A cozy and elegant nook perfect for after work happy hours, Water and Wall provides some powerful cocktails to start the evening off right.
Overall Rating: 3.5
I feel like I always find myself in Clarendon after work – the variety of outdoor drinking options and casual vibe of the neighborhood lends itself to office happy hours and post-work decompression. This week, I spent my post-work hours at Water and Wall, the fine-dining establishment off of Fairfax Drive owned by Tim Ma. I first became aware of Mr. Wa when, on a whim, I visited his nondescript Maple Avenue restaurant in Vienna and had one of the better pasta dinners in my life. Water and Wall consistently finds itself on the “Best in DC” lists, so I was pumped to give its bar a whirl. A fairly petite outpost, WW’s decor is streamlined and modern but not cold, with plenty of natural light. Bar service was very good.
WW features a decent six-drink cocktail list including a few notably heavy, powerful mixes; in particular, the last three cocktails were all big hitters with aggressive spirit burns and thick, resonant ingredients. I found the inclusion of such spirit-forward cocktails somewhat surprising for a fine-dining joint, but I admire the game. Of the six I thought one was a standout: the “Dog Days” with Belle-Isle honey habanero moonshine, tomato, and mint. The bartender lauded my courage for ordering a tomato cocktail, bravery that was duly rewarded with a unique and zesty light moonshine burn on the nose that dulls nicely in the body, excited by a complimentary, spicy, herbal element. Not off putting in the least, I thought this was a great way to get vegetables in your diet.
We started with a “Ceciliada” with gin, chartreuse, Dolin Blanc, chamomile, and lemon. This was a chartreuse-heavy cocktail, with a dense herbal presence right up front. I did like how the chamomile interacted with that earthy taste, softening it and smoothing it all out. Resonant and even, this wasn’t quite my cup of tea but I wouldn’t object to having another. Then, the “Jeanette and the Mule” with vodka, ginger beer, and lime. This was an unremarkable and perfectly fine mule, with the usual pep and delicious ginger burn. If you like mules, and you really should, you’ll enjoy this one.
We started in on the heavy-hitters with the “Theodore’s Elixir” with rye, Fernet Branca, Cappalletti, and Benedictine. With these brown and aperitif ingredients, you know what you are getting into, and this mix doesn’t surprise; body blows of bitterness and molasses weigh the taste down, making it a bit of a chore. It’s palatable though, and the sensations are measured – I also liked the tinge of orange from the rim and peel. Again, not up my alley, but paradise for the aperitif lovers out there. Then, the Scotch-tastic “Lawyer’s Tears” with Dewards and Laphroaig, Cardamaro, and salt tincture. Just as the previous drink will attract aperitif aficionados, this one will be embraced by scotch lovers; the peaty power is real here and strikes early, drenching your taste buds from the onset. I did like how the salt tincture adds a different pop to that familiar burned grass taste, but I didn’t really pick up on the Cardamaro. So this was kind of one-note – just fine.
Our conclusion was a shotgun blast, “The Oaxacan Dead” with Mezcal, grapefruit, IPA syrup, poblano, and draft IPA. This was a tough one, with a thick, very rich combination of beer, spice, earthy mezcal burn, and a tinge of grapefruit. Woo, I get tired just writing it up! This cocktail is definitely a 30 minute cocktail, anchored by that herbal mix. Again, not something I’d necessarily embrace or recommend, but it’s worth trying out if you have time for just one.