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The Columbia Room, Upscale Cocktail Bar Reopen in Blagden Alley with, for now, Chef Johnny Spero

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On 3/13/2010 at 8:13 AM, Heather said:
I can say that the Old Tom perfect martini served me the last time I was at the Passenger was measured (I like to watch) and delicious.

Stitch, you and I are not the Passenger's target demographic. (I, for one, am far too deaf to hang out there regularly) but the new reservations only space in the back might be worth investigating.

"I like to watch" - perhaps one of the most memorable lines ever uttered by Peter Sellers.

I agree that the Columbia Room deserves some investigation. Derek's running a "Shaking vs Stirring" session on Wed 3/24. Drinks include Dry Martini, Gimlet, Ramos Gin Fizz, Sazerac and Golden Gin Fizz.. This has a great deal of appeal to me (as long as I work doesn't take me out of town). Anyone else interested?

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A friend and I spent a few hours in the Columbia Room on Thursday night, with the standout drink being a Laphroaig, chocolate, orange, turbinado simple syrup combo (I'm still thinking about how awesome that drink was). I'm not much of a gin drinker as of late, but I think Derek may have helped me change my mind about that. It's great watching Derek and Kat work together, and the whole vibe of the room was so comfortable and engaging. Definitely worth a visit or two, or nine.

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A friend and I spent a few hours in the Columbia Room on Thursday night, with the standout drink being a Laphroaig, chocolate, orange, turbinado simple syrup combo (I'm still thinking about how awesome that drink was). I'm not much of a gin drinker as of late, but I think Derek may have helped me change my mind about that. It's great watching Derek and Kat work together, and the whole vibe of the room was so comfortable and engaging. Definitely worth a visit or two, or nine.

I am confused. Laphroaig is single malt scotch whiskey...but then you mentioned gin. Did you have an awesome gin drink too? Or did the Laphroaig drink also contain gin? I'm curious!

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I am confused. Laphroaig is single malt scotch whiskey...but then you mentioned gin. Did you have an awesome gin drink too? Or did the Laphroaig drink also contain gin? I'm curious!

We had two awesome gin drinks, in addition to the Laphroaig cocktail mentioned above.

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We had two awesome gin drinks, in addition to the Laphroaig cocktail mentioned above.

Sounds like a fabulous time. I'm jealous...

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I trust that Tom and Derek will be taking advantage of the Nuclear Summit across the street to design a whole raft of cocktails with appropriate names:

The Nuclear Winter

The Heavy Water

The Helium Isotope

The First Strike

The Dirty Bomb....

Not that anyone will be able to get through to try them.

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The Columbia Room needs its own thread. Had the most zen drinking experience of my life last weekend. I am honestly a bit shocked that more of you aren't raving about it. A Derek Brown original, the Cynar Daiquiri (this) was the best drink I've had in recent memory, and the service is the most comforting and gracious. Even (from watching other customers) if you don't know the man behind the stick personally. And pink gin ftw!

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The Columbia Room needs its own thread. Had the most zen drinking experience of my life last weekend. I am honestly a bit shocked that more of you aren't raving about it. A Derek Brown original, the Cynar Daiquiri (this) was the best drink I've had in recent memory, and the service is the most comforting and gracious. Even (from watching other customers) if you don't know the man behind the stick personally. And pink gin ftw!

I agree completely. The Columbia Room was an amazing experience. The drinks were terrific.

I would have liked more options for snack food though. Despite eating a decent dinner before arriving, we definitely need more food to absorb the alcohol of those sensational drinks.

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Apparently not on line but the Columbia Room rocks in at #18 in GQ's "25 Best Cocktail Bars In America"

"Your reward for getting in: the best martini in America."

Online Now. Congrats, Passenger!

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I've been to Columbia Room three times: once for a vermouth class, once when I was slumming it in the Passenger on a early Sunday and Derek invited me in, and once by late reservation this past Friday. The first two times I really, really enjoyed it, and I would certainly sign up for another class or an early-bird reservation again. This last time was a bit annoying -- not by any fault of Derek or Katie, who provided great service. The issue: at the 10-seat bar, in a very serene and intimate setting, you have no choice but to be involved with your neighbors. Usually that is a good thing.

Not this night. On my right, four kids who were absolutely *fawning* over Derek Brown, Cocktail Rockstar. On my left, five guys from out of town, whose ringleader had probably been strong-armed to tag along to this particular spot, as he was copping a "What's the big F***ing deal" 'tude for much of the night.

So, for the majority of my stay, Derek did not perform his usual docent role at the cocktail museum. Instead, he was forced to justify himself to this ringleader (who lobbed such winners as "So, what do YOU drink when you go home at night?"). Or he was pretty much fighting off these kids with his cherry-wood muddler, lest they never wash his DNA off their thirsty little fingers.

Now, Derek is a big boy and certainly doesn't need me to defend him here. But had this been my first visit, I would have missed out on alot of what the Columbia Room is all about. This post is meant to highlight some of the features of the Columbia Room that I learned or noticed over the course of my visit there.

The Welcome: you'll invariably have to shove your way thru the Passenger to get to the Columbia Room, which makes for a nice contrast once you arrive. Piping hot oshiburi upon seating. Looks like they are serving a punch as a first course, which arrives quickly.

The ice: no machines back here. Crystal clear block ice, hand chopped. Used for stirring, shaking, and rocks. Great ice program here.

The freezer: I recall Derek saying once it was a medical freezer, for a powerful sub-zero frost. The trend nowadays is controlled dilution, and keeping the base spirits colder than your ice is the technique.

The bar: Jars of aromatics, herbs, and the like. The soul of in-house spirits, tinctures, bitters, etc. These fill the top-most shelves of the bar, and are spaced nicely. There is actually alot of empty space behind the bar, which adds to the sense of calm. I imagine there are only about 60 bottles on their shelves, whereas most establishments would pack over 120 back there. Of course Derek is plugged in, and has some interesting selections back there.

