Hank's Oyster Bar has long been known for its cocktails, but now, chef/owner Jamie Leeds is giving them even more attention at her new bar, Twisted Horn. It opens today in Petworth at 4 p.m.
"Cocktails are the star here, the food is secondary," Leeds says. "Whereas at the oyster bars, the food is the primary focus."
Bartender Megan Coyle, who oversaw the drinks at Hank's in Dupont, is running the bar at Twisted Horn. The cocktail menu is limited to half a dozen cocktails ($12 each), which lean savory. For example, Ghostwood Development (a Twin Peaks reference) includes gin, a pine spirit, and a Scandinavian salty bitter licorice liqueur called Salmiakki Dala. Another drink, the Sabateur Sling, uses a ramp and jalapeno–infused gin. Coyle and fellow bartender Burke Podany have made a wide range of other infusions, tinctures, and shrubs to use in various drinks. The paper menu itself has some handmade qualities, too: Podany drew a dungeon crawl game on it (see below).
Vermouth, which is having a bit of a moment lately, also plays a prominent role in the cocktails. The bar stocks about 14 vermouths, and more are on the way. A late-night happy hour, starting at midnight, will feature a bartender's choice of vermouths for $4.
"Vermouth is a really under-appreciated thing," Coyle says. "Everyone knows it as an ingredient, but they're so enjoyable on their own."
Even though it's a cocktail bar, Coyle is also serious about her wine. The eclectic offerings include a Serbian riesling and a Greek cabernet franc–cabernet sauvignon blend. "We don't have a pinot noir by the glass, but we have things that if you're a pinot noir drinker, I can veer you towards that," Coyle says. "Just expanding your horizons a little bit."
Beers are also an eclectic mix of craft offerings—some local—and Mexican brews. A weekday happy hour from 4 to 7 p.m. will include some $4 wines by the glass and cocktails plus $2 Mexicali and $3 Miller Lites.
Drinks are paired with snacks like hams, cheeses, olives, and crostini. The Pretzel Bakery in Capitol Hill is supplying pretzels, while Gordy's Pickle Jar will provide assorted pickles. There are also onigiri, Japanese rice balls with various less traditional fillings like smoked salmon, olive mozzarella, and tuna tartare. "The food is just really to complement the cocktails," Leeds says.
Leeds describes the look of the place as "the noir side of the storybook fairytale." Medieval art and antlers hang on the dark navy and plum walls, along with a chandelier made of bike chains. The name Twisted Horn is meant to be representative of the unicorn, a drawing of which greets customers at the entrance.
Bike chain chandelier:
Twisted Horn, 819 Upshur St. NW; twistedhorndc.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman