Sat 5 Jul 2008
I need a fix and Jay at the PX is my medicine man. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
PX is the latest brainchild of DC restaurant wonders Chef Cathal Armstrong, wife and business partner Meshelle Armstrong and sommelier/mixologist Todd Thrasher. Leaders of Restaurant Eve and Eammon’s, the trio set their sights on creating an upscale cocktail experience with a throwback to 1920s speakeasy glamour. True to its Prohibition influence, PX has no sign, a phone line that is “family only,” and is admittance by reservation only. Armstrong and company made a concerted effort to keep this lounge an intimate experience free of crowds and noise: PX holds a maximum of 35 patrons at at time.
When we arrived at the front door of PX – the blue light around the corner from Eamonn’s – I was ready to be annoyed. I’d mostly heard about it as “that Old Town place where you need a password to get in.” We don’t typically go in for lounges and restaurants that are exclusive simply for the cache of being exclusive. I was goaded into making a PX reservation when a dapper co-worker regaled me with doorside rejection and not even knowing how to get the reservation line. After calling Eammon’s and asking to be transferred to PX, I was placed onto a voicemail system where the recording reminded me ”remember, your reseservation is only a request.” Great. A day or so later, a voicemail from Clinton, PX’s manager, let me know we had a 9:15 spot.
So here we are. A well-coiffed group ahead of us give themselves a last minute grooming before knocking on the door and informing the doorman (host and server Barry) in their most I-am-so-over-it-and-cool tones that they’d like to come in.
Barry: Lovely. Do you have a reservation?
Barry: I’m sorry. You need a reservation.
[A group of about 6 walk out the door]
Over-Its: There’s no room at all?
Barry: Sorry. Here’s our card. Feel free to call to make a reservation.
Over-Its: A reservation for later tonight?
Barry: No. We’re all full tonight.
I turn to Mike and roll my eyes. Are we really going to have to argue with someone for the honor of spending our money on their business? Turns out, no. Barry had our name on the list and we were escorted in without incident. On our way up the stairs, Barry turns to mention that they are expecting a VIP this evening so they’ve had to be extra vigilant at the door.
“Oh, a VIP? Who is it?”
“Thomas Keller? He’s the chef at French Laundry. He dined at Eve last night and we think he may stop by here tonight.”
Thomas Keller? Thomas freaking Keller! Here?! This is the foodie equivalent of spotting Mick Jagger at a jam session.
Barry seats us in a front room where we are eventually joined by a small group and a handful of other couples, although the volume stays on a low murmur. The room is lit primarily by candles, which added to the romantic ambience. However, I did wish for more light to inspect our surroundings; this place is beautiful. The speakeasy association led me to expect a seedy backroom but PX is more like crashing the party of a well-appointed townhome. Chandeliers, molding, sleek seating… No details are left to chance, right down to the faux-leather covered handrails on the stairs. It reminded me of a more intimate version of Chicago’s Violet Hour.
Barry returns soon set a plate of housemade potato chips and take our order: this is when the real fun begins. Thrasher’s thumbprint is all over the menu, which hosts over 20 cocktails ranging from $12 – $16 each. There is nary a cosmo nor vodka tonic to be seen and the house rules advise you against ordering anything so pedantic if you want to stay in the good graces of the establishment. This is also where Medicine Man Jay comes in to play. On the evening we attended, Jay (also an Eve veteran) was a veritable ninja behind the bar – mixing, shaking, stirring and entertaining. The drinks available at PX include tonic made in-house, a seemingly endless number of syrups, potions and infusions. The Sherlock Holmes offers a smooth single malt scotch, lagsang souchong tea and lemon syrup to create a surprisingly earthy refreshment. The Smoker’s Delight, made with tobacco honey syrup and bourbon was phenomenal and reminded me of some of the Olympic-worthy cocktails we’d had at LAB bar in London.
However, the BLT was the real show stopper. If you heard a strange pop in Old Town last Thursday night, it was our minds being blown. Made with bacon-infused vodka, tomato water and a frozen-lettuce icecube, Mike took one sip and his eyes spun until they landed on jackpot.
We started out PX skeptics but by the end of the evening we were converts. Yes, the reservation system is inconvenient and the low audience threshold prevents you from hosting your blow out birthday party there, but the filter is the point. Now that I’ve had a chance to experience it first hand, I appreciate it. It’s a comfortable oasis to know a place in DC where you can have a civilized evening with high-end, thoughtful cocktails. Bearing that in mind, here are a few pieces of (unsolicited) advice:
1. Patience. Both with the reservation system and the time it takes for your drinks to arrive. Both are worth it.
3. The front room is the most secluded and romantic. The bar is where the action is. Jay indicated they don’t take reservations by space but you can request it when you call.
On King Street, around the corner from Eammon’s (look for the blue light)
Wednesday – Saturday, 7pm on
Reservations: Call Eammon’s and ask for the PX reservation line.