Photos By Jeff Martin
Lukas Smith, mixologist and current beverage director of the ever-popular ramen and izakaya shop Daikaya (and the force behind their “Dancing Elvis” Sunday nights), is also a whiskey connoisseur and the brains behind the bar’s most popular cocktails. So basically he’s the go-to person for all your cocktail needs. Which is why it was kind of a no-brainer to ask him to do our latest drink diary. After all, who better to send out on a week of adventurous drinking than an adventurous mixologist?
Day One: Sunday
I woke on Sunday, wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, rapt in nervous anticipation of the week to come: seven days of required gallivanting sprinkled atop an already full work schedule, and I no longer the youngest of bucks? Fortune favors the bold, they say, and I’ll sleep when I’m dead, I suppose, if I don’t die first.
Sunday means work for me, so I haven’t seen a sunkissed brunch in months. In compensation for this dire loss to a gentleman’s social calendar, we celebrate me at Daikaya on Sunday nights with “Dancing Elvis.” We replace Daikaya’s usual upbeat club vibe with rockabilly, and we serve High Life ponies with every Old Fashioned we sell. We hold the Negroni Trials every Sunday, as well, which is basically an excuse to put the Divine Ratio of the Negroni through its paces. Every one of the thirty-plus amari we keep behind the bar has been alloyed to everything from genever to Japanese whisky, with the goal of learning which partners dance best together. We’ve got a ways to go, yet. Tonight we debut the Sba World which is a holy elevation of the traditional Negroni Sbagliato, and is named for that holy and healing Annandale bathworks. The Sbagliato typically introduces Prosecco where the gin would normally reside, creating a fizzy and bracing quaff. I’ve taken it a step further by carbonating the wine, gin, vermouth, and amaro altogether, and so up to beyond the usual level for Prosecco (~3 atmospheres, if you’re wondering). Early responses have been excellent. I’ll hope for the best.
We got out just in time to catch Glendon at Graffiato before he closed down. How better to kick of the week’s festivities than with the Credible Hulk, or, The Hulk You Can Believe In? It’s a Rolling Rock pony and a large glass of Green Chartreuse, and it’s wonderful.
The Daikaya crew descended en masse upon the lovely Room 11, where the eight of us ordered apparently every single thing on the menu. Sean made two rounds of Oso Calis Old Fashioneds, which we happily chased down with two bottles of the Gerard Bertrand Cremant 2011 Brut. The boys switch to Redbreast 12. Around this point, I begin a winding spell of impressions of co-workers. Two rounds in and the Redbreast is exhausted, so we switch over to Tullamore Dew 12, which made for a happy round and a half of compromise. Later, we all skipped happily home, hearts and bellies full, minds blissfully empty.
Day 2: Monday
This isn’t going to be so bad, I think, as I wipe sleep from my eyes. I drink a glass of powdered blue Powerade – it’s called Arctic Death or something – which was drawn from a tub resourcefully bought and fortuitously left at my house by one of my barbacks. I follow that with a glass of pink lemonade Emergen-C, which I use to swallow down four Advil. After that, it’s off to work again. A cab ride and two Chinatown Coffee Co. macchiati later and I’m at Daikaya, juicing fresh rhubarb for the Spring, Sprang, Sprung highball. I carbonate the juice immediately, which staves off oxidation and adds pep to the resulting soda. I’m happy with it, but it’s a bit of a softball: whiskey and rhubarb soda, what’s not to like?
Monday night shifts are breezily full of industry types, which is a main reason I choose to work them. My lingering headache makes it easier to uphold my interdiction against drinking behind the bar, which is naturally a constant temptation on industry nights. I bound lightly over that hurdle and find myself commencing again from Graffiato, where I continue to spread the good news of the Credible Hulk.
From there, we danced over to the newly opened Jackpot on 7th Street with the idea that one should know one’s neighbors. The affable Doug served up pints of the Great Lakes Rye of the Tiger IPA with aggressively poured sidecars of Michter’s American Straight. A fellow from Ohio lured me into a conversation, citing my attire as the spark to his interest. We lied about sports for a spell, talked business with the barman, and headed up the road, only grudgingly passing Ivy & Coney on the way. All Souls welcomed us warmly and with many glad hands. Mr. Batista makes a good cocktail, but by this point in the night, I’m sick of them. It’s whiskey, whiskey, and whiskey, for all three of the neat Overholt pours were winding swimmingly through my now energized system. It’s hard to say just what it was that impelled the next move, perhaps there was no choice at all — perhaps it was lexographic necessity. You can’t spell debauchery without D-E-R-B-Y.
We jumped out of the car just in time to catch a half-hour or so of Red Derby rooftop magic. Jason Crafton stood behind the roof bar and it felt like everyone I knew in the world was there and was happy as hell to see me, like so many thousands of angels dancing on the head of a needle. The Derby serves a combo of Tullamore Dew with the beloved Stroh’s and they came fast and furious. I learned some things, remembered other things, and probably forgot many more as I drank a reported 10 pops of Dew. Yowza. Things I learned: My friend Ray is now DC Secret Service providing security for whomever sits the mayoral chair. This person claims that “Sierra Nevada is the best canned beer on the market.” Really? Things I sort of remember: I ran into a lady who had my name in her phone as “Lucas Crocs.” Sanitas are not crocs, dammit. They are not. They’re not. They’renottheyrenotTHEYRENOT. And who in the hell is luCas, anyway? Things I forgot: I don’t know and how could I? Anyway, it’s all to the good, for I remember being driven home and I didn’t wake up with my shoes on.
