Before I even moved up to the northern Virginia area, I knew Ragtime – it was the bar we always seemed to end up at in Courthouse around 1 AM, just before last call, with a “surprise” tray of shots and a hangover the next day. Indeed, that reputation stuck with me for a while after moving to NoVA, mostly courteous of one friend who was always giving his number to the servers.
When I moved into Courthouse, though, I discovered that it’s actually a fantastic bar – not just because it’s a WVU Mountaineers bar (which made my parents happy when we went there just after my move) but because of a great staff and a constantly improving beer selection. I’ve been there hundreds of times (according to Foursquare, nearly 400 times) and probably had just about everything on the menu.
The one thing I never really drank, though, were the mixed drinks, with just two exceptions. One was when they did a martini night, and I could get a nice big glass of cold gin with extra vermouth for cheap. The other was the infamous (to us) pomegranate martini, which despite being called a martini was based off tequila. We (we being the guys) would go to Ragtime claiming girlfriends/wives wanted the pomegranate martini, but really we’d end up drinking lots of them. They were kind of addictive.
The latest restaurant by the same owners had a more focused cocktail program and Ragtime went through a time of doing flavored liquors, but still I was surprised recently when they announced their new cocktail program, focusing on classic drinks and fresh ingredients, including squeezed to order juices and housemade syrups such as orgeat. I, of course, needed to check this out as soon as I could, on a night when I wasn’t doing something stupid like drinking two or three pitchers of Blue Point Toasted Lager.
Fortunately, I got my chance last night finally when I was meeting a friend there (like I’m going to drink all nine cocktails in one night!).
The first thing that really surprised me was the cost of the drinks. The most expensive drink on the menu was $10, and most were $7-$8. In this town that’s a steal! But still, I’d have to try them first. Just to note: I wasn’t sitting at the actual bar, but at a high top near it. I could see the bartenders making my drinks, but I did not notice brands being used.
Death in the Afternoon – $8 – absinthe, lemon, simple syrup, champagne. I’ve had these before and never been a huge fan, but this one hit me just right – the absinthe taste was prominent, and I’m not a fan of absinthe for the most part, but the combination worked out really well. It was served in a traditional champagne coupe (see right) and was exactly the drink I needed to start off the night.
Vieux Carre – $10 (only $10 drink on the menu) – rye, cognac, Dolin Rouge, green Chartreuse, Angostura, Peychauds, lemon. First off, I was glad to see Dolin listed! That’s my favorite vermouth. As you can see in the picture, it’s served over one large ice cube and felt like a substantial drink (I did not measure, so that’s why I said “felt like”). I sipped off the top first and wasn’t impressed but liked it more as I drank out of the straw. For me, personally, it could’ve used a bit more bitters in it, but I also know the environment they’re working in – a super-bitter drink probably ain’t gonna work in a sports bar. (Really, the fact that they’re doing this menu at all is amazing and exciting to me, and makes me even more excited about football season!)
Unfortunately, they were out of mint, so the mint julep and the Queen’s Park Swizzle weren’t available (the latter being my next choice). So let’s stick with Hemingway!
Hemingway Daiquiri – $8 – white rum, maraschino, grapefruit, lime, simple syrup. This came out well-balanced as well, with a solid taste of maraschino in the back end that I thought brought the whole thing together nicely. My companion didn’t agree, as she felt it tasted more alcohol-y, but I’ve grown an appreciation for the taste of maraschino recently. It’s very easy for maraschino to overwhelm a drink so someone newer to those flavors might be hesitant at the flavor but I think after a drink or two they would really enjoy it.
My friend got a Pimm’s Cup.
Pimm’s Cup No. 1 – $7 – Pimms, rosemary syrup, lemon, ginger beer, garden garnish. Yes, technically the “Pimm’s Cup No. 1″ is the name of the liqueur in the drink, as Pimm’s makes a few varieties (which you really can’t get any but #1 in the US). I’ve never had one with rosemary syrup in it and at first was hesitant, but I grew to like it – it gave it a dry herbaciousness (is that a word?) which I think would make it more easily drinkable in quantity on a hot summer day than a sweeter version may be, though it still had a sweetness to it.
…and with that, I switched back to Toasted Lager, because I didn’t really need more liquor.
Tomorrow (Friday, May 30th) at 7 PM in the back bar they’ll be releasing some barrel-aged cocktails: Basil Hayden Manhattans and Makers 46 Sazeracs. I’m going to try to swing by because I’d like to see how they come out, so say hi if you see me!