COCKTAIL OF THE WEEK: Dirty Bananas From Saint Lucia

November 6, 2012

The first thing I notice when I meet Big Ted is not his size. It’s his smile. It’s a friendly, welcoming type of grin; similar to the ones proudly displayed by most of the locals I meet in Saint Lucia.

Ted Barnard, or “Big Ted” as he is called, is the bar manager at the Coconut Bay beach resort, which is tucked away on the southern tip of the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia. The vacation spot, which boasts multiple bars spread out over its mile-long stretch of beachfront property, is known for its lengthy drink choices. Between the swim-up bar, the lobby bar, the nightclub, sports bar, restaurants and the tiki bar beside the well-shaded adult pool, I lose count of the different cocktails by my first evening.

Each bartender seems to have his or her favorite potions. Everything from the self-named “Terry in a Cup” to Kay’s “I Like” and Hami’s killer “Negroni,” I ask Ted to mix me the most popular tipple at the resort. He whips up a “Dirty Banana,” a delicious smoothie-like concoction forged from fresh bananas, coconut cream, rum, coffee liqueur with an optional squirt of chocolate syrup.

Because it is forged from fresh bananas, this cocktail sips more like a milkshake. Its thick texture gives it a dessert-like quality. But don’t be fooled, the dirty banana packs quite a punch thanks to three ounces of liquor. Later, I am informed that Ted has an extra-special version of the drink known as a “Filthy Banana.” When I ask him to elaborate on its contents, he slyly tells me it’s made with even more rum.

Ted likes the dirty banana because it showcases the island’s local ingredients, St. Lucian rum, bananas, coconut and Ti Tasse, a rum- based coffee liqueur that is also produced in St. Lucia.

Like most Caribbean nations, Saint Lucia takes great pride in its native rums. The flagship spirit, Chairmen’s Reserve, is blended rum concocted from a combination of continuous distilled and double-distilled rums. The result is a full-bodied spirit with just enough sweetness and a little bit of bite. The spiced version of Chairmen’s Reserve contains local spices and fruits including cinnamon, clove, nutmeg, vanilla, coconut, all spice, lemon and orange. It is also rumored to include Richeria Grandis – known locally as “Bois Bande” – a bark renowned in the Caribbean as a potent aphrodisiac.

While I specifically requested Chairmen’s rum in my drinks, Ted usually blends his dirty bananas with a light locally-produced overproof rum. Hence the potency of this drink. A few too many, will have you floating off your barstool.

Unfortunately, many of Saint Lucia’s spirits can be difficult to find in the states. If you’d like to replicate the dirty banana at home, I would recommend using either Wray and Nephew overproof rum — or if you like a fuller flavored spirit, Flor De Cana seven-year-old rum. For the coffee liqueur, you may substitute Kamora. The smooth frozen tropical coconut-banana flavor is a fine anecdote for Washington’s recent scorching Caribbean-like weather. ?

THE DIRTY BANANA

1 banana, sliced

1-ounce milk

1-ounce coconut cream

1.5-ounce coffee liqueur

1.5-ounce overproof light rum

Squirt of chocolate syrup

Add ingredients to blender with ice. Blend until well mixed. Garnish with a pineapple wedge. [gallery ids="100878,127477" nav="thumbs"]

Cocktail of the Week: The Vieux Carre

September 13, 2012

The French Quarter of New Orleans conjures up visions of raucous partying, 24-hour fun and all-out craziness. While this can be a great way for the 20-something crowd to blow off some steam, those looking for a more sophisticated and tasteful drinking experience will have to veer a few blocks away from Bourbon Street.

Unlike Washington D.C., New Orleans wears its quirkiness like a badge of honor. A classy bar does not necessarily mean stuffy or uptight. One of my favorite Crescent City spots to grab a drink is the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone.

