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For bar owner Tom Brown, a 23-year-old Willett rye and vintage Dom Pérignon aren’t so sacred that they can’t be combined into a cocktail. In fact, his new bar Left Door, opening Jan. 5 just off 14th Street NW, will have a range of high-end Champagnes and rare spirits mixed into drinks—as well as something for the beer and a shot crowd.
“I’m always a socialist when it comes to drinking. It shouldn’t be kings and princes who get the best. And I feel like cocktails are an everyday luxury,” Brown says. “So if you come in and order a Manhattan, I don’t care if you’re President Obama or the busboy that works at Black Cat… You’re going to get the same care and attention in that Manhattan. Now, if you’ve got a big bank account and want it made with 23-year-old rye, I’m completely willing to do that too.”
With that in mind, many of the cocktails at Left Hand will be offered in tiers. A twist on a Sazerac, for example, will be available with three types of brandy at three different price points. Likewise, combos will come in varying levels. The “for the people” option—a can of Tiger beer and a shot of Maker’s Mark or Old Overholt—will go for around $9. Then there’s “the Czar:” a glass of Champagne and Calvados apple brandy for around $20. And for big spenders, there’s “the oligarch” with Louis Roederer Cristal and an ounce of caviar. Left Door will likely be the only place in town where you’ll be able to get Cristal by the glass (for about $75), and the Champagne will also make its way into cocktails.
“We’re not afraid to use nice ingredients here. There’s nothing so nice that you can’t augment the flavor or change the flavor,” Brown says. “Purists might not like it, but we only have 37 seats, so they don’t have to come.”
While some drinks might get pricey, Brown says his goal is to offer them at a good value for the ingredients involved. At the same time, Brown says there’s no way he could offer a $50 martini. For that classic, there will be just one option made with Beefeater and Dolin Blanc vermouth.
In total, the cocktail menu will feature about 20 drinks—10 classics and 10 original recipes. Head bartender and partner Mick Perrigo, who worked with Brown at now-closed The Passenger and Hogo, is making bitters and tinctures, which he’ll rely on exclusively over store-bought brands as time goes on. (Left Door’s other partners include Dmitri Monis—brother of Komi‘s Johnny Monis—and real estate investor and developer Jared Jablonka.)
Cocktails will be served in vintage glassware. Brown has seen other bars use mismatched antiques, but he wanted everything to be uniform, so he settled on a brand that had a sizable inventory. (And if you have any royal fern Libbey glasses, Brown will buy them from you!)
For those who don’t want booze, there’s tea—”the only civilized non-alcoholic beverage,” Brown says. He got a brief education in tea working recently at Slipstream and plans to serve it in silver-plated porcelain teapots with cups and saucers.
Left Door doesn’t have a kitchen, but it will offer some snacks like olives, cheeses, and caviar.
Previously a one-bedroom apartment, the bar has kind of a “Victorian whorehouse” look with antique chandeliers and green velvet arm chairs. Brown and Perrigo built everything—from the bar to the speakers to reconfigured church pews. A custom-made stained glass panel for Maker’s Mark (the bar’s rail bourbon) greets guests at the top of the stairs. And “warm tobacco pipe”-scented candles are being used to get rid of the new bar smell.
Left Door, 1345 S St. NW; leftdoordc.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman