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Where: Bandolero, 3241 M St. NW
Bartender Response: “We have a few drinks, but we’re out of the Bitter Handshake.”
What We Got: An El Capo made with Fidencio mezcal, Campari, Carpano Antica vermouth, and two dashes of Laphroaig scotch.
How It Tasted: Mildly bitter with an undeniably smoky and peaty aftertaste.
Improv Points (1-5): 5. Bartenders typically use whiskey as a base and add bitter Campari modestly. Bandolero creatively served bitter Campari, smokey mezcal, and sweet vermouth as a base, then added the notoriously peaty Laphroaig like most bartenders would add a couple dashes of bitters.
Where: Hanoi House, 2005 14th St. NW
Bartender Response: “Whiskey, gin, or vodka?” We opted for whiskey or gin.
What We Got: A Negroni made with gin, sweet vermouth, Campari, and an orange slice.
How It Tasted: The bitterness of the Campari was light, but at least the gin stood out.
Improv Points (1-5): 4. This drink was moderate on the Campari, but decent. A more unique drink would have earned Hanoi House a higher grade for creativity.
Where: Zengo, 781 7th St. NW
Bartender Response: “Would you like an old fashioned or a pisco sour?”
What We Got: An old fashioned with Maker’s Mark bourbon and Angostura bitters muddled with sugar, a maraschino cherry, and an orange wedge.
How It Tasted: Appropriately oaky with a fair amount of sweetness.
Improv Points (1-5): 1. The bourbon was excellent, but that’s not the point. Only two dashes of Angostura didn’t cut it for our request. The only thing bitter about this drink was our reaction.