Washington loves its cocktails and its kitschy themes, so it’s to be expected that following its recent reopening, Columbia Room took the whole cherry blossom thing up a notch. I was sad to miss the reopening of the Columbia Room, the chic cocktail bar and tasting room from popular mixologist Derek Brown in its new location in Blagden Alley earlier this year. So, I jumped at the chance to experience the rebirth of the cocktail lounge in its new location when I was invited to preview its new spring menu, which was all about the blossoms.
The old Columbia Room was a dark, chic and quiet, reservation-only speakeasy in the back of the Passenger, which closed a few years back. The tasting room remains very similar in essence, except now it’s tucked in the back of a posh cocktail bar and lounge that’s more fitting to the brand. The new Columbia Room offers three distinct spaces—the Tasting Room, Spirits Library, and Punch Garden. You enter up the stairs through the punch garden, an outdoor wooden patio decorated with string lights. It’s absolutely charming and instantly became my new favorite place for cocktails from the second I stepped foot on that last stair. The Punch Garden serves bottled cocktails and a selection of punches at a separate outdoor bar. The fact that it was filled with beautiful men—who also appeared to be straight! Gasp—certainly didn’t hurt.
You enter the Spirits Library through a heavy steel and glass door. As the name implies, the space is decorated in the style of a vintage library—with lots of mahogany and leather bound books—a fireplace and masculine vibes. It would be a perfect cozy spot for winter hot toddys.
The Tasting Room operates with ticketed seating and offers two menus: a three course and five course menu of cocktails paired with snacks.
We made our way to the Tasting Room and were seated at a long bar for about 8-10 people in the dark room. The five-course menu was a selection of Japanese-inspired cocktails and unique Japanese small plates including hand rolls, mochi, and seaweed salads.
The first course was an amuse bouche cherry blossom tea, made with pickled tea, apricot liqueur, and Shochu, a distilled Japanese liquor that tasted a lot like sake. It was a delightful, fresh start—the cocktail was the right size as it had unique flavor profiles of pickling, tea, sake, and apricots.
The second drink was a cocktail made with Matcha tea and Pisco, and served with a trout roe hand roll made with a seaweed wrap, white rice, cucumber and Matcha salt for dipping. The Matcha tea and Pisco combo was a unique one that we enjoyed trying, but we didn’t drink much more after that.
The third cocktail, the Watercourse Way, was an exceptional, memorable combination of flavors. It was made with Japanese whiskey and medium sherry, Bergamot-infused honey, lime, egg white, and Sandalwood powder. It had a dense base, followed by a layer of fluffy egg-white sweetness, topped with red sprinkled powder. It was sweet and frothy—and each layer offered a distinct, delicious flavor. We both loved this cocktail.
The fourth cocktail, “I Never Promised You a Zen Garden,” was a literal zen garden made with edible plum pink salt that you could rake—and Mochi as the rocks. The cocktail was a Red shiso-leaf infused saki with dry vermouth and other ingredients I’d never heard of before.
The final cocktail was our second favorite—a milk punch made with Brandy, nutmeg, and Calpico, which is a Japanese milk soft drink (no wonder it was so sweet!). Served in a mini milk bottle with a red-and-white striped straw, this cocktail was charming.
The Columbia Room is open for cocktails on its patio Punch Garden and beautiful, cozy spirits library, but reservations are required for cocktail tastings in the tasting room.
The Columbia Room
124 Blagden Alley
Spirits library hours: Tuesday-Thursday 5pm-12:30am, Friday-Saturday from 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. The punch garden is open Tuesday-Thursday from 5 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. and Friday-Saturday from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m