Tucked away on the corner of Royal and Iberville on the edge of the quarter, the Hotel Monteleone is steeped in history. It has been a preferred haunt of many distinguished southern writers including Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams and William Faulkner. Truman Capote used to brag that he was born at Hotel Monteleone, but the truth of the matter was that Capote’s mother had stayed at the hotel during her pregnancy and was transported to the hospital by hotel staff for the birth.
The Carousel Bar itself is an attraction. The circular 25-seat bar is actually a rotating carousel, which makes a complete revolution approximately every 15 minutes. While I will admit that I’ve felt the room spin after one too many cocktails, I assure you that one drink, alcoholic or not, will do the same for you here.

The carnival-like motif reminds visitors that despite the Monte Leone’s lofty setting and noteworthy past, they’re still in New Orleans, a destination that is able to combine history and fun with a shot of jazz and spice shaken up and served in a martini glass.

Literary beasts aside, this bar has it earned a spot in the cocktail hall of fame. According to the Hotel Monteleone 1938, during the height of the Great Depression, head bartender Walter Bergeron introduced the Vieux Carré Cocktail at the Swan Bar, which was the original bar on site before the Carousel bar was built. The name Vieux Carre translates to “Old Square” the official name of the neighborhood known as the French quarter.

The Vieux Carre is a mixture of rye whiskey, brandy, vermouth and Benedictine and bitters. Its formula closely resembles two other legendary New Orleans tipples, the Sazerac, (which was declared the official cocktail of New Orleans by the state senate in 2008) and the La Louisiana. All three feature homegrown Peychaud bitters as a staple ingredient.

According to the Hotel Monteleone, “It was created as a tribute to the different ethnic groups of the city: The Benedictine and cognac to the French influence, the Sazerac rye as a tribute to the American influence, the sweet vermouth to the Italian, and the bitters as a tribute to the Caribbean. Prohibition had been lifted only a few years earlier as a way of stimulating commerce.”

The rye whiskey combines splendidly with the sweeter ingredients, like the cognac, Benedictine and vermouth, while the addition of two types of bitters, give it a nice spice.

For me, a visit to the Big Easy is not complete without stop here. The bar serves as great meeting spot for locals as well as tourists. During my most recent visit in April, I was flanked on by a group of young professionals enjoying an after-office drink once one side and a professional native drinker on the other. For people watching, the bar has a magnificent big-window view of Royal Street. Because the bar rotates, you’re guaranteed a window seat every quarter hour. The Vieux Carre
Recipe courtesy of the
Hotel Monteleone

¼ oz. Benedictine
¼ oz. Cognac
½ oz. Sazerac Rye
¼ oz. Sweet Vermouth
3 Drops Angostura Bitters
3 Drops Peychaud Bitters
Lemon Twist

Place ingredients over ice in an eight-ounce rocks glass and garnish with a lemon twist.
[gallery ids="100949,130372" nav="thumbs"]

Cocktail of the Week: Cocktails and Bar Tales by Mixologist Dale DeGroff

August 10, 2012

The lively piano notes danced through the air as I walked into the Warehouse Theater. I was greeted with a cocktail, more specifically, a sweet and lemony Colonial punch made from Jamaican rum and cognac. As I took my seat, I recognized one of the tunes being played by Washington’s piano virtuoso Dan Ruskinas, “Those Were the Days.”

But this was no typical theater-going experience. The main act was not a famous musician or actor, but rather a storyteller who made his mark in the world of cocktails and mixology, Dale DeGroff. In addition to the music, we were about to hear all about “Those Days, ” the golden age of bars and bartenders. DeGroff came armed with an earful of stories about the history and his experience working at some of New York’s most legendary watering holes.

If an evening of bar stories doesn’t sound exciting and entertaining, you’ve never seen DeGroff in action. Known as one of the pioneers of the craft cocktail movement, DeGroff has authored two best selling cocktail books, “The Essential Cocktail” and “The Craft of the Cocktail,” and was the recipient of a 2009 James Beard award. He has held court at the famed Rainbow Room, where he used a gourmet approach to recreate many long-forgotten cocktails.

DeGroff engaged the audience with his witty narrative, tracing the history of the drinking, from colonial-era taverns, through prohibition speakeasies, up to his personal favorites. His colloquial manner and charming personality took the audience back to a time when the local bar was an important part of the community and bartenders treated their customers like old friends. He opened the evening playing his guitar and singing a Hank Williams tune. And, of course, there was a great story behind this ditty.