Day 3: Tuesday
I arise, and I’m pretty fuckin’ far from okay, as Mr. Wallace would say. A glass of Arctic Blue Death is followed by Emergen-C is followed by three macchiatos at Chinatown. Tuesday is a day of meetings and orderings and drudgings and prep. We make ginger beer on Tuesdays also, so the whining grind of juicer rotors fills the air.
The deeds are done. No blood, no foul.
If I’m going to survive this week, I have to occasionally take it easy, right?
I sit down to watch Thrones and sip on a glass of Rodenbach Grand Cru and Matthew Fisk comes scratching at my door like a hungry kitty. He’s got two bottles of Grűner Veltliner in his bag and a wild hair in his pants. Predictably, all three bottles lay empty come morning, and the house whiskey stash was not inconsiderably diminished, to boot. Wisely, I drank an Emergen-C before retiring. Will it make all the proverbial difference?
Day 4: Wednesday
No. No, it won’t make all the proverbial difference.
Emergen-C, Arctic Blue Death, and four macchiati aren’t cutting it. I fear that I’m beyond saving when the healing aroma of a bowl of Daikaya’s shoyu ramen is placed before me, and I’m convinced anew that there is a heaven, that a forgiving God rules there, and that there’s still a chance for me.
As usual, I squander that chance as soon as the drawers are counted. Our own Chef Ben Nola has the urge to chat and Dan and I indulge him. Dan, who processes food like a hummingbird with a tapeworm, insists on a three-courser at the scandalous Clyde’s of Chinatown. Big Frank knows his own and knows how to treat them, and we trip (and fall) down memory lane as one of the last bars in DC that can afford to feature Jameson does so, and does so, and does so. Ben never stays out, so we don’t expect him to tarry after dining. But then, then, (THEN!) he says, “what’s this Ivy & Coney place all about?” I hear the clarion call and we drop forks and cash and we teleport up 7th Street to the only bar that warmly welcomes you with a smirk and an insult.
If you don’t know Ivy & Coney, good. I love this bar. Love, love, love. Ivy offers six, maybe seven, run of the mill spirits and a handful of Chicago and Detroit-based beers. I, for one, drink Stroh’s. What distinguishes Ivy is the bottle keep setup, which is managed in old middle-school gym lockers. My stash was recently moved up to the second row from the top. I’m proud of this to an unhealthy degree. Look for the Dutch Derringer locker and you’ll know it’s true. On this day, I had a bottle of High West Rendezvous Rye (for neophytes), Leopold Navy Strength Gin, Clontarf Irish Whiskey (arguably the “smoothest” on the market, in my opinion), and my pride and joy, Leopold Highland Amaro Fernet. Nola had never had it, Dan loves it, and I damn near need it, so we plowed through a good (bad?) two thirds of it.
There’s nothing like pouring your own drinks on the good side of the bar.
I won’t say how long we were there, or what time it was when we got home, because, for the first time this week, I didn’t have anything I had to do the next morning. Hallelujah.
Day 5: Thursday
Sleeeeeeeeeeeep. Arctic Death, Emergen-C, 6 Advil, 30 languorous ounces of coffee, a short run, a long bath, my favorite shirt, my Hermes pocket square, my white and umber summer wings, trousers of cranberry red and a beautifully full evening dance card. That, folks, is high damned cotton.
I meet Holly, Alyssa, Lauren, and Sam at the newly opened Barrel. We try the fried chicken, which is delicious. It’s going to be a long night, so we start patiently. We try the DC Brau Public Kombucha, which is what it sounds like and might have been better with the Citizen, IMO. We also try the the DC Brau Tradition, which is a session golden. We ended up blending it with the DC Brau Everyday Jungalist, which Alyssa ordered and didn’t like, to mutually pleasing effect (sorry, Brandon). I saw a bottle of McKenzie Bourbon behind the bar and ordered a pour, because research. It was good, but bourbon is good, and I didn’t want to pester anyone with questions. Barrel is nice. I wish that Chaz were there.
Next stop was Rose’s Luxury, when things started to get interesting. The illustrious Elizabeth Parker joined us there, making us six. Before the cocktails arrived, we enjoyed a bottle of the Spiropoulos sparkling rose. I had Mike McNamara’s Potato & Oil, with Boyd and Blair Vodka, Yellow Chartreuse, bruised thyme a la minute, and a finishing drizzle of olive oil. Quite interesting. We shared the Egg Cream and the Amaricano, as well. Aaron sent out a delicious potato gnocchi. Away we go.
