Drinking is easy. Finding the right bar, not so easy. We’re here to help. As a public service to all of you thirsty explorers, every week we highlight the best bars in America and tell you what makes them so damn great. This week we’ve got a downtown cocktail bar that pays tribute to the classic and casual Mid-Atlantic oyster house.
NAME: Eat the Rich
LOCATION: Shaw, Washington, D.C.
ON THE JUKEBOX: Motörhead, Judas Priest, Danzig
WHAT TO ORDER (NEWBIES): Oyster Back: one shot glass of Pikesville rye and one shot glass of Gordy’s pickle brine and an oyster
WHAT TO ORDER (REGULARS): Celery Gimlet: Green Hat gin, Suze, celery shrub, lime juice, simple syrup and celery bitters
WHY WE LOVE IT: The oyster-meets-cocktail bars that are opening across the country today all seem to focus on absinthe and the refined, pinkies-up saloons of centuries past. Eat the Rich oyster and cocktail bar in Washington, D.C., however, is not one of those bars. Here, you slurp up Chesapeake Bay oysters over pitchers of drinks with names like the Salty Bastard and the sounds of heavy metal music blaring overhead.
“The drinks are all pitcher cocktails, oyster shooters and then things that pair well with oysters,” senior bar manager Paul Taylor says. Everything on the laid-back bar’s menu has some sort of savory or briney element to it. There’s the Beer ‘N Clam pitcher (house-made clamato mixed with, well, beer), a Salty Pisco Sour and a Savory Pimm’s Cup, for example. “They all have an added element of intrigue.”
Eat the Rich is a collaboration between James Beard Award-nominated Derek Brown (who also owns Southern Efficiency, Mockingbird Hill and Columbia Room bars) and oysterman Travis Croxton. All of the oysters served at the bar are from Croxton’s Rappahanock River Oyster Company, a business that was instrumental in the efforts to resurrect the native species of Chesapeake Bay oyster (Crassostrea virginica) 15 years ago.
“They’re the same oyster grown in different ecosystems,” Taylor says. “You can really see how the different parts of the Chesapeake Bay watershed change the flavor profile of the oysters. You can pick up nuances like soy sauce or smoked paprika or kelp and all of these things play into the way we develop our cocktails, wine list, beer list and spirits list.”
Taylor stocks the bar with mineral-driven wines and briney-er spirits like Talisker Storm scotch, which has a lot of maritime character. “After I eat an oyster and there’s still a little bit of that oyster liquid left, I actually like to put a little scotch in the shell and shoot that,” he says. “You get that contrast between the smokey scotch with the sweet oyster. It’s delightful.”
He also utilizes the unusual James River Distillery Øyster Vit in cocktails like the Capitol Dill—a cucumber-dill pickle rickey. “They start with a 100 percent, non-GMO corn spirit and then vapor-infuse it like an aquavit with dill, caraway, coriander and star anise,” Taylor says. “After that they let the spirit rest on Rappahanock oyster shells, which give it a little minerality. It all comes full circle.”
The food menu also ties back into the Chesapeake Bay and Mid-Atlantic. There are hushpuppies and Hot Clams, an Eat the Rich original, which are clams steamed in Old Bay, Natty Boh, butter and hot sauce and then topped with shaved celery. “They’re like if steamed mussels met buffalo wings and had clam children,” Taylor says.
The dining tables in Eat the Rich are long, communal affairs that have an unusual second tier down the middle to increase surface area. (They are actually refurbished old prison tables.) The idea is that you eat from plates on the bottom tier and then stack your pitchers and empty bivalve shells up on top. Which is to say eating and drinking here is a crowded, messy, celebratory event that is more elbows up than pinkies up.
Alyson Sheppard is the resident hangover specialist at Playboy.com. Find her on Twitter: @amshep