With the enthusiasm of screenwriter and monologuist Spalding Gray, DeGroff launched into a tale about the first neighborhood bar he discovered in New York, Paddy McGlades in 1969. At the time, DeGroff was living at the YMCA, hoping to get his big break on Broadway, when a friend of a friend, who had a room for rent, asked to meet him at McGlades. DeGroff arrived at the bar, with his guitar, suitcase and $2.50 in his pocket, which he quickly blew through before his friend arrived. When someone asked him if he could play the guitar he launched into a rendition of “Your Cheating Heart“ to which he was rewarded with a beer on the house. He duly played it three more times for three more beers, since it was the only song that he knew all the lyrics to.

DeGroff reminisced about McGlades as if it were a long lost friend. Which it is, since a Starbucks now stands in its place. He continued with anecdotes about many storied bars, including P.J. Clarke’s (the original, not the D.C. outpost), McSorley’s Ale House, the 21 Club, the Blue Note and eventually the Rainbow Room, where in the 1980s he put together a menu of cocktails inspired by the great supper clubs of days-gone-by.

Cocktails flowed throughout the evening, each one a delightful concoction perfected by DeGroff. The experience was akin to going to a fabulous bar where you luck out and find yourself seated next to the most interesting man in the joint.

Having lived in Manhattan before moving to Washington, DeGroff actually made me a bit homesick for places like McSorley’s, New York’s oldest bar, which was a few blocks from my apartment in the East Village or the Rainbow Room, my favorite spot to take out-of-town guests, which was located across the street from my office at the Associated Press in Rockefeller Center.

Before I knew it, two hours had passed. It was time to call it a night. The evening was capped off with a Yuzu gimlet, a refreshing twist on the standard, jazzed up with Asian Yuzu juice and honey.

DeGroff’s traveling show, which is being performed as a fundraiser for the Museum of the American Cocktail, will be making stops in New York and Philadelphia. For more information, visit KingCocktail.com/onthetown.htm or www.MuseumoftheAmericanCocktail.org

YUZU GIMLET?
1 1/2 ounce Hendricks Gin?
1/4  Yuzu juice  ?
1/2 ounce fresh lime juice?
1 ounce honey syrup
?Lime wheel garnish??
Assemble ingredients in a shaker with ice and shake well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass, and garnish with thin wheel of lime. Adjust sweetness with honey syrup. [gallery ids="100737,121495" nav="thumbs"]

Cocktail of the Week: Mint Julep for 200 Years at Home in D.C.


In 2010, 17.3 million tourists flocked to Washington. According to Destination D.C., these visitors spent more than $2 billion dollars at local hotels.

Whatever their reasons for traveling — a convention, a tour of historic sights, or government affair – these visitors have one thing in common: For a short time, they will call one of Washington’s hotels their home away from home. Many of them, whether they are diplomats, job seekers or a touring musical act, will mingle in their hotel bars. For some guests, the hotel bar is useful amenity, a place to grab a nightcap within a 60-second commute from their bed. For the weary business traveler the barstool and a highball are a way to wash away the stress of the day.

As a Washington resident, one of my favorite spots to take my guests is the POV lounge at the W Hotel Washington. Forget waiting to ascend to the peak of Washington monument (it’s closed anyway), I’d rather take in the panoramic view from the nearby 11th floor terrace at the W, a block from the White House, while relaxing in a cozy chair and sipping a cocktail.

The prominence of hotel bars in the U.S. dates back to colonial days, when bartenders served little more than ale and rum. Taverns also served as boarding houses, a place where an exhausted traveler could hitch his horse and spend the night.

As hotels grew bigger and more sophisticated, so did hotel bars. According to Derek Brown, a cocktail historian and partner in D.C.’s Passenger and the Columbia Room lounges, the modern hotel emerged some time in the beginning of the 19th century alongside the first celebrity bartender, Orasmus Willard, at the City Hotel in New York. “This set the stage for bars — not necessarily the same as saloons — being situated in lobbies of hotels,” Brown says. “Guests were treated with a drink upon arrival, the ultimate sign of hospitality.

