This past Friday, runoknows and I decided to try a bar here in DC that had recently been written up in the Washington Post. The article talks about how Chef John Wabeck became a gin aficionado and decided to turn the bar at his Woodley Park neighborhood in to a modern day "Gin Joint."
We arrived around 6:15pm and took seats at the end of the bar. The bar is located on the ground floor of the restaurant and a short narrow affair. There are about 15 seats at the bar and, if I remember correctly, two seats by the window overlooking the sidewalk. The restaurant proper is upstairs. After arriving, I wanted to run upstairs and say hello to the manager, Kavita Singh. I introduced myself and she introduced me to Chef John Wabeck. We then went downstairs to start the gin journey.
John stayed with us for a while and introduced our first bartender Andrew. Andrew did an admirable job at explaining the drinks has he made then and John would interject tidbits of wisdom and opinions on cocktails, mixing and gin in general. The conversations we had with everyone were wonderful.
The restaurant and bar started getting really busy about 7pm. John had to get to work after about half an hour and soon Andrew had to leave us because he was the only server for the evening. During his time behind the stick, Andrew made us several drinks. The first was a "#138" containing Damrak, cinnamon syrup, lime juice, peychauds bitters and ginger ale. The drink was described as liquid Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal. Damn, was it ever! Andrew also made us an "Aviation" using Aviation Gin. I asked why they didn't use Creme de Violet in their Aviations and John's answer was great. "I don't like to." When then had a good conversation about the Violet and it's place in the cocktail. Personally, I disagree and think an Aviation needs a little Violet . . . but regardless, this was a tasty beverage! The interplay between the Aviation Gin, lemon juice and Luxardo Maraschino was delicious.
The next drink I tried was the "#24." It contained G-Vine gin (a gin from France!), St. Germain, Peychaud's bitters, Kaffir Lime leaf syrup, lime juice and Schweppes tonic water. I was very happy the French gin didn't turn around and run, er retreat, from the bar. The drink was very good . . . a very good entry level gin drink, especially for people who say they don't like gin.
John had talked about Pink Gin. Ohhhh . . . now Sean has written about Pink Gin before, but I have honestly never tried it. The traditional is Plymouth and a healthy dose of angostura bitters. John suggested trying a Pink Gin with Van Gogh Gin and Peychaud's bitters. So that was the next order. I can't say it was my favorite drink of the evening, but it was good. Probably not an "I should order this again" good.
While we were sitting at the bar, we saw two people we knew. Heather, whom we met at the rum tasting, is a donrockwell.com regular and was also at the Museum of the American Cocktail dinner. She was enjoying dinner at the bar when along came Mr. Jake Parrot of Ledroit Distributing for a drink and some food. It was really nice seeing some folks that we knew. And later in the evening, Jake would come by and hang out for a bit.
One thing, I want to point out at this point. As I said earlier, the bar isn't very big - about 15 seats - and is pretty narrow. If a big group comes in and is clustered around two or three barstools, as happened Friday night, moving is pretty darn difficult. This is by no means the fault of New Heights, and it certainly is good to see the place busy. But I bring this up to say that if you go, go early so you can get a seat at the bar. You'll be happier for it.
After Andrew had to run upstairs, our bartender for the evening was Chris. Chris was a very nice guy and was doing a pretty good job managing the bar. Our orders took longer to get to us, but we both realized that Chris was doing just about everything by himself - and it was only his second week on the job. So yeah, we'll cut him a break this time!
Another gin drink on their menu is an original libation called the "Knickerbocker" consisting of Broker's Gin, Vya Dry vermouth, a splash of Vya Sweet vermouth and a lemon twist. Out of all the drinks from the menu that night, this one was my "eh" drink. Nothing was wrong with it, it just wasn't my cup of . . . well that joke is just too easy to make!
We also had a chance to try some of the food from the bar menu. Everything we ate was absolutely fantastic. We ate truffled fries that were hot and earthy with a homemade thousand island dressing. Sean got the pickled herring which I tried a bite of and thought it was very good. Finally, we got an order of the Tasso Croquets. Little fried balls of tasso ham and cheese . . . ohhh, these were awesome!
Our drinks from this point on became a bit of, what are we in the mood for and what is Chris in the mood to make us. Sean ordered a Sazerac. Chris used Russell's Reserve Rye, a sugar cube, Peychaud's bitters and St. George Absinthe. I tried a sip and thought it was good. A little on the dry side, but good.
I spied a bottle of Green Chartreuse behind the bar and asked Chris for a drink using the green elixir. He thought for a second and said he was going to make me something different instead, something special. Hmmmm . . . couldn't he make something special with chartreuse? Regardless he ran up to the kitchen to get a "special ingredient." He worked furtively behind the bar and came out with a collins glass filled with a slightly greenish tint. I took a sip and the first thing I got was jalapeno . . . ahhhh the secret ingredient. He called the drink a "Sapphire on the Bayou" and used Bombay Sapphire gin, cucumber and jalapeno. The jalapeno was just the right amount of heat and the cucumber cooled it down in a pretty good interplay. Chris said that this was a drink that he created while behind the bar at The Source, Wolfgang Puck's outpost in DC.
The funniest thing of the night happened sometime around this point. Sean and I were waiting for out last drinks and we waited for quite a while. Chris comes up to us and says that he had to admire us. Most customers who have had as much to drink as we had, after a good 10 minute wait would have fallen under the bar. Chris said that yet here we are, the Scofflaw's, looking stoic and just calmly awaiting our next drink. He said he took his hat off for us, that we were professionals. As he turned to make his next drink, I leaned over to Sean and said, "Yeah, I'm pretty drunk."
Chris then made my last drink of the night - a mint julep. It was a good julep, not as sweet as I make them, but very good. It was kind of jarring to have bourbon when your taste buds have been tuned to gin for almost the entire evening. But it was good.
For me, the visit to New Heights Gin Joint was a real great time. I'm certain that Sean had just as much fun as I had. Everyone was nice, very accommodating and the best part - the food and drinks were great. If you are a gin fan, want to become a gin fan or want to try and convert people who think they aren't gin fans, you will find something here you like. If you go, tell them the Scofflaw's sent you. You won't get anything, but maybe a strange look or two, but it would be cool for us!
New Heights Gin Joint
2317 Calvert Street, NW
If you've been to New Heights, leave us your thoughts in the comments. If you have any questions about our trip, feel free to ask in the comments. In short, leave a comment.