Next stop, Hank’s Oyster Bar. We drank Champagne (no, not Cava) as Sir Michael Scarrone prepared our flotilla of cocktails. (We tried to order the Laurent-Perrier but ended up the far superior 1999 J. De Telmont, “Grand Couronnement.” Nothing says, “party time” like vintage bubbles.) We shared the cocktails, family style. One thing that I like about the Hank’s crew is that their drinks are really different. Six drinks with six distinctive textures and aromatic profiles isn’t easy to do. The general impression of variety is what sticks with me about those cocktails, rather than a particular quality of any one of them: excellent work, excellent and humbling. At this point we bump into Rachel Sergi in full B-girl regalia, pony-tail through the back of a black on black baseball cap, young Mary J.-style. She pledges to join us up later, if possible.
We walk the short way over to Beuchert’s, and on the way I notice that our spirits are bubbling over like a bottle of hot Dom. We start singing some silly thing and Holly’s face is going to break if she doesn’t stop smiling. It’s all going perfectly well. Donavan is on the stick andmakes me his Improved Cocktail. Classic, tasty. He then forces Old Overhold Rye shots on us, and I’m sure that all hell is going to break loose when the aforementioned Ms. Sergi re-enters the fray. She’s having a BIG time and happily climbs into the Black Uber Escalade that pulls up on the curb. I immediately begin to reminisce about the last time I rode an Escalade, namely when Jonathan Fain rented a french vanilla beauty and took the front-of-house staff of Bar Pilar to Honey Pig and Spa World to celebrate the opening of Pilar’s second floor. On that night, we were mixing what I came to call the Chamfain, a combination of Jameson Irish, Red Bull Sugarfree, and whatever cheap Cava we were pouring at the time. It’s a miracle we didn’t lose someone that night.
That’s when I learned the rules of storytelling according to Rachel Sergi. Rule number one, tell stories about TLC (yes, the band). Rule number two, don’t ever stop. Apparently, Rachel made friends with TLC after she organized for them to play a show in a STRIP CLUB in Atlanta. Apparently, the bar made a zillion dollars and the band had the time of their and everyone’s lives and strippers and glitter and “Waterfalls” and why wasn’t I there? Which is why I believed her when she told me that Left Eye called her to cacklingly celebrate setting Andre Rison’s house on fire. The car stops at our destination, and that’s when someone (Rachel?) accidentally drops the bench seat on Elizabeth Parker’s toe, who must now be carried to any further destinations. When she gets going, Rachel Sergi is the most interesting person I know. I’m almost certain I mean that.
One doesn’t engage a Uber Black Escalade just to ride. Rachel’s story brought me back to the time and music of my teen years and I knew that I had to give something back to the now six wonderful women who were out with me. We went to Sticky Rice, and I performed “Jump” by Kris Kross, and the world will never be the same. Those that still could drank whiskey, those that couldn’t drank Sapporo, and I’m sure I don’t recall whether I had any of either.
Hysterically, I tried to carry Elizabeth and her dashed foot eight blocks to Al and Lauren’s place. I’m sure we cut a figure of almost heroic absurdity. Thankfully, a cabbie saw our plight and rescued us from any further indignity.
Day 6: Friday
What do you want from me? I watched movies from the security blanket of my house, and pretended that I didn’t have any beer, wine, liquor, or blood for that matter, and prayed that nobody would call in sick and force me to venture out. Sue me.
Day 7: Saturday
Saturday is prep day at work, so we have cause to get up and moving, but are usually back on the streets by 6 or so. To make up for my failings on Friday, I punished myself by opening a bottle of 1941 Chartreuse Eau-de-Vie that I’d recently purchased. Age ain’t nothin’ but a number, eh? In this case, age rendered something magical. My favorite Saturday destination is the almost perfect Partisan. Jeff Faile makes great cocktails, Brent Kroll chooses excellent wines, Ed Witt makes delicious food, and the restaurant group provides the setting and resources that allow each element to be showed to best effect. I love it. Dan and I each had a glass of the sour Madamin Loverbeer from Piemonte and nursed the Emerald from Ransom, an American love-letter to Irish Whiskey, hand-selected by Mr. Faile himself. Ed brought out a cheeseburger he’d been working on that featured two patties, a sand-dollar sized slice from a foie gras torchon, and a grapefruit-Campari jelly. The sandwich started out slightly sweet and unctuously rich, sweet from the kiss of honey in the bread, the milk leeching from the torchon, and the sugar in the jelly, and rich from, well, everything. Incredibly, right after the salt in the cheese brings the sweetness into focus, the bitterness from the grapefruit and Campari hits like a steel punch in a velvet glove. The thing eats like a great cocktail and finishes like a great wine. The fat carries the bitterness down into the esophagus, resulting in a finish of a length normally only achievable by superb age-worthy reds or vintage Gueuzes aged to ten or more years. I was speechless. Later, we had the 90-day aged ribeye and the 1997 Barolo and we drank several splendid cocktails, and I had long since tired of writing everything down. One thing I can say, however, is that the best drink I’ve had all year came off of Ed Witt’s grill.
Surfeited and gratefully exhausted, I made the walk home in the comfortingly slight chill and hoped to God Svetlana doesn’t ask me to do this again for at least a year.