Many famous cocktails were invented at hotel bars — from the Red Snapper (or Bloody Mary, as we know it today) at New York’s St. Regis, the Pina Colada at the Caribe Hilton in Puerto Rico and the Tequila Sunrise at the Biltmore in Phoenix.

“The main reason why great cocktails and hotels are inexorably linked is that they grew up together,” Brown says. “Hotels were often luxurious and full of amenities, including top bars and bartenders. It was the perfect environment to nurture the golden age of cocktails.”

The most celebrated hotel bar in Washington is the Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel. In different incarnations, his gathering spot has played host to Thomas Jefferson, Walt Whitman and Mark Twain. Kentucky’s Henry Clay — who served as a Secretary of State, House Speaker and U.S. senator — introduced the Southern-style mint julep to Washington at the Round Robin in the 1800s. Since then, it’s been the signature drink of the bar. In an era where cocktail menus are ever-changing, it’s almost unheard of to see something stick around for 200 years. Bartender Jim Hewes has presided over the Round Robin since the hotel reopened in 1986. “If you want to put a drink on the map,” Hewes says, “You’ll need that level of consistency.”

Henry Clay’s Southern-style Mint Julep
6-8 fresh mint leaves, plus on sprig for garnish
1 tablespoon sugar
2 oz bourbon
1 oz sparkling water
lemon twist
superfine sugar

Put the mint leaves, sugar and one ounce bourbon in a tumbler. Gently muddle with a spoon. Add a scoop of cracked ice. Add equal measures of bourbon and sparkling water to fill glass. Garnish with fresh mint sprig, lemon twist and dust with superfine sugar.

The Cosmopolitan: Once the “It” Cocktail

May 17, 2012

Maybe it’s the appealing pink color, the pleasing tart flavor or the swanky glassware. Perhaps it was the four liberated and stylish ladies of New York who adored them. But for one reason or another. the Cosmopolitan — or Cosmo, for short — was the “It” cocktail of the late 1990s and first half of the 2000s.

This tipple hit its zenith of fame when it became the favorite drink of Carrie Bradshaw on HBO’s “Sex and the City.” But believe or not, the Cosmo pre-dates the prime time television show by years. It was also another trend-setting celebrity that lent her hand at influencing this drink ‘s destiny before Sarah Jessica Parker started to imbibe on this vodka, cranberry and citrus concoction.

The Museum of the American Cocktail recently hosted a seminar on popular vodka drinks, which included the history behind the Cosmopolitan. Phil Greene, founding member of the museum and author of “To Have and Have Another : A Hemingway Cocktail Companion,” hosted the event, which was held at the Warehouse theater inside the Passenger bar.

Several recipes for cocktails similar to Cosmopolitan have been uncovered. One recipe for a drink named “Cosmopolitan” that Greene dug up dates back to 1934, from the book “Pioneers of Mixing Gin ?at Elite Bar 1903-1933.” While this early recipe uses gin instead of vodka, its remaining ingredients are comparable to today’s version. Using gin in a cocktail during that time was commonplace. Vodka did not start to get a stronghold in the American drink scene until the 1950s. Another similar recipe from the Ocean Spray Cranberry Growers from the 1960s, was unearthed by Dale “King Cocktail” DeGroff which calls for one ounce of vodka, one ounce of cranberry and a squeeze of lime.

The invention of the modern-day Cosmo is generally credited to bartender Cheryl Cook in Miami’s South Beach. According to Greene, “In the mid-1980s the martini was making a comeback, and many customers were ordering them, seemingly just to be seen holding the iconic martini glass. However, for many, including women, martinis were a bit too strong and powerful. So she came up with the idea to create a drink that was visually stunning and uses the martini glass. Using a new product called Absolut Citron, a splash of triple sec, a few dashes of Rose’s Lime and some cranberry juice to turn it pink, the Cosmopolitan was born.”

The Cosmo further evolved when cocktail heavyweight DeGroff sampled it at the Fog City Diner in San Francisco. DeGroff decided he could improve upon this formula and created his own version for the Rainbow Room in New York.  According to Greene, he used Absolut Citron, Cointreau, cranberry juice and fresh lime juice, along with a flamed orange peel garnish.

