Megan Barnes is the beverage director of the excellent new restaurant specializing in mezcal, Espita Mezcaleria. Which means she’s an expert at drinking, specifically drinking in D.C.
When I stepped out into the bright light from the darkness of Espita, I had only two things on my mind: William Scanlan and a ride home. For those of you who don’t know, William is the man behind Heavy Metl Imports and brands like Rey Campero and Real Minero Mezcal. He had strolled in wearing a chambray button down, jeans, cowboy boots and a wrist full of Native American jewelry. He was in D.C. for two days and was generously pouring mezcal to all that was willing to drink it – a Pechuga that tasted a lot like fermented meat and a Mexicano that was reminiscent of a glass of fine American Rye Whiskey. I had been trying to track down this man for months and I had finally put him in touch with a distributor here in D.C. I can proudly say that I single-handedly brought his spirits to our community for all to enjoy and tonight I felt like I was in the presence of a celebrity.
I’ve told many people that opening a restaurant is like running on a treadmill at 9 and you are desperately pressing the stop button as you feel your legs exhaust from beneath your body. My partners and I have been working tirelessly for months and I have been rewarded with an early evening out – at which point I just want to drink my responsibilities away. I text everyone I know and head to Archipelago, a bar that I’ve been dying to try ever since it’s conception. My friend, Ben Wiley is behind the bar. Ben is someone I truly respect and look up to. He’s a quiet person – much like myself, but a brilliant bartender and manager. I ask him for the “Truck Bed Funeral” with Mezcal, Navy Strength Rum and Campari. I suggest to Alex (my friend and bartender at Quarter + Glory) that we share “Joey’s Banana Hammock” for round two because I personally find it amusing to imagine Joey Ambrose in a teeny tiny bathing suit, and I have a feeling that I am not the only one.
We settle up and head to All Souls next. At this point, I am feeling my booze. David Batista (Owner of All Souls), and I go way back to when I was just a wee little server girl at Breadsoda and he was the GM of Zaytinya. He is hands-down the nicest person you will ever meet, so of course I want to do everything in my power to support him, one All Souls combo at a time. Needless to say, I didn’t last very long. I hail an Uber and call it a night.
I arrive at work around noon, feeling a bit fuzzy from the night before. I pound a cold brew and begin prep for the afternoon – which usually consists of peeling and juicing a lot of fruit. Very boring and incredibly time consuming. [I’d like to take a moment here to thank my bar team because without them, Espita would be without our wonderful house made sodas. I love you guys.] I had been warned that Country Vitner was doing a tasting in close proximity to Espita and to expect a few people – including the brand ambassador for Mezcal El Jolgorio, Kaj. Five o’ clock rolls around and the doors open to a parade of slightly intoxicated industry folk. Now, industry people are equally understanding as they are demanding (bartenders, let’s be honest) so I get crushed for a solid three hours.
Kaj arrives later in the evening looking as exhausted as I feel. He and Dan Searing order two Mayahuels (our House Mezcal Margarita) and share some tacos. At this point I am wiping down bottles, preparing to close when Kaj pulls a bottle from his bag, a thank you for being so persistent in getting his product into D.C. It is a bottle of Tobasiche. He tells me that El Jolgorio and Nuestra Soledad are only a few days away from being available to the market – at which point an enormous smile spreads across my face. I literally cannot contain my excitement.
Wake up, shower, go to work. Repeat.
I am often reminded of the episode of Chef’s Table featuring the New York chef, Dan Barber where he compares the life of a chef to running a marathon. You push your body and mind past it’s limitations on a nightly basis.
I feel like this analogy can be applied to all areas of the restaurant as I pry myself from my bed after 4 hours of sleep.
I wake up to the same song playing in my mind every morning (Peter Pan’s “I Don’t Want to Grow Up”) and I see this as early indication that I am going senile. I fix myself the same breakfast that I eat every day because yes, I am a creature of habit – Greek yogurt and turkey bacon, in case you were wondering. My dog, Marley sits at my feet with her big brown Marley eyes begging for just one taste of bacon. I succumb to her furry face out of guilt for being away so much. I call an Uber and I am back at work. Sietsema shows up for his third and what is likely his last visit before our review. At this point, our staff is familiar with his face and the fear of his write-up begins to wane.
After work I have this insatiable craving for a beer somewhere other than Espita. For the love of God! My co-worker and I walk over to Ivy & Coney.
I wake up dressed in the same dress and sweater that I was wearing the night before and dice in my pocket. How much did I drink last night? Images of last night slowly play back in my mind. I played pool and almost won, I lost at Three’s to the tall English man from Chaplin’s or to my friend, Joaquin from Tail up Goat. Robin, one of my Lead Bartenders received a tramp stamp, I remember.
Today’s hangover is far worse than the other night and I swear off drinking…at least until tomorrow.
I get to work, and I am already 3 cold brews deep.
I begin prep as usual, place my liquor and produce orders and set up the bar with only seconds to spare. Doors open and within minutes the bar is full. Tonight I am working the Service Bar and about three hours in, I am cursing my servers and that relentless little printer spewing out tickets.
At the end of the night we reward ourselves with the champagne of beers – because we are classy folk here.
Another early evening off and I plan to meet someone that I’ve been talking to on Bumble for a few days now. He’s a “day walker” as we like to call them, someone with an office job. I head over to Lyman’s Tavern early and saddle up to the bar and catch up with Jess and Kevin, the owners of Lyman’s and long-time acquaintances of mine. We all used to work together at Bar Pilar (before the addition) and Saint Ex. They’ve done a wonderful job of making you feel like you are in a dive bar, while providing a pretty stellar selection of sandwiches and pub fare as Country Standards play in the background. I am both surprised and excited to see that they carry good Mezcal. I order a shitty beer and a pour of Mezcal when my date shows up. I will not bore you with the details of my date, but drinks were had pinball was played and we ended the evening gazing into the dark sky identifying stars that I never even knew existed.