To open one bar is a daunting task. To open three over the span of a year requires taxing amounts of planning, focus, and hard work. “It’s because we’re idiots,” says Washington, D.C. bartender and restaurateur Derek Brown, who has helped bring craft cocktails to our nation’s capital with stylish speakeasies such as the Passenger and the Columbia Room.
Each of his three new projects has its own narrow focus, too. Mockingbird Hill is a ham-and-sherry bar. At Eat the Rich, customers snack on local oysters and sip seafood-friendly cocktails and sparkling wines. And if you’re at Brown’s just-opened Southern Efficiency, you’re drinking whiskey and ordering from a menu of Dixie standards—though not the ones you might expect. “We want to give you a taste of the South, but not the monolithic South,” says bar manager J.P. Fetherston. “Not just fried chicken and grits.” Instead, the kitchen offers niche favorites such as peanut soup, country captain, and chocolate mayonnaise cake.
The cocktail menu is equally surprising. Though still in its infancy, it currently includes switchel—sweetened apple cider vinegar, a nineteenth-century staple—mixed with blackstrap rum, and a whiskey-and-cola drink made with the bar’s own hickory-smoked cola and served on tap. And then there’s the simple Stone Fence, which Fetherston says that Americans have been sipping for about as long as they’ve been distilling their own whiskey. “I imagine that it was very common out on the early frontier,” he says. “They all had little pot stills, and most of their spirits were probably pretty terrible, so they’d cut them with apple cider or applejack. The drink is really woven into the fabric of the United States.”
There are two ways to make a Stone Fence: in a glass with ice, the old-fashioned way, or in chilled batches that make it even easier to serve to a crowd. Either way, its minimalist framework begs for experimentation. Try it with rye and soft apple cider, as Fetherston serves it at Southern Efficiency, or go colonial with brandy and hard cider.