Hello Darkness My Old Friend – PX

The grand-daddy of DC-area speakeasies, PX provides the perfect setting for serious, dimly-lit dates spiced up with some good drinks.

Ambiance: ****1/2

Decor: ****1/2

Service ****

Cocktails: ****

Overall score: 4.25

The famous and secret speakeasy PX has been in operation almost as long as I’ve lived in DC.  Marked only by a pirate flag and ghastly blue light, you usually hear about the beloved institution via word of mouth.  I’ve been there twice before but only briefly; worried I’m taking it for granted, I headed over to the covert cocktail hub to give their full menu a try.  No surprise, the drink list was solid with two standouts. Besides the good drinks, one of the real attractions of PX is its unique ambiance – cozy, very dark, the only illumination is provided by candles.  A quiet pulse of jazz and hushed conversations take you back to the Prohibition Era.  The staff is also very efficient and polite.

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We started with “Down with the Shine, the Perfect Shine” with allspice, clove, orange peel infused moonshine, cider, and apple peel gastric.  Even with the moonshine and allspice ingredients this was surprisingly chill and easy, with faint hints of mint and a citrus tang.  A relaxing sipper to start the evening.  “Winter in My Heart” was next and it was one of the standouts with gin, honey suckle Sauvignon Blanc and House-Made Orange Bitters.  The drink is deliciously gin-forward and upfront, with great, lighter wine and orange sensations that cut the stocky Plymouth Gin down to size.  Loved this one!

Moved on to the “Sweet Basil” which is a PX staple, having been on the menu since day one. Made of gin, orange bitters, and basil simple syrup, this is straight forward with a beautiful basil taste.  Cool and consistent, this is a real treat for basil lovers like myself.  We added some heat to the party with “I Want to Brand Myself as Fiery Balls” with bourbon, cinnamon, and apple bitters.  This drink is everything it claims to be, strong and hot with a bourbon-forward taste that is sweetened by a prominent cinnamon hue.  Liked it, especially on a winter evening.

The “A Butternut Cocktail in the Style of a Manhattan” with butternut squash vermouth, rum and pecan bitters has a really unique taste with a delicious and savory finish.  This was rich and peppery though out, and resonates after the last sip.  Good stuff.  We transitioned to winter when the “Apple Scraps in the Sink Keeps the Doctor Away” was ordered, with Jorge’s Apple “Butter,” an egg white, lemon juice, and rum.  This was very interesting, nothing overwhelms, and well-balanced.  The apple sensation hits first and throughout, and the lemon and rum come through nicely.  I liked the light and frothy consistency of the mix, which tops off an enjoyable drink.

Next up was the “Late to the Game” with bourbon, white tea, rose hip, pears, and ginger and pear bitters.  This was a very interesting taste and the ingredients are accentuated nicely throughout, with an interesting mix of sensations including the ginger and pear flavors.  Liked it.  The next drink was one of the standouts, the emerald-hued “Wet Money” with tequila, vodka, blue curacao, passion fruit, lime juice, and salt water.  This was superb, the bite of the tequila was nicely subdued and the drink is powerfully sweet.  It’s a complex flavor and the lime and passion fruit plays-in perfectly in the second half, with a hint of salt popping at the end.

I started the home stretch with the pure-Commonwealth “I am Virginia” with Catoctin Creek Rye, Virginia Figs, and orange bitters.  I was braced for something harder and more rye-forward but this was pretty sedate, showing off the rye hints but doesn’t hit you over the head.  A very good and relaxing rye drink, which is rare, I think.  My finale was the “Best Part of Waking Up is Laphroaig in Your Cup” with coffee, scotch (Laphroaig and Famous Grouse) and Ramazotti.  I was intrigued by the coffee and scotch combination: the taste is hard to define, not entirely pleasant but interesting.  This is one you go back to and try again to better appreciate the one of a kind taste.

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