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

August 10, 2012

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

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.