Welcome to Bars You Must Try, the first in a series (until I get bored/forget/distracted/explode) of odes to bars that I believe it is imperative one visits soon. There’s no specific definition of what I’m looking for in the bar, just that I enjoy it, be it speakeasy or mall restaurant, dive or fancy schmancy (that is a technical term), just that it has good drinks and more importantly, good people. We’re starting off this series with Tom Brown’s Left Door, which just opened in January.
It can be easy to simplify how the old Passenger/Columbia Room setup was. Columbia Room was for fancy cocktails, Passenger was not-so-fancy and a bit more simple. Especially after being there on nights like Fridays and Saturdays when it was packed to the brim with the beer and a shot crowd, it could be easy to forget that the folks there could put together some kickass classic cocktails.
After it closed, and the two joints moving to separate locations (Columbia Room is now open in Blagden Alley, and that’ll be the next installment in this series, while the Passenger will reopen later this year in Shaw), Tom Brown opened up Left Door in the Logan Circle area this January after some delays, and it is, perhaps, the essence of a classic cocktail bar.
It’s not ostentatious on the outside – you can see the front door on the left up top, it’s barely marked – but inside it’s nice and quiet. It’s like a meditation on good cocktails and tea (which it also specializes in). If there is beer on the menu (there aren’t any drafts), I haven’t even looked for them, and I’m the guy whose Twitter handle is “BeerAndAShot”.
He pulled in Mick Perrigo, who worked with Tom back at Hogo, the “dark tiki” bar that also closed in 2014. (Full disclosure: Tom and Mick are both friends of mine, and I got to bartend / pour punch there the last night, but if you read this site you know already I’m entirely biased in favor of my friends all the time and wear that on my sleeve.) Mick has been front and center when I’ve been there, along with Jason and another bartender whose name I have completely forgotten and will update with when I find out.
But it’s not just all gorgeous architecture (I almost said scenery but didn’t want Mick to know I was talking about him) and vintage barware. One of the standouts is the classic liquor collection – and it’s not just old, delicious, and yes, expensive as shit liquor but you can get drinks made with them. Want to see what a $100 cocktail tastes like? Just pony up the cash.
(I am constantly tempted just to say I’ve done it. Then I remember my credit card bill.)
Tom has a deep love for spirits like those. He took a few of us through a tour of a number of them a couple of years ago including the Black Tot rum, old whiskeys, and enough other things that I Irish goodbye-ed without paying either of two tabs I had running (and boy oh boy did I feel guilty for WEEKS about that).
A bit more about the space: it’s a quiet, well decorated spot on the second floor of the building. The middle part is mostly the bar, and by the windows there’s several seats and such for small groups to gather. I think it’s pretty beautiful, but do keep in mind it is not large, nor do they even have a kitchen (they do have some snacks on the menu). Personally, I like to go before dinner, because if I have a couple of cocktails I’ll often forget to have dinner unless Marshall is there to kick me in the nuts.
Oh, for the quiet meditation of the adult cocktail bar. Guess I need to go there again, like probably Thursday.