It was at the Rainbow Room where the Cosmo’s superstardom began. Its prominence skyrocketed when Madonna was pictured sipping one at the Rainbow Room Grammy party, when the award show was held next-door at Radio City Music Hall. Next came “Sex and the City,” which cemented the Cosmopolitan’s place in drink history.

Soon, Cosmos were on cocktail menus across the nation along with various drinks with names ending in “ini” and served in the cone-shape big martini glasses. While the Cosmo’s place in the sun has faded somewhat, it has earned a spot on the list of classic cocktails. Even our favorite New York girl seems to have cooled on her Cosmopolitan. In the film version of Sex and City, Miranda asks why the girls stopped drinking Cosmos. Carrie replies, “Because everyone else started.”

Dale DeGroff’s Cosmopolitan:
1.5 oz. Absolut Citron Vodka
.5 oz. Cointreau
.25 oz. Fresh Lime Juice
1 oz. Cranberry Juice

Shake all ingredients with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a flamed orange peel.

The Museum of the American Cocktail will be sponsoring evening of stories, cocktails and songs led by Dale DeGroff on Thursday, April 12. For more information, visit www.museumoftheamericancocktail.org

Glenn Sorvisto: the Soul and the Beat of a Different Drummer

March 12, 2012

On Friday, Feb. 24, 2012, the world lost a bit of its sparkle, and the sun shone a little less brilliantly. Glenn Sorvisto lost his battle of more than two years with cancer. He passed peacefully in my arms, his suffering put to an end.

As someone who has written hundreds of stories — most recently, for the Georgetowner — I still cannot begin to piece together the words to describe the beautiful, gentle psyche and the magical person that made up Glenn.

Truly a national treasure, Glenn was a special being who loved all, a drummer and performer whose true genius reached beyond music. He had the passion of a madman, and the unbridled and uncompromising spirit to always do things his own way with a sense of style and flair unlike any other. His heart was a precious jewel.

I cherish every moment we had together, our adventures, explorations, the fun times, the good stories, the laughs, the smiles and tears of joy. Glenn’s time on this earth was short, but he touched so many.

Some say he marched to the beat of a different drummer, but Glenn did more than that. He was his own drummer, who wrote his own song, always staying true to himself, always an individual, unfettered by others.

Glenn will always be a part of all of us. I remember my solo travels, when Glenn would hide notes and gifts in my bag. I would venture with a basket, collecting experiences, photos and stories we could share together when I came home. I would eagerly anticipate Glenn waiting for me at the airport, wearing a goofy outfit, holding a funny sign or bearing a silly gift. I hope Glenn received an equally marvelous greeting when he arrived at his new destination: an existence free of pain, in a Willy Wonka-like place filled with drums, flowers, plaid pants and birds. I hope he found the paradise that we both dreamed about — a beachside cantina with perfect bodysurfing waves, ice-cold beers, ten-cent tacos and Glenn headlining the entertainment every night.

Glenn will live on through his music. He was a talented drummer and singer appearing on dozens of CDs. His first band, the Hates from Houston, were on the cutting edge of the punk movement in the late 1970s. In San Francisco in the early 1980s, his band Arkansas Man was a critical favorite, touring with Johnny Lydon’s post-Sex Pistol project, Public Image Limited. Their band posters are featured in “The Art of Rock” by Paul Griushkin, and their debut album was recently released on CD and iTunes.
Later in New York, he toured nationally and throughout Europe with the groups WOO and Happy New Year. His musical talents are featured on albums from the Molecules, The Three Terrors and Rev.99. His most recent collaboration was with the Baltimore-based Pleasant Livers, which was named by the Baltimore City Paper as “the Best Band to See Live.”

Born in Arizona, Glenn, 51, spent his childhood in Vancouver, Canada, Australia and Colorado. A traveler throughout his life, he ventured throughout Europe, Latin America and the South Pacific. He travels still.

Jody Kurash, a writer for The Georgetowner, is part-owner of a Georgetown business and a retired Associated Press photojournalist.