one of the best cocktails I’ve had this year.
The party started with a standout, the “Shrub Cordial” with Grey Goose, red bell pepper shrub, falernum, marjoram (a herb with sweet and citrus flavors), and seltzer. I expected a bit of a bore when I read vodka and soda, but this was surprisingly sophisticated taste profile especially the rich pepper. Doesn’t overwhelm but adds some mouthwatering zest. Nice pop from the soda and herbal notes from the marjoram. Lovely. Then the “Sangaree” with Broadbent rainwater madeira, Laird’s applejack, lemon, rustic sugar, and nutmeg. An intriguing taste but I didn’t love the madeira here, which lends a lighter echo of sweet wine that didn’t click for me in this cocktail. The mix just didn’t activate and sort of went down quiet with a light lemon and sugar twist. Fine.
Moving on, I sipped on “Liberty” with Aviation gin, Campari, and Broadbent 5 yr madeira. A unique taste but I felt something hollow, wanting in it; it was almost too watery and thin. The overall product isn’t bad – I like the campari, but with the honeywine it leads to an overly stringent aftertaste I didn’t enjoy. Then we went a little lighter with the “Branco Spritz” with Ferreira branco, seltzer, berries, and herbs. This beautiful looker of a drink offers an excited, bitter taste with an echo of fruit. Very fresh, this is a good one to sip outside.
We then entered a “murderer’s row” of excellent cocktails starting with the standout, the “Diamondback No. 5” with rye, applejack, and yellow chartreuse. I wasn’t expecting much of from this simple mix, but the potent and energizing finish took this little one into standout territory. The chartreuse offers this herbal current that stays stable throughout the sip, mixing perfectly with the stronger rye and applejack power. A good example of the great, smooth taste you can forge from simple, hard-hitting spirits, I enjoyed it! Then the “Rattle Skull” with Cruzan black strap rum, Laird’s applejack, Port City Porter, and lime. This was a clever flavor – I loved how the beer seasons and anchors the whole taste, which is peppery and light from the rum and lime, primarily. One you enjoy more as you drink slowly, play with the flavors in your mouth, and appreciate the sophistication.
Then I had my favorite cocktail at Ashlar and one of the better drinks I’ve had this year, the “Old Fashioned Cock-tail” with Chairman’s reserve spiced rum, rustic sugar, cardamom bitters, and decanter bitters. This one had an out-of-this world flavor that I really embraced; there’s a unique dryness to it, a sensation akin to peppery syrup. The rum and syrup are just so well staged here, perfect compliments with that resonant spice and earthy sugar. Then you get some herbal hits from the bitters and you had a real masterpiece. Just loved this one, a take-off of a famous drink that should inspire its own share of variants. Next up was the “Syllabub” with Tokaji wine, Lustau Oloroso sherry, lemon, cream, rustic sugar, and nutmeg. This was ok, creamy and boozy on the front end and in the middle with a nice little lemon and nutmeg kick at the end. Fine.
The conclusion was a spicy one, the “Sherry Cobbler” with Alexandro PX sherry, Lustau Manzanilla sherry, Novo Fogo cachacha (a Brazilian spirit made from sugar cane juice), and jalapeno. This was an even taste – a real dryness from the sherry, a prominent spice from the jalapeno, and a kiss of fruit/sweetness from the cachaca. It wasn’t a favorite but it’s worth trying especially for sherry fans. And so concluded my tour of the graceful Ashlar – if you’re strolling around Old Town this summer and the heat is getting you down, stop into this stately bar for a good cocktail or two.