The Passenger // Washington D.C.
Is bartending a male dominated profession? Beats me, but it would seem like it from our interview sample thus far. But let’s put that issue to rest with our first interview with the fairer sex- Alex Bookless who tends the bar at the Passenger in Washington D.C.
Here’s what I read between the lines: Alex knows her shit. In fact, I read one review referring to her as a “surgeon with a vodka bottle.” Also, I think Alex is doing her best to refrain from pulling her hair out when it comes to some of her female patrons on the other side of the bar. So if she won’t say it, I’ll say it for her. Women – order a real drink. You like a cosmo, that’s fine. But doesn’t curiosity alone compel you to at least dabble into the world of cocktails for mature adults. Manhattans, Negronis and Martinezeses (whatever) are only “drinks for men” as long as women let them be.
Okay, maybe I read too much into her answers. Either way, next time you’re in D.C., I think, if curiosity nudges you just a bit, Alex can provide that foray into new and yes, I’ll say it, better cocktails.
What makes the Passenger so special?
The Passenger is a unique bar because we don’t have a printed cocktail menu. We operate under the idea that while you can order a classic cocktail such as a Manhattan or a Martini, you can also tell us what you are in the mood for or what you have a taste for that day. I personally think that we (the drinking public) should stop trying to find the perfect, say, cosmo, and just have the perfect drink for that moment, and most of the time this will not have a name.
I walk into the Passenger for the first time, is there a signature drink that I have to order from you?
While I’m a rye girl at heart, I would have to say my most popular drink is the Cucumber Collins, which has gin, lemon juice, simple syrup, mint and cucumber, served up in a cocktail glass, with a slice of cucumber.
Do most people order off the menu or put fate in your hands?
About half of our customers order classic cocktails and about half put fate in our hands, which is pretty awesome that people trust us that much.
What’s the Columbia Room in relation to the Passenger?
The Columbia Room is our sister bar, located through a side door in the Passenger. They have a prix fixe menu, where they pair innovative drinks with small plates. They are definitely the refined sister to our rowdy brother.
Dessert/candy vodkas seem to be trending in vodka land. Predominately of interest to female palates, can you shed any light from both a consumer and a bartender perspective?
Dessert/candy vodkas probably appeal to females because of their sweetness, and the fact that this masks the alcohol taste. I feel like a lot of these products are artificially sweet. You can have a cocktail with fresh ingredients, or that has been sweetened naturally, and it will be exceedingly better than a bubblegum “martini.” I believe that most people actually do like the taste of alcohol, they just have only had poorly crafted martinis. For people who think they can only drink sweet cocktails I like to suggest trying a Martinez. It’s a classic cocktail using Old Tom Gin, which is slightly sweeter than regular dry gin. If someone can tell me that a cotton-candy cosmo beats this drink, I just might turn in my muddler!
Any trend predictions for the second half of 2011?
I think we are going to continue to see new types of “whiskies” that don’t fall into traditional categories. From the rise of white whiskey, to new whiskey-like products such as the Balcones Rumble and Koval’s Raksi Millet, to Balcones 100% blue-corn whiskey, to Corsair’s Hopped whiskey and Triple Smoke whiskey, I think we will continue to see experimentation and pushing of the conventional boundaries on this front.
With the summer months approaching, what seasonal ingredients are you most looking forward to working with?
I love working with fresh herbs every summer, but this year I’ve been on a watermelon kick. I just made a drink using fresh watermelon, green apples, aged rum, Velvet Falernum and soda water, with a Wray and Nephew over-proof rum float, which is refreshing and boozy, just how I like my summer cocktails.
Best drink you ever served was…
Probably my Rickey since I won a contest for it!
Favorite drink to serve right now is…
I’m loving a drink I made that I call the G&T 2.0- it has equal amounts Hendricks Gin and Cocchi Americano, with Barcode Swedish Herb Bitters, a splash of lemon juice, soda water and a couple cucumber slices, built in a tall glass over ice.
Any recommendations and/or advice for our “mixologists” at home?
Most drinks follow the same general proportions- figure this out and you can make almost anything without a recipe. Also, making home-made syrups is fast and easy and adds an extra dimension to any drink. Just steep your ingredients in warm simple syrup (equal parts warm water and sugar)- a short time for most herbs, a bit longer for spices and fruits, strain, and you’re done! Lastly, buy good products- your drink is only as good as what you put in it!