Words by Kaylee Dugan
Photos by Sarah Gerrity
Petworth has changed a lot in the last year, but no spot has reinvented itself more than 819 Upshur St NW. In January of 2016, it started out as the Twisted Horn, a dark and sexy cocktail bar with a limited, but refined menu and lines out the door its first weekend (I would know, I tried to go on a date there). At some point between January and the summer, it went through its first identity shift. Sure, it was still called Twisted Horn, but with the addition of a bright patio space and a whole new cocktail menu marked a shift for the small bar. Gone was the menu that listed a max of four cocktails, now there was a comprehensive list of drinks with names as long as fully formed tweets.
It kind of sucked. What I had begun to consider my dark and low-key date night spot was now pushing out gimmicky drinks with pun filled and pop culture laced titles. I stopped going. At some point, I heard they had rebranded and were calling themselves Hank’s Cocktail Bar and I figured that was the final nail in the coffin. Not that I have anything against Hank’s, but the more corporate sounding name led me to believe the creativity had been scrubbed out of the place.
As usual, I was both right and wrong. Hank’s Cocktail bar has absolutely done away with the things I like about the original Twisted Horn, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a good bar. It’s just a different kind of good bar. There’s more art on the walls, the cocktail names are far less grating (and taste much better) and it feels more like an all purpose kind of spot. Petworth parents will take their babies anywhere, so there was at least one child hanging out while I drank the menu, but it seemed clear this was a bar that was amassing regulars or both neighbors and industry folks alike.
Beverage director Jessica Weinstein might disagree with me. She doesn’t see Hank’s strictly as a cocktail bar, since she’s taken the reigns, it’s become more of a cocktail playground where her and her staff can get weird and nerdy without fear. The drink menu certainly bears her mark, the sections and organization (Food Production 101 and Market Fresh) are a nod to her culinary school days when she was more interested in the kitchen than the bar. Death to Strawritas was inspired by a drunken night fueled by Budweiser’s infamous malt beverage, while the That’s Miss Becky To You is a celebration of all things ‘basic’.
Drinking them with Weinstein and learning the backstories obviously adds to the fun, but even if she’s not around, Hank’s is worth a stop. We started with the Club Med and the All Sorts Of Little Pleasures, which work as a dinner in a drink / dessert in a drink if you’re up for a liquid meal. Made with Avion Silver Tequila, coconut water, lemon, burnt sugar, amaro nonino, Pernod pastis and saffron, the drink bounces between sweet and savory with each sip. The Pleasures goes full sugar (in a great way) pairing Angel’s Envy bourbon with burnt sugar syrup and mole bitters. It comes with a s’more garnish because things to lean a little more kitschy here, but it was a damn good s’more, so I’m not complaining.
Like the Club Med, my favorite of the night, Bittersweet Surrender also leans a little more savory. A riff on the Negroni, it involves Bols Genever, roasted red repper, campari, vermouth and a chili-salt rim. It’s salty, bitter and herby and tastes much better than it sounds.
While Hank’s menu is filled with these weird concoctions, there are also a ton of drinks made with the average consumer in the mind. The Frambimbop may be made with shochu, lychee liquor and framboise, but it’s the perfect tiki drink for someone who isn’t into tiki drinks. Mainly, it’s fruit forward and boozy without tasting like your drinking the Carmen Miranda banana hat. Likewise the Mrs. Becky is beautiful, floral and pretty damn basic.
There are also ton of drinks that are essentially better versions of the things you already love. The Spanish Gin & Tonic is served in a goblet with a gorgeous garnish of flowers and is essentially an G&T on steroids. The beertails She Rules Her Life Like A Fine Skylark and Bergroni add complexity and flavorful to the beer their mixed with, but if you like Steigl’s grapefruit radler than you’re still going to love the Bergroni. The flavor hasn’t been so wildly changed it’s going to turn you off.
If you’ve been staying away from 819 Upshur St, you have a whole slew of reasons to go back.