It has officially been more than a year since bartender Todd Thrasher crossed the Potomac River from his mainstay in Alexandria’s Old Town, to open a rum distillery and bar at The Wharf, the now-established megadevelopment in Southwest DC. Thrasher’s bar, Tiki TNT, brings a healthy dose of island vibes to a city of people often in desperate need of a chill pill.
After years of, in his words, “fancy bartending” at Old Town’s PX and Restaurant Eve, Thrasher was ready to open a place that didn’t take itself too seriously. He also wanted to try his hand at making his own Guyanese-style rum, his favorite liquor. Both of those concepts came to fruition in late 2018, complete with a bar spanning three floors, a giant waterfront smokestack that reads “MAKE RUM NOT WAR,” and polynesian-inspired food and drink.
Potomac Distilling Co. currently churns out gold, white, spiced and green spiced rums. Thrasher has been working on adding a coconut to the lineup, due out this spring, just in time for warm-weather flavors.
With the first year of his joint bar and distilling venture behind him, On Tap caught up with Thrasher to talk about what’s next for Tiki TNT, Potomac Distilling Co. and why he’s over chasing accolades.
On Tap: Looking back at your first year dipping into distilling and having opened Tiki TNT, were there any growing pains or do you wish you had done anything differently?
Todd Thrasher: Yes, yes, yes. I wish I would have added another bathroom and need to make sure I nail everything down on the walls. People like to steal things.
My whole life has been fancy bartending. You know you make six ingredients, take your time, pour ‘em in, go nice and slow. I knew I was opening not that, but I didn’t realize how fast-paced it was gonna be.
On any given night in the summer time we’re doing almost 2,000 menued cocktails a night. You can’t do six-ingredient cocktails, have everything broken apart, and make them in front of the people. I’ve never been a proponent of batching things out, but I had to.
I went to Mai-Kai in Ft. Lauderdale and they showed me how they do everything. I watched how they did stuff, I took a cue from them, and we learned and changed and adapted. So now if a cocktail calls for four or five rums, we mix those ahead of time based on the recipe and have it in a 5-gallon carboy. Instead of having four pickups for that we put all the alcohol together and only have one. It’s almost bartending for dummies at this point.
OT: What does 2020 have in store for Tiki TNT and Thrasher’s Rum?
TT: With Tiki, we’re enclosing the rooftop patio and putting heaters and fans up there. We’re enclosing all that to make it a little more comfortable up on the roof. For the last week in March we’re changing the cocktail menu, the food menu. One of our chefs is leaving to open his own restaurant so we’re in the process of looking for a chef so our food menu will grow. Right now it’s a very big drink destination and we want more people to come out and eat.
As far as the rum we’re in the process of getting a warehouse. Our production is up and we’ve signed on with a new distributor in Pennsylvania, Georgia and Florida.
I haven’t really announced it too much but we added a coconut rum to the lineup. We sold through the first run of it and we’re halfway through the second run. Trying to ramp up the production of the coconut rum especially because I think it will be a big summertime flavor. We made it at 80 proof and there’s no sugar added after distillation. People that are used to Malibu maybe won’t get it at the beginning because there’s no sugar added, but I think people will really dig it. We’ll have a lot more coconut cocktails. We’ve also laid a bunch of barrels down we’re not releasing this year. In June 2021 we will be doing our first barrel release.OT: Craft beer in America has exploded over the past several years. Do you foresee a sort of ‘rum boom’ like that of the craft beer industry?
TT: I think artisan distilling is at a level of where craft beer was 15 years ago. Kind of on that verge of hopefully exploding and blowing up. I chose rum because it’s what I like to drink, but also there was a hole in the artisanal rum market.
OT: The Washington Post’s Tim Carman called Tiki TNT “critic-proof.” What’s your take on that?
TT: I opened a bar, right? I spent more than 15 years worrying about critics. Between Cafe Atlantico, Restaurant Eve and PX, it was always a concern of mine to make sure the critics understood and loved what we did. I opened [Tiki] not for critical approval or to be on any kind of “Best of” list. I opened up Tiki TNT for people to have a neighborhood gathering space. It just so happened I’m in a super touristy area that’s in a new development.
I opened this not for the love of critics. If people come in and they dig it and they are excited about it, that’s great. We’re a neighborhood bar that happens to be at the Wharf. I think a lot of people will do things that they know critics will like and adore and that’s all on trend. That’s not what I set out to do. I just set out to do a bar that hopefully serves really good bar food.
For more information about Todd Thrasher, Tiki TNT or Potomac Distilling, visit here.
Potomac Distilling Company: 1130 Maine Ave. SW, DC; 202-900-4786; www.tikitnt.com