I’m a regular at the Columbia Room, Washington’s best cocktail bar tucked away in Blagden Alley in Shaw. While the Columbia Room is a destination for those looking to experience once-in-a-lifetime beverages, I’m fortunate that I live not too far away and use it as my go-to spot to catch up with friends for cocktails. I may sound like I’m getting old—but it’s nice to be able to sit and to actually hear your friends.
The Columbia Room is a three-part concept, with its 10-seat, reservation-only Tasting Room in the back: you sit in the dimly lit room for a 2-hour cocktail tasting experience. Inside, the Spirits Library is a cozy bar with leather chairs, shelves of books, and vintage details. It’s perfect for cozy hot toddys in the winter. (Read about our cocktail experiences at the Columbia Room here, here and here.)
Unsurprisingly, my favorite part is the outdoor Punch Garden, which is a playful and feminine patio with blue patio chairs and string lights. The Punch Garden recently received a makeover, having been converted into a patio jungle, with stunning greenery hanging from the walls and ceilings, making the space feel slightly magical. It feels like a hidden treehouse, tucked away in the urban jungle that is downtown Washington.
Naturally, one celebrates any makeover with cocktails with the girls, so I made plans to catch up over drinks with my dear friends, Alana and Cara.
The Movers & the Shakers
Derek Brown is the face of Washington’s cocktail culture—a role only bolstered by Columbia Room’s recent naming of best cocktail bar in America. Brown is not only a talented mixologist, but a wonderful guy—the type of guy who seems to be everyone’s friend. I guess that happens when you own several bars. Brown’s filled the Columbia Room with a team of hospitality and cocktail professionals, with the handsome and friendly managers, JP and Dante, at the helm. It’s a smooth, fluid experience: from the moment you check in downstairs, every part of the experience is seamless, with multiple touch points of service.
The current menu at the punch garden is titled “This is Not a Wine List,” with cocktails, served in wine glasses, meant to mimic common notes from wine. It stemmed from a popular cocktail on the Spirits Library menu titled “This is not a Rosé,” made with vermouth and sherry.
When I arrived, Alana was sipping on the “This is not a Rosé,” a rose pink confection that’s crafted with vermouth, sherry, Mezcal, Fraise de Bois liqueur, Campari, and cordial. You could taste the sherry, Mezcal, and cordial at different points in each sip: as those are all very different making it a complex drinking experience. It tasted like a smoky strawberry cordial, but still very light. It was certainly interesting—so interesting we ordered a second round.
We also loved the “This is not a Sauvignon Blanc,” a crispy, white, lemon cocktail with notes of gooseberry. It was sweet on the front and tart on the finish—the kind of tartness that makes your lips pucker.
We also tried the “This is not a Pinot,” as we were intrigued by the rum, tea, and cider combination. The cocktail had an apple cider quality to it, made with aged rhum agricole, a cherrykriek cider, tea, and crème de mure. It was light enough that it was still punch-y and easily drinkable on a summer evening.
We absolutely love this edition of the Punch Garden cocktail program, and we not-so-secretly hope it stays all summer.
Additionally, we ordered some snacks, and I’m glad we did. While this is a bar, Columbia Room takes its food seriously—with beautiful, inventive fare being prepared by a well-respected chef.
We tried a small dish of roasted watermelon in sea lettuce oil with sorrel and herbs. Obviously, we weren’t going to pass up the grilled cheese, a gourmet, grilled confection with Manchego, Valdeon blue cheese, and truffle oil pressed on ciabatta bread. It’s pressed then sliced for sharing, which is upsetting because you really won’t want to share this.
Now, I’m quite the steak tartare connoisseur—I like the dishes at B Too, Le Diplomate, and Central best, if you’re wondering. The tartare at Columbia Room was top notch: raw beef topped with shrimp powder and berbere (a red Ethiopian spice with garlic, ginger, and chili) cured egg yolk, and mustard oil. It was a clean, simple presentation with just the right flavors. We devoured it.
Cheers! Summer is here and there’s no better place to celebrate, steal away, or to drown your sorrows than the urban oasis that is the Punch Garden. I’ll see you there!
The Columbia Room
124 Blagden Alley N.W.