All That Jazz – Chez Billy

A stylish homage to DC history, Chez Billy’s provides a beautiful setting for twilight drinks. 

Ambiance: ****

Decor: *****

Service: ****

Cocktails: ***1/2

Overall Rating: 4

Chez Billy, a well-regarded French restaurant off of Georgia Avenue, can be hard to spot. On a grey Saturday evening, I strolled past it twice without realizing, as its sedate wooden storefront doesn’t quite catch the eye. The same cannot be said for its stunning interior: Chez Billy is without a doubt one of the more beautiful restaurants in the DC area, with a high, cathedral ceiling and dark wood continental furnishings that lend the restaurant a romantic, stately ambiance you won’t find anywhere else. The classical atmosphere is fitting for a  restaurant of Chez’s notable history; for over 20 years, the Chez space was occupied by Billy Simpson’s House of Seafood and Steaks, an upscale hub for DC’s African-American community that was frequented by all sorts of celebrities.

The bar is broad and roomy, with a beautiful wood surface and a pleasant view of antique furnishings and a sightly brick wall. Service was excellent, quick and friendly bartenders who were enthusiastic about their drinks.

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Chez’s cocktail list reflects its heritage and Parisian atmosphere, taking their titles from luminaries and eras of the past. Of the 7 tasted, I thought 2 were standouts. My favorite drink of the evening was the aforementioned “Redd Foxx” with rye whiskey, simple syrup, lemon, and a Cote mas Rouge (wine) float. Very nice, this was just the right combo of rye and citrus sweet.  You get the belt in the beginning, but the sugar flows in smooth, lightening the mix. Loved this simple but resonant summer-time drink.

 

I started with the “Billie Holiday” with elderflower liqueur, lemon, and Cote mas Brut champagne. Good, very true to its light ingredients – airy herbal and lemon combination for a faint, slightly sweet taste, popped up with bubbles. Straight forward and easy drinking. Then the “Elle Fitz” with Lillet Blanc, Tito’s, and orchard apricot liqueur. This was forgettable and tasted somewhat off, with a bit of stringency and a muddled, harsh burn. Also didn’t really pick up on an apricot taste, just the bitterness of the blanc.

The game picked up with this next stunner, a “Belle Epoque” with Bell Pepper gin, lime, and Fever Tree tonic. Spicy and enticing, I loved the peppery herb in this cocktail, which simmers up front and throughout. Just the right level of heat and zest, this is basic but still intriguing. Good stuff.

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Then the “Nina Simone” with Plymouth gin, bonal, maraschino, and lemon. Braced for the bonal and maraschino mix, this was actually a nice surprise, its strong bitters well balanced by the powerful gin and lemon flavor. Mostly even and with some nice thyme for taste, this was decent. Next was a standout, the “Boy Named Sud” an Old Fashioned variant with cognac and a hit of sweet aperitif. This was wonderful, a perfectly balanced cocktail that adds some wonderful, even sugar to the thick, richness one expects from an OF. That great tinge of sugarcane pops throughout the drink, and the armagnac is is a delightful touch at the heart of the cocktail.

Chez Billy also offers a special daily cocktails or “Boisson Speciale” – on this cloudy Saturday evening I was lucky enough to get a Dark Daiquiri with agricole. This was definitely not your cheesy fru-fru resort cocktail; instead, the Speciale offered a stiff and burning uppercut alight with lime and dark, powerful rum. A hard hitter, this is meant to be sipped slow and late at night, pondering a long days work. At least that’s how I employed it 🙂 And that was that! See you next time CBs!

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