Thursday, August 28, 2008

Speak Easy

I've enjoyed cocktails in London and Paris, Boston and Las Vegas.

I've been to bars that were big and trendy and those that were small and cozy, but I had never been to a bar like this before.

The PX Lounge is a hidden speakeasy just strokes across the Potomac from Washington, D.C. I found the secret spot after doing some recon on the Nation's Capital in preparation for my business trip earlier this month, determined to experience something unusual.

PX Lounge was the perfect fix.

The bar is a true speakeasy in that it has no signage, no hint of establishment. Instead, guests in the know seek out what appears to be a traditional D.C. area, red brick townhouse. The only sign that something's afoot is the bright blue light bulb glimmering in the pendant lantern hung beside the red door.

Patrons ring a door bell and wait (and wait and wait - in some cases) for someone to open a small, gated slot in place of a peep hole. Smart guests will have made a reservation ahead of time with Clinton, and inform the mysterious soul they're, "here for the PX and have a reservation under the name XXX." Spontaneous folks will have to beg for mercy from the discerning hostess on the other side of the door. Word to the wise: if you dress well (i.e. no sneakers and jeans, jacket for the boys and something sparkly/festive for the girls), you will be more likely to gain admittance in PX. Confession: I wore my dressy jeans to the bar, but it was a Wednesday night and I didn't catch any beef. The men I saw were dressed in a mix of jackets or button downs with rolled up sleeves. I'm guessing W/Th are a bit more lax than F/S.

If you don't have a reservation, save yourself some embarrassment and a) Check to see the blue lantern is actually lit and b) Look for the Scull and Crossbones flying in the third floor window. If the flag's there and the lamp's on, then you're in luck - the hostess is seating guests.

The reason for all the exclusivity, you ask?

Well, PX only has 38 seats in the whole bar, and they don't accept standing room only. The Lounge is only open Wednesday through Saturday, and Hump Day was my only opportunity to get in. My Lexington Twin, Nat, lives in the D.C. area so we decided to check the place out while catching up over cocktails.

We walked up the stairs and found a glam jewel box of a place, completely ensconced in crystal chandeliers and flickering candle light. I wouldn't have been surprised if I had seen Bogart, Hepburn (the wild one) or even Dorothy Parker. These days, PX Lounge looks like it's a perfect haven for the likes of Clooney and Roberts.

We opted for two seats at the end of the bar and were promptly greeted by a cool drink of water named Sebastian.

Normally I hate the word Yummy. I think it's sugary sweet and hearkens back to the days of pigtails and Easy Bake Ovens. As much as I loathe the word, it's the only thing I can think of to describe Sebastian. He was smooth, he was handsome and he was the epitome of gentleman.

Like a rugged Ken doll.

But I digress.

Just as delicious were the concoctions Sebastian whipped up for Nat and me. Our Doctor of Drinks was patient as we poured over the long list of custom cocktails. PX Lounge features a variety of original mixers - no Cosmos and Dirty Martinis here. No, the cocktails are made with ingredients and tonics you've never sipped on in your life. Todd Thrasher is the brainchild behind the concept. Magazines have called Thrasher one of the world's best mixologists, and I'd agree, considering the variety of homemade bitters and tonics at the bartender's disposal.

Nat and I spent a good bit of time pouring over the drink menu (which changes weekly) and I settled on a Smoker's Delight - made with a tobacco serum, honey syrup, honeycomb and Basil Hayden's bourbon. It was delicious.

Smoker's Delight - and a delight it was. You can see the variety of homemade bitters in the number of bottles edging the bar.

Natalie and I enjoyed several other drinks, including the champagne cocktail, made with cherry bitters, cherries, and sugar. Sebastian placed the white sugar in a little brass dish, drizzled it with a brandy and then set it on fire. The sugary flame flickered a blue, mysterious glow, and then Sebastian put the fire out and sprinkled the singed sugar in the cocktail glass. It truly was an art form - one I could appreciate.

All of the imbibing resulted in a desperate need for the powder room. I found the unisex restroom, which was beautifully appointed and smelled like jasmine. While taking care of business, I noticed the prominent wall hanging all guests spied - the Rules of PX Lounge. The list mentions the spiffed-up dress code and it also says you're not supposed to tell others about the whereabouts of PX Lounge (oops). The last rule on the list was the most obvious - To stay in good graces, order something more than just a vodka tonic.

That would be hilarious. And highly embarrassing - at least in this joint.

Most cocktails on the menu are $11-$12, but there were a few marquee drinks on the list that topped out at $16. Every drink I had was worth it's weight in gold. Another delicious concoction, the Paw Paw, was made with papaya, lime juice, champagne vinegar and Maker's Mark. I was expecting a sweet bourbon-y cocktail, but it was actually far more tart and substantial. It reminded me of a fruit (not fruity) flavored Bloody Mary.

It was dynamite.

I also enjoyed Eamonn's Cocktail, made with yuzu, red lemonade and Powers Irish Wiskey. Yuzu is very sour Japanese citrus fruit that is quite hard to find in the States. This drink was far more potent, but I'm the kind of girl who sometimes fancy a Scotch on the rocks, so it wasn't anything I couldn't handle.

We walked around Old Town a bit, sensing many places had rolled up the welcome carpet and barred the doors. Nat dropped me back at the hotel at around 12:30 - we said goodbye while hugging and talking about a future festive occasion to mark on the calendar.

PX Lounge

Open Wed - Sat, 7pm - ?

728 King St. Alexandria, VA

Look for the blue light - Around the corner from Eamonn's

reservations taken via


5chw4r7z said...

The PX Lounge place sounds really cool!
Wonder if theres any hidden gems like that in Cincy?

Matt said...

I like you cuz you are not afraid to drink!

You need to spotlight more cute/sexy/quirky, over 30 men in your posts.

Inquiring readers want to know...

Hope all is well!

Denae said...

Loving this post...I've waited a long time to read about PX Lounge and I can't wait to visit. I went to a place like this in NYC where you had to know the address, password and door to knock on. It wasn't as swank as the place you went into and the bartenders were NOT as