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Where: Smoke & Barrel, 2471 18th St. NW
Bartender response: “So, like, kind of a party?”
What we got: Buffalo Trace with homemade chai bitters, served up
How it tasted: Nutty, with a touch of sweetness. The subtle chai flavor balanced out the Buffalo Trace’s bite and left a pleasant, spicy aftertaste.
Improv points (1-5): 4. This was too smooth and too simple to be on the level of a tequila-heady holiday; it wasn’t something we could slam, chug, or inappropriately conflate with the Battle of Puebla. Even though the cocktail wasn’t much of a party, its stellar taste (it’s one of the better ones we’ve had recently) left us happy to sip it while sitting at a relatively quiet bar.
Where: Boundary Stone, 116 Rhode Island Ave. NW
Bartender response: “You gotta give me a little bit more. What kind of booze do you like?”
What we got: An Old-Fashioned
How it tasted: Just like an Old-Fashioned
Improv points (1-5): 2. After discovering we like bourbon, the bartender suggested this classic—but it’s starting to feel like an Old-Fashioned is the only bourbon-based drink barkeeps have in their back pockets. We did appreciate that this one was heavy on the citrus.
Where: Shaw’s Tavern, 520 Florida Ave. NW
Bartender response: “I hate when people ask [me to suggest a drink].”
What we got: A Madras, with vodka, cranberry, and orange juice
How it tasted: Gross! The pulpy OJ and cranberry too clearly recalled our years in the dorms (and we have a particular distaste for pulp, anyway).
Improv points (1-5): 2. The bar at the long-dry tavern is poorly designed: There’s a good 4–5 feet of bartop, glassware, and beer taps between bartender and customer, making it hard to convey a request. Since that’s not the staff’s fault, we’ll give a handicap. But between the less-than-inspiring response and the collegiate-level cocktail, we can only offer one improv point on the merits of our experience.