You can't go far in Northwest DC without stumbling upon a restaurant, bar or lounge that Eric Hilton doesn't have his record-spinning hands all over. Hilton is the frontman for Thievery Corporation and a bit of a local entrepreneur. On a recent weekday night we had made eight o'clock reservations for the Gibson, but were feeling a little hungry beforehand. Since Eric Hilton practically owns the entire block of 14th and U, we found ourselves pre-gaming at another one of his concepts just around the corner: Patty Boom Boom.
And it wouldn't be an Eric Hilton endeavor if the nightlife didn't transform the tiny storefront into a dance hall, complete with reggae and dub-heavy beats. But even when Patty Boom Boom isn't thumping heavy Jamaican beats, they're still serving up some pretty tasty Jamaican eats. Their "patties" - empanada-like, pastries stuffed with meats or veggies - go down pretty well with some of the house's rum cocktails.
You can grab a spicy beef or a jerk chicken patty, but I beelined straight towards the guava goat patty (below)- which combined the two great flavors (don't be fooled, that's goat MEAT, not goat CHEESE) perfectly between the thick, doughy crust. Angela went with the spicy beef, which did, as promised, pack a fair amount of heat, but not enough to overwhelm the tasty flavors of the filling. We washed the eats down with a side of mango sauce (at least for me, Angela's allergic) and an icy can of Red Stripe.
After rinsing our mouth's out with the final few swigs of the Jamaican national beer, we took our business around the corner to The Gibson on 14th street. We probably would've walked right past, had we not had reservations to Hilton's tough-to-get-into 48-seat speakeasy. With no recognizable sign or storefront windows, all you can see is a black door (below). If your party doesn't have reservations, give the door a buzz. The gentleman at the door will take your number and let you know when a table becomes available.
The interior was dark, but very cozy - think black leather and unfinished wood. Members of our party of six were skeptical about the seemingly pretentious set of rules as we were led inside to our table. It didn't take long for everyone to be won over by a combination of friendly and helpful servers and an extensive list of delicious and ambitious cocktails. Pretentious it was not, and that two-hour time limit ended up saving us from ourselves. There were no complaints from our table when the server came by an hour and fifty minutes into our stay to drop a check. We'd collectively sampled almost everything on the menu, and would've put a serious dent in our respective wallets and sobriety levels had we stuck around longer.
The menu dishes out a couple of food options, but our group came to drink our dinners. Derek Brown's drink menu is divided into groupings of cocktails, sours, fizzes, cobblers and punches. The menu is ever-evolving and the best recommendation I can give you? Ask your server for a recommendation. Ours was eager to discuss the drinks and make suggestions. Some pretty fantastic beverages (below) made their way to our table. Most of them were enjoyed, and those that weren't were passed to someone who did enjoy them.
I can recommend ordering your next round of drinks in advance of finishing your current one. Drink orders can take a long fifteen minutes to get back to your table, so plan accordingly. Is the service slow? Not at all. The Gibson just choses to serve quality rather quantity. All of your drinks are made with freshly sliced or muddled fruits and even the lemon peels are given a little flame for smokiness before garnishing your libation. By limiting the body count in the bar, the Gibson keeps itself from cutting corners, and with a little time and patience, keeps serving some of the city's best cocktails.
In addition to Patty Boom Boom and The Gibson, you can also find the trend-setting local DJ's influence at Marvin, 18th Street Lounge, and to lesser degrees at U Street Music Hall and Dickson Wine Bar just a few blocks down the street. I think it's fair to say that Eric Hilton is well on his way to becoming King of the D.C. nightlife.