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Round Robin Bar, Barman Jim Hewes' Legendary DC Scotch Bar with Amazing Architecture at the Willard Hotel Downtown


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I didn't see a thread during my search on the Round Robin inside the Willard Intercontinental, which in my opinion needed a thread, if nothing else, but for the excellent bartenders. They are always friendly in that appropriately sarcastic bartender way. I always like hanging out there because they take good care of you. And they make some tasty drinks. Some a little pricey, but tasty. I like their special gin fizz, mint julep and other cocktails. As a note they do have a TV, which sometimes it is hard to find a good bar with a TV. But it was nice to be able to catch a little football sipping a good cocktail before a night out.

The food is decent. Stick with things like burgers or a steak sandwich and you will be happy.

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I didn't see a thread during my search on the Round Robin inside the Willard Intercontinental, which in my opinion needed a thread, if nothing else, but for the excellent bartenders. They are always friendly in that appropriately sarcastic bartender way. I always like hanging out there because they take good care of you. And they make some tasty drinks. Some a little pricey, but tasty. I like their special gin fizz, mint julep and other cocktails. As a note they do have a TV, which sometimes it is hard to find a good bar with a TV. But it was nice to be able to catch a little football sipping a good cocktail before a night out.

The food is decent. Stick with things like burgers or a steak sandwich and you will be happy.

I'm glad you posted this. I've always liked the Round Robin as the best place near my office for a stylish girl to get a stylish drink. But I went a couple of weeks ago and left sort of dissatisfied. At 5pm, the bar was completely dishevelled--chairs and stools scattered about, bartenders disinterested, even the nuts were MIA despite two requests. :angry: The manhattans were awesome as always, but I thought that maybe the place had gone a bit downhill. Maybe they'd just finished a special event. Glad to know it was an abberation.

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I've only been once, met up with a friend, a year ago. I had championed the hotel's role in DC cocktail history as the site of the definitive Mint Julep. I've heard great things about the head bartender, but he wasn't there. And the storied mint julep . . . served in a plastic cup. I'm willing to go back but that was just a bit too amateur.

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Azami and I were there on Sunday night with his parents. The bar was completely slammed with conventioneers, and the only two people working were the bartender and the server (Andres). The server was great--very friendly and efficient, and he was very conscientious about making sure there was something on the dessert menu I could eat because of my nut allergies. The in-laws and I had French 75s, which we were all very happy with. Azami had a Godfather that he enjoyed, but thought was too heavy on the amaretto. Fries were good. Azami enjoyed his burger with blue cheese, and his father gave the croque monsieur a thumbs-up. I ended up with the organic carrot cake, which was fab -- nice and spicy, but neither the cake nor the icing were too sweet.

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I've only been once, met up with a friend, a year ago. I had championed the hotel's role in DC cocktail history as the site of the definitive Mint Julep. I've heard great things about the head bartender, but he wasn't there. And the storied mint julep . . . served in a plastic cup. I'm willing to go back but that was just a bit too amateur.

They don't serve julep in plastic cups they are chilled pewter I believe. I may be incorrect on the type of metal,but I know it's not plastic... If you got one this way, I have no idea why as they normally always have the traditional cups. I have never seen them serve anything in plastic, actually. I wouldn't know why they would even have plastic unless a dishwasher or something was broken, or something drastic.

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First, let me say that Jim Hewes is the greatest old-school Scotch bartender I've ever met. He taught me a LOT about Scotch in just a single evening, although I did go back twice. I could go back and be regaled by his stories and tastings for weeks at a time.

Let me add that I'm sometimes given to hyperbole - if Frank Ruta serves me a consomme, it might just be "the greatest thing I've ever eaten," etc . I get caught up in the moment sometimes, I admit.

But the last time I went to Round Robin was perhaps six months ago, and the food I ordered there was quite possibly the worst restaurant food I've had in the past, say, three years. What I'm saying is that it was the worst food I've had in perhaps the last 1,500 restaurant visits. Quite frankly, I don't ever remember having food this bad.

Round Robin's food comes from the Willard Room Service Kitchen, and has nothing to do with any other restaurants at the hotel. I had the following:

The New Englander ($19), a "brick oven pizza" with maine lobster, chorizo sausage, grilled sweet corn, and fresh mozzarella cheese.

