Serving up some of the best drinks in the DC area, Brabo is a top-flight cocktail bar posing as a fine dining restaurant.
Overall Rating: 4.5
I’ve always been a big booster of Alexandria: I lived there, walked infinite miles through Old Town, and, more recently, downed lots of cocktails around town (see my reviews of Alexandrian spots Captain Gregory’s, Magnolia’s, PX, Mason Social, Majestic Lounge, and Bastille). Now, the rest of the world is catching up and embracing Alexandria’s history and southern charm; PBS is premiering a Civil War-era drama “Mercy Street” and the Washington Post’s beer and nightlife critic Fritz Hahn recently ventured from the lofty heights of DC to pound those tough, thoroughly gentrified Old Town streets.
A friend who knows a thing or three about cocktails recently pointed me to the bar at Brabo, the stately, elegant fine-dining establishment off King Street. I went to dinner there years ago, so I knew it wasn’t the type of place where I would wear my Megadeath t-shirt (my usual bar garb). So it was a little surprising to discover that such a classy spot–which I associated more with wine–houses a dynamic and f**king superb cocktail list! The brainchildren of Mr. Phil Clark, the drinklist was superb, with just the right combination of daring and delicious. The bar was small but comfortable, and the service was fast and friendly.
I joyfully went the full measure, tasting all 16 of Brabo’s house cocktails which included seven standouts. I’ll state upfront, Brabo was one of the few bars where I liked everything. That’s exceedingly rare, as risk-taking cocktail bars that use adventurous ingredients naturally clash at times with my tastes. The first standout was the prettiest, the scarlet-hued “Fancy Sour” with belvedere vodka, drambuie, cranberry puree, and lemon. Loved how the cranberry subtly works here, offering some tame sweetness with lemon on the edges. The drambuie also provides some herbal notes, granting it a welcome flavor complexity. My second drink, also a standout, was possibly the best spicy cocktail I’ve ever had; the “Daisy” is made of jalapeno-infused tequila, benedictine, blood orange syrup, lime, and pineapple. The burn here was sublime, measured, and concludes with a great refreshing pineapple and citrus kiss at the end. I also loved the blood orange, which brings the whole drink together.
That spice still on my lips, I went for some refreshing “Punch,” made of Hendricks gin, lemon, ginger, rose-hip tea olco (the fruit of the rose plant), lavender bitters, and pink Hawaiian salt, which is apparently a thing. A very interesting, different flavor in this one, sedate, low-key, and gin (and ginger) forward. The lemon also dives in well, adding almost a bitter note. Good stuff. Let’s have some bubbles, the “Champagne Cocktail” with domaine de canton with an orange bitters-soaked sugar cube. How cool is that? Pretty simple taste on this one with the citrus and sugar adding a bit more depth, cream, and sweetness than you’d expect in a champagne drink. Just the right amount of lush poppiness. Nice.
On to the “Smash” with Dickel 12 year sour mash rye, citrus, ginger, rosemary honey, and creme de peche. This was good, I dug the rosemary flavor off of the creme, which provides a super pleasant and soft aftertaste. Then, the “Sherbert,” a standout with green tea-infused Beefeater gin, salted pistachio orgeat, absinthe, and lime sherbert. First time I ever had sherbert with my cocktail and I hope it won’t be my last – an awesome drink, the herbal gin clicks so well with the icy lime. I also could have chugged that salted pistachio orgeat by itself, a perfect ingredient for this mix. Wonderful organic notes from the tea, I loved this one.
Next up was the “Old Fashioned” with Wild Turkey 101, blis maple syrup, maraschino, angostura and orange bitters. A solid take on an old recipe, there was some nice added citrus and sweetness to this from the syrup and maraschino. Maple on the edges helps spice it up and measure the burn. The aroma is intoxicating as well. Then we went sweet with the “Julep” with bulleit bourbon, mint, and angostura bitters. Very good, straight forward julep, everything is balanced and not overly syrupy. Drinks easy and relaxed, everything you want a julep to be.
Over to the “Crusta” with Remy Martin VSOP, gran marnier, lemon, and angostura. This standout was scotch-forward and luscious perfection, ending well with a very cool citrusy cut off of the grand marnier. It looks beautiful and drinks just as well. Then, I turned to the “Daquiri” with aged rums, lime, and demerara. Another simple standout, the sugary lime taste really called out to me on this one, with a nice rum bump and dive as you swallow. Money.
Old school drink time with the “Scofflaw” made of Templeton rye, dolin blanc vermouth, lemon, and grenadine. The rye is perfectly molded to the other sensations in this cocktail, with a nice rolling sweetness from the grenadine. Lemon mellows the drink out nicely, an elementary showcase of rich, simple flavors. A standout came next, the “Simple Sour” with banana-infused mezcal (!), corralejo reposado tequila, lime, and honey syrup. I loved this drink, particularly the very intriguing take on the mezcal – the banana lends a very cool softness to the burn, leading to an adventurous mix of heat (tequila) and velvet (honey syrup). Some lime to even it out, and we all go home happy. Wonderful.
Look how beautiful this next drink was, the “Bittered Sling” with Appleton v/x rum, Applejack, Cynar, and demerara tiki bitters. A very very rich drink that tastes heavy of apple and sugar, the bitterness adds some fun sophistication at the end. I could definitely pick out the cynar out, which is a neat twist to a appley, rummy drink — a taste that I’ve never experienced before. The evening pressed on, calling for some warmed cocktails. I started with the “Hot Buttered Rum” with Smith and Cross rum, allspice dram, demerara syrup, and cinnamon butter. No joke, that is some HOT buttered rum! Very thick and sugary, I loved the cinnamon in this one, which just brings thoughts of Fall to mind. A drink with a defined and intriguing character, sip this one in dark bars and old cold nights.
The relaxing warmth continued with my final standout, the “Hot Toddy” with Laird’s Apple brandy, Mt. Gay black barrel rum, molasses, lemon, and honey. This drink was the definition of balanced, every ingredient clicks well, nothing overpowers. Loved the brandy burn, the softness of the honey and molasses, and the friendly, healing taste of warm lemon. Next time I get sick, I’m coming to Brabo for four or five of these, if they’ll have me. Our finale was the “Irish Coffee” with Powers irish whiskey, demerara syrup, coffee, and thick, thick whipped cream. This is a superb iteration of the famous recipe, heavy as it should be, delightfully weighed down with the sugary cream and a caffeinated burn perfect for the conclusion of a fun bar night. So, until next time!