600T Degrees of Separation from Kelvin Bacon
February 1, 2022 @ 8:00am
4:35 to 5:45 p.m.
I arrive close to opening on a frosty Wednesday evening. 600T’s first reservation is at 7 p.m. and I’m told they’re expecting a slow night.
You wouldn’t know it by the organized chaos: ice cutting, fresh juice and syrup preparation, cocktail batching, popcorn popping and the pitter-patter of tiny feet (the owner’s family lives in the row house above). Then there’s the aesthetics of stoking the fireplace, lighting candles and ensuring the carefully curated playlist is on-point. The mood needs to be just right.
“One of our biggest goals is to engage our guests on multiple levels,” Bacon says, unmasking the ethos that drives 600T’s approach. “We believe in having multiple nuances within our scheme. When guests come, not only are they going to have a great drink but they’re going to have nice aromatics, [they’re] going to have a nice ambience. It’s going to feel warm and comfortable.”
It’s an environment you can both taste and breathe in.
It’s all a bit overwhelming. Yet, they operate with a practiced calm. And Bacon, who has an admittedly even keel demeanor, is built for this.
“Right now, we probably don’t look like we are ready to open but in the next 15 minutes, you’re going to [see magic].”
It’s an unmistakable allegory for the service industry’s resilience over the last two years. Bars like 600T remained steadfast, nimble and eager to innovate in the midst of a pandemic.
I also learned simplicity is paramount. Bacon goes on to describe the process of controlling the chaos, even as you roll out an unfamiliar menu like they’re doing tonight. The only major shift they anticipate is recalibrating their muscle memory with new bottle placements.
This particular menu is “not too aggressive.” The recipes call for similar syrups and subtle manipulations of other tried-and-true ingredients.
In many ways, it demonstrates bartending’s degree of difficulty. Make a lot from a little, while also maintaining an impressive mental catalogue of mixtures and craft cocktail recipes.
5:45 to 7:30 p.m.
The bar is humming as patrons trickle in. The playlist is a collage of oldies,’90s and early ’00s rap and a dash of Caribbean vibes — high-energy, soulful and nostalgic, like a good drink.
It’s the perfect moment to discuss the Miami-born Bacon’s path to 600T, which began as an undergraduate at Florida A&M University at Red Lobster of all places. In 2008, Bacon, out of necessity, reluctantly took a position as server. Nine months later they promoted him to bartender. That was his foray into the service industry, without a specific plan except to keep climbing the ladder to an unknown destination.
He eventually moved to D.C. in 2013 for an event planning internship, working at Farmers Fishers Bakers before assuming a bartending position there full-time in 2015. This is the moment he says “his true cocktail journey started.”
“It was something I enjoyed,” Bacon says. “I was good at it. I felt confident and it [felt like a] safe place. It was a natural niche.”
For years, Bacon struggled with his confidence before leaning into pursuing a bartending career.
Bacon believes his awakening is rooted in how millennials came of age as witnesses to social media’s birth, advancements he sees as never meant for them. As the nexus between two vastly different generations (Gen X and Gen Z), many millennials are only now gaining the confidence to pursue their passions.
“Back then everyone did the same thing,” Bacon says. “You went to high school, went to college, got a degree, got a job, worked 20 years, waited 20 years to get promoted [and] finally retired. And that’s okay. [But] that’s not what everyone wants.”
Kelvin matured into risk-taking and seizing the moment despite his setbacks. As a young Black professional in the beverage industry, he’s grateful for the opportunity to cultivate his skills at 600T, having endured the all too-common subtle byproducts of racial bias, such as missed opportunities and failed promotions.
Though Bacon doesn’t make excuses. He believes you have to be hands-on in shaping your destiny, especially when you have big dreams.
“I don’t want to place time on my journey. I have to continuously adjust to be sure I’m successful. Although I love bartending, I want to grow within my craft.”
7:30 p.m. to close
At this hour, Bacon and the team hit their stride. The drinks are flowing and the space is abuzz with patrons sipping creations from the new menu.
Bacon’s big dream: One day owning a bar, a next act that may fully unleash him to share his gifts and manifest his colorful vision. As he describes it, there’s a swagger and flair concealed beneath his cool headedness.
“I’m from Miami and as a culture we’re flamboyant, a little loud and definitely flashy,” Bacon says of his Southern Florida beginnings. “I like to transfer that into my cocktail [making]. I love colors, vegetation [and] flowers. I love tropical drinks and drinks that are native to Mexico, Central America and the West Indies.”
As we close our conversation, I’m already ready for a return visit to see Bacon work his magic. His words and candidness are a reminder mixologists pour imagination and personality into every drink they serve and every purposeful step of their journeys.
600T: 600 T St. NW, DC; 600tdc.com // @600tcocktails
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