Friday, January 7, 2011

Repeal Day Ball 2010 at the Maison Biltmore

When Nicole and I arrived at the Maison Biltmore in Adam's Morgan each window was like a diorama with imbibers bustling inside, busy looking for cocktails.  Sharp dressed men and dazzled women lined the block leading up to the entrance.  We could hardly wait to get inside of the mansion for this year's hullabaloo of hootch.

Immediately at the door, Nicole and I were greeted by photographer Jim Webb, who snapped a few flattering pictures.  Fentiman's, a UK-based botanical soda company, provided props and costume accessories.  

These cartoonish items, like a top hat or a bowler hat, were ostensibly within reach for use in the photograph.  If one were feeling particularly raunchy, a Victorian dominatrix-like woman was available to help some chap document his brief moment of indignity.  We passed on the gracious opportunity.  

Silly cards littered the classical cocktail tables up ahead.  These cards were, as my dear mother says, "fresh."  The cleft made by one's hooked pointer-finger would fill in some cheeky image of a character's bum (see top of this post for an example).  These party favors were quite immature and, thus, fantastically hilarious.

A table of punch welcomed the guests within a few yards of the entrance.  Drinkers bubbled about.  Both Nicole and I had a glass of the punch and it was clear that the sipper was a winner.  I quickly recognized the magical ingredient: bitters - a lot of delicious bitters.  We turned our attention on where were wanted to venture next in the house.

Two bartenders commanded each room dressed for the era they occupied and each served a cocktail. These cocktails essentially embodied the spirit (intentional pun) of the 1800s, 1900s, 1920s, 1940s, 1960s, 1980s, and the future

We made our way up the grand staircase passing the cocktailians who lined the walls.  My lady and I chose to move forward by beginning at the end, the future.  In this room, Gina Chersevani and Owen Thomson appeared less like they were mixing cocktails and more like they were breaking ground on cold fusion in a room that looked something like the inside of an alkaline battery.

One freezing cold apocalyptic cocktail melted in your mouth leaving a caipirinha taste.  Shrunken into candy dots were the flavors of Mojitos or Blue Hawaiians.  Attendees packed the room.

Owen brought us the startling vision of booze in a dystopian universe.  Utilizing a little spherification, he showed his guests how the drunkard overcomes his or her addiction in the future by simply reconstituting a cocktail into a slippery noodle.  In that form, it's presumed that one could barely swallow this futuristic sling fast enough to heighten his or her own blood alcohol content.  I assumed that in the future over-serving would be rendered obsolete and intoxication would simply be ballyhoo of the past.  Apocolyptic indeed!

Anyway, the following room possessed that unmistakable fedora feel.  Adam Bernbach built his guests the most handsome Sloe Gin Fizzes I think I've ever seen.  JP Fetherston fussed up 3:1 martinis (that's 3 parts gin to 1 part dry vermouth or 3 martinis to 1 lunch).  Both craftsmen toiled to occupy each drinker's hand with a tipple.


The irony of Fetherson's dapper profile, as he pointed out, is that the clothes he wears now (i.e. 2010) would prompt the average American from the early 1960s to think he was a some kind of communist.  On this day, however, he tranformed into a Madison Avenue capitalist draped in a Brooks Brothers suit just trying to sell you the perfect cocktail.

We moved on.

Dale Degroff's mixologist fame was born out of the work he did in the Rainbow Room during the 1980s.  I was thrilled to meet the man for the first time.  He truly oozed that legendary New Yorker swagger.  Even when it appeared as if Degroff was just tossing together a few ingredients the Cosmopolitan he assembled was balanced and sharp. 

Regrettably, I missed the opportunity to enjoy John Hogan's, Jeff "Beachbum" Berry's, Tom Brown's and others' cocktails.  We just could not consume every drink. 

As we pressed forward, exploring each room and greeting each mixologist we discovered folks we had not seen since last year's tomfoolery: Jeffrey Morganthaler, Edward Hamilton, Christian Raphael Gaal, et cetera.  We also had the pleasure of meeting for the first time Dan Searing of Room 11 and Dave Wondrich among others.

One also couldn't help but notice this time around the way that the Repeal Day Ball seems to keynote the December holiday parties.  And if one didn't notice, he or she would have immediately felt it with the duet between Degroff and Katie Nelson of The Passenger

In the main living room, they sang the soothing Frank Loesser holiday classic Baby, It's Cold OutsideBoth singers/bartenders naturally captured the delicate ritual of flirtation and persuation that the song reveals.  But more interestingly, the Degroff and Nelson moment was clearly the simulacrum of a craft-bartending revival that has now extended itself to a next generation.  In a way, I felt like we were witnessing and celebrating a succession. 

Nicole and I met some illustrious individuals at last year's Repeal Day Ball.  This year's adventure was no different.  It is quite a way to celebrate the bar and booze professions and with a deeper sense of history than the incorrigible Bartender's Ball (no disrespect to the other bartender-centric shit-show in DC).  Thanks to the folks in the DC Craft Bartender's Guild for putting on another dastardly good time. 

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