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7 Unmissable Cocktails You Can Only Find In DC

The following was written for boozedancing.com, by Savannah Cordova of Fused Seven

Few things compare to the joy of trying a perfectly balanced, delightfully surprising new cocktail. Of course, as one’s drinking career progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to find such cocktails – there’s only so many espresso martinis you can drink before the novelty wears off.

But fear not, DC residents. The density of bars, restaurants and nightlife spots in DC means that delicious new cocktails are constantly being innovated – you just have to know where to look. On that note, whether you’re a negroni novice or an aperitif aficionado, you’re bound to be impressed by these seven cocktails in Washington, DC: a collection you quite literally won’t find anywhere else.

1. Debbie Done Did (The Imperial)

An undeniably enchanting cocktail, the Debbie Done Did is a stellar companion to any meal at The Imperial. Not only does this cocktail taste like a bright fall day, it also contains a completely singular base liquor: Milagro Reposado Tequila infused with honeynut squash. Meletti Amaro and maple syrup complete the drink’s rich flavor profile – a profile which would pair exceptionally well with The Imperial’s baked brie appetizer, roasted koginut squash, or grilled quail with sweet potato purée. Those eager to try these pairings should make haste, however! Along with several other intriguingly spiced cocktails, the Debbie Done Did is part of The Imperial’s seasonal offerings and may not be available forever.

2. Never Been Kissed (Seven Reasons)

If tequila’s a bit much for you but you still love the taste of agave, don’t miss the Never Been Kissed at Seven Reasons. This cocktail of Ilegal Mezcal and Rujero Bolivian Brandy packs a punch, yet is well-calibrated with flavors of lime, beet, and strawberry, as well as a frothy egg white finish. It’s a great drink for happy hour – deceptively pink, like a false kiss – or on the side of the halibut tiradito in pineapple-lychee marinade or the tartar de salmon with mango aguachile. (Note that the Seven Reasons food menu changes daily, so you’re never guaranteed a specific dish). Finally, if the Never Been Kissed isn’t your cup of mezcal, consider the Mango Bajito or the Pisco Nikkei; these are equally vibrant, if a bit less challenging flavor-wise.

3. Zombie (Tiki on 18th)

Speaking of challenging cocktails, you’d struggle to find a more formidable opponent than the Zombie. Though Tiki on 18th has over a dozen potent tiki drinks, the Zombie stands alone: it’s made of rum, lemon, orange, curacao, grenadine and absinthe. “Pay the tab. Call an Uber,” the menu advises those who dare try it. Indeed, the Zombie could easily be a night-ender if you don’t pace yourself – so make sure to sip alongside generous portions of Filipino-inspired food, like deep-fried lumpia spring rolls and tasty pansit noodles. As for the other drinks on the menu, you’ll be in a pretty good position no matter what… unless you attempt the Scorpion Bowl alone (in which case, you’re definitely going to need that Uber).

4. Ole Skrewball Old Fashioned (Swingers)

Speaking of zombies, here’s another Halloween-y cocktail, albeit one you can enjoy any time of the year: the Ole Skrewball Old Fashioned. It contains Maker’s Mark 46 Bourbon, Skrewball Peanut Butter Whiskey, and Ole Smokey Salted Caramel Whiskey – in other words, a sweet tooth’s dream come true. Still, it’s nicely tempered with bitters made from real orange skins, served in a perfectly sized glass. You’ll find the Ole Skrewball at Swingers Dupont Circle, where you can also enjoy lighter drinks such as the Mulligan Mule and the Easy Does It Spritz – and perhaps best of all, have them brought to you right there on the course. For those in search of amazing drinks and a fun way to burn off the calories, this one’s for you.

5. White Coconut Espresso Martini (L’Ardente) 

Most strong cocktails are known for their soporific properties, but this one is sure to jolt you awake. Yes, we poked fun at espresso martinis earlier, but L’Ardente’s version is transcendent: a sumptuous blend of Belvedere Vodka, espresso and salted coconut cacao foam. It even has its own special spot on L’Ardente’s menu, ruling their entire dessert drinks section. That said, the Espresso Dolce is so rich, we wouldn’t recommend having it with or even after a large meal. But it’s the perfect cocktail for an indulgent happy hour – and if you ever need a pick-me-up, the sugar and espresso will keep you going for hours.

6. Michelada (Destino)

Whether you’re nursing a hangover or just desperate to try something different, Destino has the cure: their sweet-and-spicy Michelada, “like they serve at our favorite cantina in downtown Oaxaca.” This Bloody Mary cousin typically contains beer, tomato juice, and hot sauce; Destino elevates the recipe with citrusy lager, Mexican chamoy sauce, and salsa picante. Needless to say, this drink hits the spot all on its own, but it also goes beautifully with Destino’s queso oaxaca and scallop tostadas. And don’t count their other cocktails out, either! From their Chalqueño made of blue corn bourbon to their “Manzana-tini” of green apple, thyme and elderflower, there’s no shortage of gloriously unique drinks at Destino.

7. The Cat’s Pajamas (barmini)

DC cocktail enthusiasts will know we’ve saved the most exclusive for last. Anything at José Andrés’ barmini (a play on “minibar”) is bound to blow your mind – it’s getting a reservation that’s the challenge. If you manage to get in for their late-fall cocktail flight, though, you can look forward to the Cat’s Pajamas: an ethereal cocktail of omija berry-infused gin, topped with an aromatic cloud of chamomile and lemongrass. Barmini is known for their use of liquid nitrogen in cocktails, so you can expect many more drinks that make you feel like you’re walking on air. And of course, after visiting barmini, you’ll have plenty of interesting tidbits to share with friends – Andrés is nothing short of a modern alchemist, and whatever cocktail you sample is sure to be a talking point for weeks to come.

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