The bitters: Two weeks ago, I hit up a so-called cocktail joint on H Street. Admist all the vodka and whiskey bottles on the shelf, I spied only ONE bottle of bitters. And it was Bar Code lavendar bitters, to boot. Well, this staple suffers no such ignominy in the Columbia Room. 750s of apertifs and digestivos occupy an entire shelf on the right side of the bar. In the middle of the bar, under the faded brick treatment, is a line-up of upscale craft bitters, some of which I've never seen before. My favorite part of the bar is right underneath that: a speed rail exclusively for "well" bitters. How sweet is that???

And of course they have impeccable glassware, great cocktails, and usually I relax there. The mise-en-place is flawless, and the low bar provides a clear view of bartenders at work. I'm sure I'm missing alot of other details that make this space such a delightful respite. Let me nitpick: they did not squeeze the citrus to order that night. The horror.

For my finale, I savored The Getaway, as described above. That's what this spot is designed to be, and I was a bit disappointed that these clubbers didn't play along more. I'll definitely do an early reservation next time, and hopefully hang out with old fogeys en route to a nearby dinner afterwards.

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Finally made it to the Columbia Room last weekend. Great experience. The most civilized way to partake of a few cocktails. For the record, we had a Season Ticket (sherry based), a Perigee Moon (tequila based), and my drink of choice which ended up being a martini that was not a martini (Mrs JPW got a take on a gin fizz).

One thing that must be detailed is the value for what you get. I'm amused by the yelpers complaining how expensive it is. $64 for 3 cocktails (tax and tip included). Back it out and it's about $15-16 a drink. More than your typical cocktail? Yes. But for that price you get a quiet uncrowded spot, gracious service, a couple of nice bar snacks, excellent drinks, and a chance to learn from one of the best barkeeps around (not to mention his wonderful staff). Kudos to everyone involved.

Mrs JPW wants to make a standing reservation. I certainly would not be opposed.

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Hit the Columbia Room last night. They made a great addition to the room - there was ham on a thing (LOOK I DON'T KNOW WORDS) against the back wall. The ham was served to us while sipping a couple of drinks and it was very very good. So were the olives. And obviously totes drinks too. Extra Very Good!

And of course it was a hoot to hang out with JP and Eamon - and one day I will remember Eamon by sight, rather than saying "Have we met?" or something dumbass like that.

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The Columbia Room is reopening at its new location at 124 Blagden Alley, NW, DC on Feb. 9, 2016 (via Washington Post, plus more information in article.)

Is there going to be a Passenger, or is this just The Columbia Room?

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Curious that there aren't responses on this thread for the new Columbia Room, although maybe I'm just missing where it split off and Don will have to move my post accordingly.  Had a reservation for six in the Spirits Library on Saturday, choosing it over the 3- or 5- course cocktail tasting menu because we didn't want to be arrayed along a straight-line bar, seeing as that doesn't promote conversation all that well.  First impressions were that the space is fantastic, and since Saturday night was gorgeous, wishing we had just snagged a table outside on the Patio.  Two of our group were about 15 minutes late, and they poured us some sparkling wine to tide us over, which was nice.  

Now, having perused the website pretty carefully, we still weren't entirely sure what the difference was between getting a reservation in the Tasting Room versus the Spirits Library, considering the menu in the Spirits Library you can find online was all cocktails.  Turns out that it's kind of exactly what it says -- spirits -- when we were expecting cocktails, whoops :blink:.  Not great for two of our group who weren't big into that, but Donte happily obliged the request to sub in cocktails after we inquired.  Was a nice compromise, but that lessened the value a little bit, and I do wish it had been more clear up front. 

As for the spirits they served, some really excellent stuff.  A mezcal produced by a family of 6 people, an armagnac from a small family producer in France, and a Belle Meade (TN) reserve bourbon.  All were primo examples of what these liquors could be: complex, smooth, and delicious.  The subbed-in cocktails were really good as well, judging from all of the two sips I was allowed :).  They closed off the evening with a tiny Coke glass (smaller than a shot glass) full of some coffee liquor and a couple other things I can't remember.  

Which may be because while the accompanying bites of food were good, and they did a great job accommodating for my fiance being gluten-free, they weren't very substantial (I know it's a cocktail bar, but it was a pretty sizable booze to food ration...).  So we all went and had a fun rest of the evening eating and drinking at Baby Wale.  Bottom line: this was a cool place, and the spirits they served us were fabulous.  But at $100 a head and without much accompanying food, I think I'd rather just go back and snag a seat on the deck for some cocktails there.  

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1 hour ago, notquiteanonymous said:

Which may be because while the accompanying bites of food were good, and they did a great job accommodating for my fiance being gluten-free, they weren't very substantial (I know it's a cocktail bar, but it was a pretty sizable booze to food ration...).  So we all went and had a fun rest of the evening eating and drinking at Baby Wale.  Bottom line: this was a cool place, and the spirits they served us were fabulous.  But at $100 a head and without much accompanying food, I think I'd rather just go back and snag a seat on the deck for some cocktails there.  

OMG you stole an idea! My wife and I along with friends are going to do the 3-cocktail thing soon, and will also be heading over to Baby Wale after. Haha! Too funny!

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Ha, it worked out perfectly.  Going from a lovely, if somewhat particular/fussy cocktail bar to a place that serves a deliciously random assortment of purposely unpretentious food.  Enjoy!

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We've had great luck on two occasions heading down post-Columbia Room (once tasting room, once library bar) to grab a late dinner at the Dabney. On both occasions we were able to just walk in and be seated immediately. 

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