Thu 19 Feb 2009
Ring the bell, if you can find it. It’s about three feet to the left of Marvin’s front door and barely marked. Try turning the handle if no one is outside. The rule of thumb is if the door is unlocked, they have room for walk-ins. If it’s locked, they do not. You can try getting on the guest list…but good luck.
Gibson opened less than a year ago and has remained relatively under the radar since then. Like PX and the short-lived but wonderful Hummingbird to Mars, Gibson continues the DC cocktail trend of faux speakeasy bars. Typically this means chic, luxurious interior and the most superior cocktails to be found in the area. It also means no crowds, some type of code of conduct, and patience. Patience to get in and patience to receive your drinks once you place an order.
At Gibson, like PX, there is no standing room at the bar. Gibson can accomodate no more than 50 people at a time. Seats are given according to reservation at specific intervals with some room held for walk-ins (allegedly). On several occasions when Mike and I have found ourselves in the U St area for the night we’ve strolled by the front door to check on empty space. More often than not, a dapperly dressed man with a clipboard and knit fingerless gloves (“very Dickensian,” Babe-B-Q points out) would put us on the waiting list and promise to text us when they had availability. The night went on, the text never came.
Finally, I made a reservation about two weeks in advance. What a difference advance planning makes. The woman on the other end of the phone took my name and phone number and asked what time we would prefer. We arrive about 20 minutes before our reservation and “I’m sorry, your table isn’t ready yet.” No problem, we skip over to Ben’s Next Door for a quick drink. We swing back five minutes after our reservation. “Absolutely, welcome.” We are in!
Drinks and our experience inside after the jump.
The space feels larger than PX, with dark wood panels on the lower portions of the walls and highly polished mirrors on the top half. We were seated in a cozy corner booth and immediately greeted by our server with menus and glasses of water. The lights are dim so we read the menu by candlelight. The drink options focus on high wire acts of cocktailery with an emphasis on the vintage.
Mike started with a sazerac, which is accompanied by an orange peel flambe, set to smolder and then burst into flames tableside by our able waitress. “Is there a trick to doing that so it doesn’t burn your fingertips?” we ask. “A high tolerance for pain is useful.” Duly noted. Mike sips the drink and slides it to me. It is easily the smoothest, easiest to drink sazerac we have had in DC. I start with a vodka Snow Bird or something of that nature. It is good, served with a dot of cranberry and mint leaf, but I am not blown away.
On round two, I am redeemed. I order the Salad Days, one of the most unique options on the menu. Featuring celery-infused pisco and celery bitters served frothy with a flash of burned cinnamon striped across the top it is delicious. Did I mention I don’t even like celery? Mike selected the jackelope, a bourbon-based drink infused with maple syrup.
For our “last call for this table” (according to our pain-resistant waitress), I ordered Mike’s sazerac which had so impressed me. Mike refrained from a third round, which is probably why he remembered the chili half-smoke we ate at Ben’s Chili Bowl later that night and I did not. All was well, though. I was glad to have finally tried The Gibson.