Congratulations to the Columbia Room, winner of this years Best American Cocktail Bar at Tales of the Cocktail! Truth be told I am a long time fan back to when the Columbia Room was a hidden back bar at the original Passenger.
The Columbia Room itself is actually three places in one, a tasting room with unique seasonal creations, the “Spirits Library” which includes a wide range of a la carte cocktail/food options, and the Punch Garden deck – an outside area with punches and other similar options. Each reflect Drink Company partners Derek Brown, Angie Fetherston, and JP Fetherston’s commitment to creating the highest possible quality drinks while creating the best possible custom service based experience. It really is all about the people.
Recommending a drink at the Columbia Room is like picking your favorite child. There isn’t one, and even if there was you could never admit it! So, in the spirit of this blog allow me to give some advice on how to maximize your experience at the Columbia Room.
The full Spirits Library drink menu is available in the Punch Garden, so for the sake of this post I’ll split recommendations into two categories, the Tasting Room and the rest of the place (Spirits Library and Punch Garden).
The Tasting Room features three and five course cocktail menus with small food pairings. Food here is really to compliment the drink and should not be considered a meal. Drinks are unique, seasonal and extraordinarily creative. Personally I’d be stunned if 10% of the visitors could look at the menu and see anything they’ve had before. You will need to make reservations ahead of time. Menus are posted and can be reviewed ahead of time, although not sure why one would want to know – be surprised!
Drinks vary so much that talking about them is difficult. One example however should give the feeling for both the experience and the forethought put into every aspect. Don’t remember the name, but the first drink I had there was described as standing on a seaside cliff in Scotland while taking a long deep breath of the sea and land. I’ve never been to Scotland, but I felt like I had. JP spent some formative years in Scotland, so you know where this came from.
I’ve experienced two different menus and have never been disappointed by any drink. One note, if you do five courses I recommend eating before.
The Spirits Library/Punch Garden is more of a standard a la carte menu option, well only if those options are world-class. Sitting on the deck (where the Punch Garden is) on an early spring day is truly an awesome experience. Easily in my top three bar experiences ever.
Here are three recommendations for maximizing the experience on the deck.
1) Thoroughly review the menus. There are a wide variety of cocktails, everything from unique creations to variations on classics (for example, multiple variations on an Old Fashioned), a variety of highballs (two ingredient cocktails) and even non-alcoholic options.
Identify the drinks that perfectly match drinks you’ve had before. Now cross those of your mental list! Break out of the rut, aim big!
2) Look for cocktails that are based off well-known options but that have an obvious twist. I found the Parisian Sazerac No. 2 particularly tasty. The taste is similar to a Sazerac yet somehow more defined, intense, yet smooth. Probably the Armagnac and the roasted star anise – unique ingredients fused with a classic.
3) Never be afraid to ask for a recommendation. I find this is particularly helpful if you can point out what you are looking for, either in terms of flavor, a specific drink or even in relation to a drink you already had. On my last visit I mentioned my favorite drink is a Manhattan, that I really liked the Parisian Sazerac No. 2 and was looking for something liquor forward. Jake made a drink that was basically a Dark Manhattan but with a coffee liqueur I’ve never heard of. The coffee liqueur added a deep, rich flavor that enhanced the bourbon. It. Was. Amazing!
FYI, like the Tasting Room food here is a compliment to the drinks. It would be difficult to make a meal out of the food, although it does pair very well with the drinks.
As I said earlier, the place really is about the people. Staff members are friendly, extraordinarily well-trained and highly motivated to give you a world-class cocktail experience. Hopefully this post helps, but when in doubt rely on the staff. You won’t be disappointed.