Words by Kaylee Dugan
Photos by Nicholas Karlin
I know spring technically started on the equinox, but it never feels real until The Gibson releases their new menu. The same thing goes with winter. You could set a watch by how methodically they switch the game up. While many of our favorite cocktail places work a little slower, sticking with the tried and true drinks we all know and love, The Gibson has no interest. Yes, there are definitely repeated themes here. The Gibson is always going to have a couple hip-hop influenced drinks, and they’re always going to find a new and creative way to make me like scotch, but for the most part, I’m consistently impressed with their ingenuity. They push boundaries without making cocktails that feel unattainable. This isn’t Barmini. You might not get what you expected, but there’s always a familiar ingredient, song or sensation attached to their drinks.
This spring is no different. Last year we saw the bar staff play with more savory ingredients, like beets and kale. This summer they’ve scrapped the veggies and have stayed in the realm of classic fresh spring ingredients. There’s a little bit of tiki, and a few drinks that burn all the way down, but these are meant to be easy to drink. The Gibson knows what the people want, and we want drinks that are made to be sipped in the sunshine. These all readily deliver, but some stand out more than others.
The patio menu kicks off with three summer as hell options. From the tropical Drake inspired A Chit Chat Ting, to the floral Park City, July 1994, to the scotch based I’m Afraid of Americans, you really can’t go wrong, but I highly recommend the latter. This David Bowie inspired cocktail doesn’t feature any ingredients from the continent, using Highland scotch, Pamplemouse and dry vermouth, which gives it a very boozy, but still subtly sweet quality. I couldn’t get enough of it.
A riff on the Americano, the Amerikana combines the French aperitif Bonal with Dolin Blanc, orange bitters, and soda to create what feels like a boozy version of the orange soda straight from your childhood. It is the epitome of a summer drink, light, breezy, not so sweet it will make you sick but sweet enough to make you feel like you’re getting away with something. If this isn’t a patio pounder, I don’t know what is. A similar standout is the Josephine. Named after Josephine Baker, who was a dancer, singer, and activist in 1920’s France, this is the ultimate vacation in your mouth kind of drink. Made with cognac (as all the best drinks are), banana liquor, vanilla, all spice dram, mint leaves, decanter bitters, and a whole egg for good measure, it’s a thick icy drink that’s like a classier version of a Piña Colada. Topped with dehydrated banana chips, it’s like sipping dessert through a straw. The only problem with digging into these kind of drinks is that at the end, I expect to be on some white sand beach.
As a rule, I tend to gravitate to more booze forward, spicy drinks, so it’s no wonder my favorites this year were some of the more aggressive cocktails. Brooklyn Zoo (RIP ODB) is a good mixture of sweet and spicy. Drinkable with an edge that keeps you coming back. The chili-infused sherry leads the way on that front, but there’s also Cocchi Rosa, grapefruit, lemon, pineapple syrup, grapefruit bitters, and soda to temper that spice. The mixture of heat, sweet and a little bit of bitter stops anyone aspect of the drink from getting overwhelming.
I Never Do This not only highlights The Gibson’s cheekier names, but it also plays with an ingredient they don’t highlight too much, mezcal. Also featuring Cointreau, Averna Amaro, and aromatic bitters, it almost reminds me of a smokier cola drink. The caramel notes of the amaro and the mezcal work together in such an interesting way. I’d love to see them do a little more with mezcal, especially since it’s gotten more popular in D.C. due to the help of places like Espita. Another smokey drink, I’m Remy, You’re Nicki definitely has the best name on the list. This time, the smoke comes from a good old pour of Laphroaig 10, mixed with Averna Amaro, maraschino liqueur, crème de violette, and Peychaud’s bitters. It packs a smokey, peaty, unforgettable punch. I can’t imagine a better drink to encapsulate one of hip-hops more fascinating and vicious feuds.
One of the more interesting things The Gibson is doing this year is a secret menu drink that will be posted to their Instagram every week. This week, it’s the Life During Wartime, another Laphroaig 10 drink featuring Diep 9 Genever, apple brandy, biscotti liqueur, Bitter Truth decanter bitters, and Bitter Truth mole bitters. They sent us home with a miniature bottle of the mix, and while I haven’t had the chance to taste mine yet, it’s a fun idea for those of you who want something even more creative than what they’re already offering.
If you wanted my opinion, and you’ve gotten this far so I assume you do, no matter what drinks you’ve ordered, I would recommend you end your evening with the Stuck In The Middle With You. An almost kind of sort of Negroni, it includes all of my favorite things, rye, Campari, and some walnut liqueur. It’s bitter, simple, and still manages to feel rich. It’s the perfect night cap to a damn good night.