kelly magyarics

washington, d.c.-based wine, spirits, travel & lifestyle writer / wine educator


Liquid Journeys at The Passenger


Talk to anyone visiting or living in Washington, DC for more than a few minutes about the District's cocktail scene, and the conversation will no doubt turn to the affable Brown brothers. Sommelier, bartender extraordinaire, writer and beverage consultant Derek is a self-described "cocktail geek," a walking encyclopedia of all things libation, who most recently held court at The Gibson. Older brother Tom, who most recently worked as Cork's Bar Manager, digs beer from a can, makes a mean Sherry flip and always seems to know what style of drink you crave more than you do. Let's put it this way: if  you walk into a bar and either Brown is behind the stick, you've struck liquid gold, as they love to share their beverageducation and help everyone find the perfect drink for their mood--whether it be one on or off the menu.

The two recently joined forces to open The Passenger, across from the Washington Convention Center. The bar (half of it, anyway), launched last week, and the buzz in town (and beyond) is already palpable.

I stopped by last week on opening night, and the place was hopping. The front room (which is essentially Tom's playground), offers lots of brews in cans, budget-friendly wines including some off-the-beaten-path varietals, a few listed cocktails (like the aforementioned Sherry flip...), and bites (I have heard they make a tasty kimchee hot dog, though I stopped by after dinner and didn't nosh on one. Next time.) Tom will also whip up whatever is your fancy. We mentioned we were thirsty for something with gin, so he mixed up a tart, tangy and mildly floral version with Old Tom. Yummy.

Derek gave me a tour of the back room, which will be called the Columbia Room and ends where the Warehouse Theater begins. The guys are renovating it so it'll look like the interior of a train car, and he told me it's scheduled to open in early 2010. He described it as the "date night" spot of the venue, while the more boisterous front room is more suited to groups of friends.

The highlight of the upcoming space will be Derek's cocktail "lab," an omakase-style, smaller, more intimate bar that will require reservations (he's still working out all the deets.) If you have ever gone to a sushi bar and pretty much left it up to the sushi chef (maybe after giving a tad of info about what you do/don't like), that's the concept of this bar, where Derek will interact closely with guests to make custom cocktails.  "I plan to take notes from small, Japanese bars in Tokyo but let people in on the process of making cocktails," he says, no doubt drawing on his recent honeymoon in Japan for his inspiration. At this so-called "inner sanctum," Brown will only stock a handful or so of commercial liquors. The rest will be house made, ranging from bitters, to booze, to infusions.

It will undoubtedly be the hottest bar seat in town. Just. can't. wait.