In 2010, bartender Derek Brown opened the original Columbia Room, a tiny cocktail bar tucked inside of a bigger, louder bar called the Passenger. They took their cocktails and service very seriously. You had to have a reservation to come in, the menu was prix fixe, and there was a four-person maximum for reservations.
On January 1st, 2015, they turned off the lights and locked the doors. But they weren't saying goodbye, they were prepping for a new home with a new vibe. Columbia Room 2.0 recently re-opened in a larger space with three distinct areas: the Tasting Room, the Spirits Library, and the Punch Garden. Reservations are no longer a necessity (with the exception of the Tasting Room) and they now offer cocktails a la carte.
Bartender Derek Brown talks about the new iteration of the Columbia Room.
What made you decide to create a 2.0 version of the Columbia Room?
We loved our old space, but we also knew after five years that we'd outgrown it. Having the opportunity to take the same great drinks and service, but within a more expansive environment, seemed like the next logical step. Not only did we get a chance to create a beautiful tasting room and on the back end add some bells and whistles, we also added a Spirits Library, where people can walk in and get great spirits and cocktails; a Punch Garden, where we literally pluck the ingredients we use in the cocktails from the garden that wraps around the seating area. It's definitely bigger and better, but not too big. It's still a small bar with a truly dedicated team.
What makes the experience different from the previous incarnation?
The Spirits Library and the Punch Garden add some new dimensions to the space, but the principle difference is that we have made service our highest goal. We love making cocktails, but the aim first and foremost is to make our guests happy. That hasn't changed per se, but with more experience and focus we know that we can work at higher level to meet our guest's needs.
The former Columbia Room was an intimate space. How have you adapted the new place for the changes that have taken place over the past few years within the cocktail culture?
We've definitely picked up some new tricks. During the last six years we've been researching spirits and cocktails, visiting distilleries and bars, traveling around to understand better how to achieve a world class bar. Actually, not just a bar but an experience. We think that our guests will see that evolution. We don't just want Columbia Room to be a great cocktail bar, we want it to be transportive.
THE COLUMBIA ROOM
124 Blagden Alley NW, Washington, DC 20001
About Derek Brown
Washington, D.C. native Derek Brown has become well-known as a national cocktail expert.
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