Monday, December 12, 2011

Columbia Room, DC

For my birthday, Zach made reservations at the Columbia Room located in the Mt. Vernon Square area in Washington, DC.  The Columbia Room is a separate bar situated inside The Passenger, both of which are owned by two brothers, Tom and Derek Brown. Prior to opening The Passenger in late 2009, Tom was running the bar at Cork Wine Bar while Derek was contributing to The Gibson's ever-evolving cocktail menu.  Tom, who focuses on The Passenger, has expertise in craft beer and fine wine, while Derek, who runs the Columbia Room, has expertise in unique libations. Together, they have created two different atmospheres satisfying anyone from your typical tourist seeking a good drink to discerning individuals seeking a unique upscale experience. The Columbia Room has received rave reviews since it opened in early 2010 so I was particularly excited to have the opportunity to experience drinks there.

Upon arriving at The Passenger, we made our way through the bar to a door on the left-hand side. We slid it open and stepped inside the waiting room for the Columbia Room. A woman appeared who checked our reservations and said she'd seat us shortly. While we were waiting, several other couples arrived as well. About 10 minutes after our reservation, we were escorted into the bar area through yet another sliding door. This long, dark, secluded bar was designed to resemble the dining car of a vintage train and that it did.  The bar seats approximately 10 people between the bar and a high-top table against the wall.

The small, hidden bar has an intimate feel and the reservations-only policy provides a hint of exclusivity. The bartender started us off with the opening drink called, "Vital Du Four," which consisted of armeniac, housemade fig bitters, housemade grenadine, and sparkling wine topped with an orange peel. This was a nice refreshing cocktail. We enjoyed all of the flavors, but didn't feel it was the uniqueness we were seeking in this experience. We could only hope for more from the drinks to come.

The second drink was prepared and served by Derek Brown himself and was paired with an amuse bouche (a small plate of food). This drink was called the, "Robert Foss," and was a tribute to a man, whom Derek served while preparing drinks for a party at the White House. The cane sugar provided a sweetness to the palate while the unique pairing of sherry, white port, bitters, whiskey and orange slices provided the kick Zach and I were seeking. The food pairing, a dish of dates, agave nectar, crispy shallots, and arugula; paired elegantly to the drink served. I was particularly appreciative that they served us vegan dishes. Upon inquiry, I was pleasantly surprised to hear that Derek used to write for PCRM and eats a mostly vegan diet so accommodating vegans in his establishment is not a problem as long as you note this in the comments box upon making your reservation.

For the final drink, Derek offered us each a drink of our choice. I requested a spicy drink while Zach requested something similar to a Manhattan. He prepared me what he called, "Aztec's Mark," which was made with Creme de Cacao, Benedictine Liqueur, Bulleit Bourbon, Tabasco sauce, and orange peel. I loved this drink!  He also served us some green olives and Marcona almonds, both of which were delightfully fresh.

While we finished our final drinks, we began to explore the containers that were placed on shelves behind the bar. These containers represent items used to make drinks in the Prohibition-era such as American juniper for gin, fennel, dandelion, etc.  They provided a colorful background to this dark and mysterious-feeling bar. We enjoyed our drinks so much that we inquired as to whether we could have another, but were told that, unfortunately, our reservations only held our seats for two hours and other guests were waiting. We thanked Derek and the other bartender and made our way back to the waiting area to pay our bill. The experience is priced at a flat $64 per person, which includes tax and gratuity, a small price to pay for such a unique experience.

Derek has done an excellent job of creating a mysterious atmosphere while providing exquisite drinks, many of which use homemade liqueurs. They are open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 to 11:30 p.m. Reservations are required and can be made on their website. I highly recommend this experience for discerning palates. 5 stars.


  1. Angela your reviews keep getting better and better. I will definitely check this place out while I am in DC.

  2. Thanks, Rob! I think you'd really enjoy this place!