The first place we visited in Washington was Bourbon. We went to the Adams Morgan location (there are two). Adams Morgan is a youthful upscale neighborhood in the northern part of the District. It is rife with interesting restaurants, shops, apartments, and people. Bourbon is right in the heart of the neighborhood, so you could comfortably make it a part of a larger evening’s perambulations.
Bourbon does not have the feel of a “Craft Cocktail Bar”. With exposed, rough brick walls, battered dark wooden tables and bar, and fairly dark lighting, you’d think it was just a nice neighborhood tavern. You could, and I bet a lot of patrons do, enjoy a nice meal without ever realizing quite what is going on here. I found that to be very pleasant, both in concept and execution. This is a place where the cocktailian can bring his buddies who think the whole “drinky thing” is silly, and everybody will still be happy. The food (which to our sorrow the next morning, we did not eat enough of, early enough) is very well executed tavern fare, tweaked to the upscale. What little we did eat was excellent, in particular the sweet potato chips. It is damn hard to make sweet potato chips with the same consistency and texture as those from regular potatoes, and they succeeded about as well as I’ve ever seen. The sliders were also delicious and symbolized the same balance as Bourbon’s decor: They were superficially ordinary enough to make the conventional diner happy, with just enough subtle twist to give the more adventurous something to hang his hat on.
Once you start delving into the drinks menu, the place becomes really interesting for folks like me. While the cocktail list is all interesting-looking originals, the real strength here is the spirits selection, especially the bourbons (duh). There are four pages of bourbons, ryes, scotches, and other whisk(e)ys. All are offered as two ounce pours, and most can also be tried in half ounce tots as well. If you want to expand your whiskey experience, you could not choose a better, more practical environment to try what the world has to offer. (Actually, you can, but that’s the next post.) If you want a little help with you whiskey adventures, they offer a variety of pre-selected flights as well. There are flights to explore different schools of bourbon and rye, as well as between entire different spirits. There’s also a fight of reserves for $40 bucks that I wish I’d felt flush enough to try.
Bourbon was a great environment to meet up with friends, with its manageable light and noise levels, and that is what we did. We had planned to meet Chris Hwalek and Matt Hamlin here, and SeanMike Whipkey also managed to make it moments after we arrived. As an added bonus, through the magic of a Twitter mention of our destination, Jake Parrott joined us as well. Both the booths and the bar are conducive to amorphous groups, so it was a good choice for our launching point upon a nation’s worth of bar hopping.
In conclusion, Bourbon is a great place for a light meal, and certain kinds of serious drinking. The whiskey selection is slightly over the top, and the rest of the inventory is extensive as well. There is a good selection of beer and wine too, for the amateurs. It is not a destination for an evening of mixology, however. Their cocktails are interesting and very well-made, but they are not the focus of the operation. For a Washington-area resident, Bourbon should definitely be part of your bag of tricks when planning your night life. For visitors, I’d recommend it highly if you are a whiskey aficionado, but there are places I’d send you to first for more adventurous food and especially cocktails.
This review is part of my larger Great Cross-Country Bar Crawl series. Here is the main post for our Washington stop, with links to all reviews for DC.