These days, the title “mixologist” seems to be tossed around haphazardly, assigned to just about anyone that can successfully blend Dewars with soda. For a city with such a long history of inventive cocktails, there are surprisingly few masters of the craft in the District. But then there are Tom and Derek Brown, two local sommeliers and nightlife meta-celebrities that seem to operate on an entirely different level.
Until The Passenger opened its doors this week, the Brown brothers had never formally collaborated on a project (recently, Tom has been running the bar at Cork and Derek has maintained Gibson’s constantly-evolving cocktail menu). In many ways, the two represent starkly contrasting styles: Tom concentrates on atmosphere, craft beer and gourmet wine, while Derek devotes the bulk of his attention to developing fresh, intricate and impeccably prepared libations. With Passenger, the brothers have effectively bridged these two nightlife worlds - on one side a hip, laid-back bar, on the other an upscale cocktail lounge.
The Passenger assumes the Seventh Street space formally inhabited by Warehouse Theater, and trails of the former tenant can be found throughout the bar. In addition to a small “Warehouse Theater” emblem on the floor and a familiar understated-arthouse décor, the Passenger continues Warehouse’s spirit of artistic exploration. Patrons are encouraged to trust the barkeep’s expertise, whipping up custom concoctions to fit specific tastes. Drink orders here are less a question of “What would you like?” and more of “What do you like?”
This local watering hole is certainly a work in progress, especially as Tom and Derek put the finishing touches on the “Columbia Room,” a small, secluded cocktail den in the rear of the venue designed to resemble the dining car of a vintage train. But despite its noticeable kinks, the bar is a welcomed addition to the burgeoning Mount Vernon Square bar scene.