You'll have plenty of questions and inspirations upon walking into Quill, the bar at The Jefferson, Washington, D.C. hotel, but these are the five things you must know about it:
1. The origin of its bar. The first thing you’ll notice at Quill is the bar itself — a golden-hued, single hunk of curved glass that's the only one of its kind in North America (and has only one other match in the world). Connie Milstein, the owner of The Jefferson, saw a similar bar in blue while at the Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris, and fell in love. She commissioned its sculptor to visit the United States and create a yam-hued version for the opening of Quill in 2009. Lit by LED lights below, it shines in a colorful gradient ranging from butterscotch at the floor to deep orange on top, where Quill bartenders craft signature and custom cocktails.
2. The impressive list of Madeira. Behind the bar, Michael Scaffidi, sommelier for both Quill and Plume, The Jefferson's fine dining restaurant, uses the paths of President Jefferson's viniculture wanderings in building the bar and restaurant’s shared wine lists. This includes a selection of Madeira, a fortified wine that was popular with Jefferson and his fellow revolutionaries. The two spots have gathered vintages of this strong beverage from three centuries, including bottles that date back to Jefferson's time — the oldest on the list is from 1810, 16 years before the president's death. A taste is pricey ($175), but will offer a hands-on historical experience that few American bars can match.
3. The live piano music most nights. Open your eyes and ears after 9 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and you'll enjoy the piano playing and singing of Peter Robinson, Quill's resident entertainer. Robinson, a fixture in D.C., played extended gigs on nearby Embassy Row and at The Jefferson back in the 1980s, long before the hotel’s renovation and revival. Since September 2009, Robinson has manned the bench in Quill's main dining room, mixing instrumental favorites by Cole Porter and others with his own arrangements and songs, including lyrics about the machinations of nearby Capitol Hill that will make visitors of all political leanings chuckle.
4. The housemade ingredients. Quill specializes in cocktails that put a twist on classic offerings like the Manhattans and mojitos, and the bartenders use housemade ingredients to create these special flavors. The bar staff at The Jefferson stocks the bar with housemade purees of fruits that you'd expect, like blackberry, and vegetables that you wouldn't, like sweet potato. Quill's bartenders also imbue vodka with their own flavor mixtures, like the cranberry and thyme-infused version they featured on our visit. These customized flavors are used to form creative twists on classic cocktails, like the Black-Eyed Daisy, a hybrid between a mojito and a margarita that features the blackberry puree, and the surprising Sweet Potato Old-Fashioned, which tempers the incredible sweetness of the bar's sweet potato syrup by shaking it with rye and fresh-squeezed orange juice to create a drink with a pleasing mix of sweetness and kick.
5. The customized Mastermind cocktail. The cocktail menu at Quill changes with the seasons, but one drink that remains is the custom-made Mastermind cocktail. For a few dollars more than you'll pay for one of the house offerings, your Quill bartender will quiz you on your flavor likes and dislikes and create a customized drink suited to your tastes. With just the knowledge that we liked ginger, our bartender concocted a tangy mixture of ginger liqueur, Cointreau, dark rum from Martinique, bitters and fresh-squeezed lemon juice that was subtle and sweet (but not cloying) with a powerful (but not overpowering) kick.