Cocktail of the Week
As far as acclaimed drinking establishments in Washington D.C., one place stands the test of time over all others – the Round Robin Bar at the Willard Hotel. Perhaps it’s the long and storied history, the impressive roster of influential guests, or its long-standing reputation as a gathering place for high society
This uniquely Washington landmark, steps from the White House, transports visitors back in time, to an era of grand and luxurious hotels. Jim Hewes has been entertaining the well-to-do and mixing classic cocktails at the Round Robin since 1986.
Conversing with Hewes reminds you of a golden age when hotel bars hired top-notch bartenders who were as skilled in the art of conversation as they were at mixing libations. Whether you are a celebrity, a tourist, a politician or a local, Hewes will make you feel at home and, if you like, provide you with a witty and enjoyable history lesson.
The Round Robin is well known for its mint julep. The recipe hasn’t changed since Kentucky Congressman Henry Clay introduced the Southern-style drink to Washington in the 1800’s. The julep aside, the Willard is revered by those seeking a quality cocktail in a stately environment. Hewes can shake up a first-rate martini with pizzazz and mix an impressive repertoire of classic drinks. One of those concoctions is the hotel’s namesake cocktail, the Willard. This tipple was invented to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Willard in 1947. Hewes uncovered the recipe years ago in a James Beard article on hotel bars and cocktails in the New York Times.
Like many classic cocktails, the Willard starts out with a gin base. Hewes recommends a dry gin such as Plymouth or Beefeater, in lieu of a sweeter gin, which can be too overbearing. The recipe also includes peach and apricot brandies along with a dash of lime juice. While the original recipe called for fresh squeezed lime, Hewes prefers to use Rose’s lime juice. “I like to use Rose’s, reason being, that it keeps a clarity to the drink, “He says. “It’s not cloudy, you can look right through it and see what you’re drinking.”
The Willard has a strong gin rush up front but finishes with a refreshingly sweet touch from the fruit liqueurs. It’s a timeless drink. ”We like to keep things simple here,” Hewes says. “It’s a classic cocktail – two sips. One is not enough. Three is too many.”
The circular Round Robin bar is perched in an elegant room on the Eastern end of the hotel. According to Hewes, the bar has always had a similar arrangement. “There has been a bar on this corner since the early 1800’s. Thomas Jefferson sat here after he left office,” Hewes informs. “The room has always had a round configuration. At one time ‘meet me at the rotunda’ meant ‘meet me at the Willard’ - not the Capitol.”
During his tenure, Hewes has served many important guests. “History is always happening here. You never know who’s going to walk in and have a drink,” he says. “Heads of states, captains of industry, entertainers, you name it.”
When people ask Hewes if anyone famous been there, his line is usually, “Well I didn’t catch his name, but he must have been famous because he had the Pope driving him around.”
The Willard Cocktail “Circa 1947” 1 1/4 oz dry Gin ¼ oz Apricot brandy ¼ oz peach brandy ½ oz lime use (Rose’s lime or fresh lime - your preference)
Pout over ice, shake and strain into a cocktail glass. Garnish with an orange peel and a cherry. Readers may sample the Willard at the Round Robin bar located at 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest. Ingredients to make the Willard cocktail may be purchased at Dixie Liquor (3429 M Street NW).