As of resident of the greater DC area for 13 years, I have to admit the shine of living in and around capitol tends to wear off. The traffic, the legions of self-important apparatchiks, lawyers, the traffic….these factors take the bloom off the rose pretty quickly. And that’s a damn shame: this city is a great showcase for that historic Yankee style, built up by decades of democratic renewal. New folks, new money, new governments – as they passed through over the years, they’ve lent the city an understated elegance that is easy to miss but fun to behold.
One of the shining exhibitions for this federal ascetic is The Willard, a DC landmark that has operated since 1847. A long list of DC luminaries have resided there, while the world’s political and business elite regularly pass through (see the Willard’s wonderful history website here). So I was happy when a friend invited us to the historic Occidental restaurant (built by Henry Willard in 1906) to take in the newly-renovated space and new cocktails courtesy of Gibson-alum Frank Jones. This is federal city class – dark wood lined by lush, bright tones. The dining room is impossibly stately and adorned (or besmirched, depending on your sympathies) by pictures of politicos past and present. An elegant lounge is warm enough to relax, but fancy enough to impress.
For a nice little side-trip, take the iron elevator up to the second floor and take in the upstairs lounge, which is now an event space. Harry Truman stares down at the bar, urging you to order some bourbon.
On to the drinks! Our first course was the “Fake Booze” with Salers aperitif, Rujero Singani, pear liqueur, and club soda. Sprightly and arresting, this had surprising power with a bitter, sourness on the nose. Next up was the “The First Lady” with Hendrick’s gin, Rujero singani, and St. Germain. This was wonderful, a fresh aura and floral scent that synchs so well with the dry Hendrick’s. Such a beautiful drink too, definitely worth taking in this ones translucent energy.
Then I had the “Elephant in the Room” with vodka, peach liqueur, lemon juice, and allspice dram. I’d drink paint thinner if you sprinkled some dram in it, so this was guaranteed to be a hit. A perfect blend of oaky fall spice and rich peach, I could drink several of these on a cool fall evening in front of a fire. Our last drink was a Frank custom job with gin, cucumber syrup, and some other fun things I can’t quite remember. Like the evening, it went down pleasant and easy. A smooth way to end a convivial night in one of DC’s more sophisticated and gorgeous dining spaces!