All Natural Black Angus Sirloin Burger ($18), ordered medium-rare, with vine-ripened tomatoes, Boston bibb lettuce, red onions, fresh pickle, buttermilk fried Vidalia onion rings, cheese, and applewood smoked bacon

They both sounded so good, but what showed up was so bad that it could have easily (and I mean this: easily) come from a bad college cafeteria. The burger was well-done (thank goodness), and the pizza was just bowling-alley quality. This food was horrible using every possible criteria you could come up with. We were starving after our Scotch tutorial with the great Jim Hewes, and this food remained well-under one-third eaten. $37 for this stuff, and with tax and tip it was pushing $50!

Nothing I can think of was less worth ordering, not the martian pig-slop from Hell at Rosa Mexicano, not the tourist-trap frozen-quality fare at the obscenely priced Red Square, not even the garbage peddled to us at the petty criminal-operation Sushi Kappo Kawasaki. The only thing I can think of that was worse was the spoiled cheese I had on my quesdailla at La Fondita, which I'm chalking up to an accident and absolutely no sort of malevolence.

I can't see trying Round Robin again because you're just getting bad, bad room service food, and paying big, big prices for it. I know someone who used to be F&B Director at the Willard, and he laughed at me when I told him I ordered food from Round Robin.

All this, but I want to emphasize what a wonderful Scotch bar it is - especially the one up the flight of stairs, largely through the efforts of the extraordinary Jim Hewes, one of the greatest bartenders to ever grace this city. Ask for Jim, and he'll pour you a flight, teaching you the differences between the types of scotch (you can request half-pours to keep the cost down). What an amazing bartender, and oh boy, I'll bet he has some stories to tell.

Cheers,

Rocks.

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They don't serve julep in plastic cups they are chilled pewter I believe. I may be incorrect on the type of metal,but I know it's not plastic...

Julep cups are usually silver...all the heat-conducting properties you need to keep the ice dry, none of the icky taste of pewter.

Plenty of places just use small cocktail tins, which do the trick as well.

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I rarely respond to much on here but now I must. For those of you who don't know Jim, you are missing out. He is of another time, another place. Being in that bar with Jim is a worm hole in to DC past. Indulge and sit amongst the once was, a great Brandy Alexander, screw that, all the old drinks there are great. It is truly time travel, when "the bar keep was keeping you king, pouring drinks". Jim is one of the old dukers, someone we are lucky to have in this town, and he may be the last. Shit, he doesn't even know me, but I know him, always will. Go get pissed and get in a political fight.

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Having worked in the neighborhood for 23 years, I have always had this vision of the Round Robin a wonderful little off-the-track spot for a cocktail (always a cocktail, not a beer, not wine-by-the-glass, an honest to goodness cocktail) with friends....that's not to say it's always lived up to this vision.....I've seen it in the "disheveled" state some posters speak of....I've seen it overrun with conventioneers....I've sat at one of the side-tables and been ignored.....I've experienced the indifferent and over-priced food....but those experiences are the exception rather than the rule and they don't distance the place from my heart.....I must admit I didn't even know who Jim was or that he was legendary......I do recall enjoying the bartender when I've been in.....there just is something about this little cozy circular green barroom that i'm sure has "seen" all sorts of things over the years that makes it feel just right to be sitting in there sharing confidences or triumphs or troubles while nursing a perfect martini.....here's to the Round Robin!

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First, let me say that Jim Hewes is the greatest old-school Scotch bartender I've ever met. He taught me a LOT about Scotch in just a single evening, although I did go back twice. I could go back and be regaled by his stories and tastings for weeks at a time.

I'm very curious to know what modern bartenders think about Jim Hewes. He is about as old school as I've seen in this area, and I have no idea if he's respected and taken seriously, or if he's something of a relic from bygone days, when standards were lower and things were a bit more simple.

I know in other areas, it was very easy to get fixed into one place, and allow the passage of time to develop your reputation for you, but I don't know if that's the case here. My impression is that Jim has been around the block many times, has probably seen it all, and knows his Scotch quite well, but there comes a point in someone's career when they just get sick of chasing and keeping up with the newest trends, so they decide to leave all that for the young guns - I can easily see that being the case here, and if that's what it is, that is by no means a knock on Jim.

(In many ways, I'm like this with wine - I just don't have the desire to pursue all the latest and greatest labels and trends sprouting up from anywhere and everywhere, but I paid my dues (of that, you can be sure), and what I know, I know well - I have quite literally forgotten more than what a lot of sommeliers will ever know. A lot of people may assume that fun subjects like wine provide "a lifetime of satisfaction," but all too often, marketers wear you down with their bullshit (case in point), and you just don't feel like even giving them the time of day, much less any serious devotion of your precious resources.)

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