Each December marks a landmark day in American history – the repeal of Prohibition. Without that turn of events, we’d likely still be turning to our neighborhood speakeasy to quench our thirst. While speakeasies aren’t a necessity today, they still hold appeal – for their cozy ambiance and retro nostalgia, not to mention fabulous drinks. In a toast to our 21st Amendment, meet the brains behind the bar at three locals.
On Tap: What are you doing to differentiate yourself from other speakeasies?
Daniel Schuettinger: PX just celebrated its 10-year anniversary, and when we first opened, there were perhaps two other establishments in the country that you could consider speakeasies. We also have the advantage of physical history. The building we’re in is over 100 years old, and the bar itself was originally an illegal gambling den.
OT: How has the menu changed since your opening?
DS: We generally like to keep the ingredients seasonal. We do, however, have a small section of the menu reserved for PX standards. These are all fan favorites – cocktails that guests have been enjoying since we opened.
OT: Do you think you would have risked running a speakeasy in the Prohibition era?
DS: I don’t know that I would have risked running one myself, but I would have absolutely worked in one. I imagine the atmosphere would have been so much fun, and everyone enjoys a hint of danger.
OT: Why do you think retro establishments like PX are so popular?
DS: Our culture adores nostalgia, and I think people will always want to visit places that hearken back to the past.
OT: PX has a limited seating of 25 patrons. Is that for a layer of exclusivity and intimacy?
DS: It’s certainly not out of a desire to be exclusive, though there is that perception. As a result, there is an excellent feeling of intimacy at PX, and we have a strict “no standing” policy to enhance that.
- Campfire Cobbler
- Grouse-blended scotch
- Cherry Heering
- Smoked vanilla syrup
- Touch of Laphroig
PX Bar: 728 King St. Alexandria, VA; www.barpx.com
Literary Cocktails in the Reading Room
On Tap: How did the Reading Room get started as a speakeasy?
Chantal Tseng: Last year, owner Paul Ruppert of Petworth Citizen and Upshur Street Books recruited me to help lead a bar program in the Reading Room, which is the lending library area in the back of both places. In keeping with the ambiance, I proposed creating changing weekly menus of cocktails inspired by literature.
OT: Why do you think people enjoy reading and drinking simultaneously?
CT: Well, both are certainly forms of escapism at times, and can therefore go hand-in-hand. Also, many folks like to read at bars already. Rather than smoking while drinking at a bar, it is often nice to have a book to keep you company.
OT: How do you decide on the themes for the reading lounge?
CT: I choose a different author or set of authors every weekend based on what I feel like reading, and based on timing and relevance. For example, we began the month of November with Bob Dylan as my muse since he has just made news as a newly honored Nobel Laureate.
OT: How do you keep such a robust book collection?
CT: All the books on the shelves are donations. People frequently bring enough books to keep the shelves full.
OT: Does the Reading Room have any plans for the holidays?
CT: Whenever there are five Thursdays in one month, we host an Absinthe Night, which we call #5thColumnThursdays. We will showcase our absinthe fountain, and have a catered selection of featured absinthes as well as cocktails.
- Roland in Spanish Harlem
- Jensen’s Gin
- Alexandro Amontillado
- Gran Classico Bitter
- Barley tea
- Lemon twist
The Reading Room: 829 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.petworthcitizen.com
On Tap: Why did you choose Sugar Shack Donuts as Captain Gregory’s home?
Sam Brooks: Our location being inside of Sugar Shack Donuts has been so much fun to be a part of. It is always fun to watch people’s reactions when they see a wall slide open to reveal a secret bar inside of a donut shop.
OT: How has Captain Gregory done in this part of Alexandria?
SB: Even though we have been open for nearly 18 months now and are busy, I am constantly reminded about how few people know that Captain Gregory’s exists.
OT: What are some items on your current drink menu that patrons can look forward to?
SB: Printing a new menu each and every day has proven to be a great way to keep setting creative challenges for ourselves behind the bar. One cocktail that we particularly love is titled “The Holidays Are Over, But I Still Want Stuffing.” It combines our own caramelized sweet onion vermouth with celery, sage, thyme and caraway. Other drinks include an Old Fashioned made with a canned yam-infused bourbon and a spiced yam syrup, as well as a rye infused with toasted pecans and spices, which is then washed with a miso brown butter.
OT: Do you consider yourself more laid back than other “speakeasies?”
SB: In general, I think the atmosphere that we try to cultivate here is one free of judgment and pretension. Everyone that works at Captain Gregory’s really loves what they do, and we just want to share that with as many people as we can. It means so much to us that people take the time to come and visit our tiny hole in the wall to see what we are working on. We try not to take that for granted.
OT: What is your favorite part of being involved with this establishment?
SB: Working with people who keep me challenged and grounded every day has been so rewarding for me. Our staff is comprised of some of the most talented people in the industry, and it is such an honor to work alongside them every night.
- Rococo Day Bed
- St. Germain
Inside Sugar Shack Donuts: 804 N Henry St. Alexandria, VA; www.captaingregorys.com