Noelle and I visited one of D.C.'s speakeasies, "The Gibson," this evening. The outside is exactly what you'd expect; a blank building face with a single (fluorescent, as opposed to the more classic incandescent) light above a windowless door. The atmosphere inside is really rather nice; it reminded me of Bourbon and Branch in SF, only quieter and better music, which was jazz and early Ska, for the most part. The host was far from polite, which is standard for the pseudo-speakeasy, but he did lack the gentlemanliness of the hosts at, say, the Violet Hour.
We were fortunate enough to get bar seats, since we arrived at 6 pm, which is when the Gibson opens. As is my habit, I asked the bartender which drink was her favorite to drink, and which was her favorite to make. The answer was the same, some unremarkable number on the menu, which she described as "sweet." I declined that drink, and opted instead for the Meridian: Tanq 10, Dolin Blanc vermouth, Dolin Dry vermouth, Creme de Violette, rose water, orange bitters. The Meridian, my bartender told me, was invented by Jackie, another bartender at the Gibson.
It was at this point that I began noticing strange things about our bartender. My suspicion was first aroused when she took out a giant ringed stack of index cards and began to flip through them. I heard her whisper to Jackie that "her cheat sheet" was gone. Oh dear. Jackie told her the recipe - coached her along as she made it, in fact - and the bartender did admirably. The drink, I think, is flawed by design. The Creme de Violette and rose water, designed to bring out the floral notes in the Tanq 10, somehow didn't work. The dual vermouths ended up overpowering the drink, rendering it remarkably unsubtle and unremarkable. Noelle's drink was hardly any better, but she can write about that.
Qualifier: I do not blame our bartender for being new. Everyone starts somewhere, and who the hell am I to say, anyway? But I am blaming the Gibson for putting someone on a Friday night shift who doesn't even have the house drinks memorized. That's just bad business. The customers gets sub-par drinks, the bartender feels bad about him or herself, and they can't interact because the bartender is too busy trying not to panic. Bad form, Gibson, train your people better.
Before calling it quits, I wanted to see how Jackie's chops were. The best way to gauge someone is by testing their Old Fashioned, I think. Jackie did not do so well. Firstly, she used Old Overholt rye. An Old Fashioned is a great way to show off a middle quality bourbon, gussy up a low quality bourbon, or wreck a high quality bourbon. Not sure how rye got invited to the party, but whatever. She used what appeared to be a white sugar simple syrup, which, while not bad in principle, fails to bring out any subtler notes in the spirit. Finally, she was so heavy handed with the Fee Brother's "Old Fashioned" bitters that the bitters and the sugar were all I could taste.
The lighting was nice.
I thought at first you may have gone to the Gibson some time ago, when it was newer, or on an off night, but then I looked at the date of your post and realized that I was at the Gibson the same night as you. My experience was vastly different. Granted I had a different bartender, Tiffany, who is perhaps the best bartender I've ever encountered, but I'm still shocked that your experience was so unpleasant.
My only advice to you if you return is to sit at the downstairs bar, and have Tiffany make you drinks.
Thanks for your comment peasprout. Actually, I did sit downstairs at the bar, and I did have Tiffany make me an Old Fashioned. Different strokes for different folks.
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