On Its New Menu, a D.C. Bar Pays Tribute to Women of the Cocktail World
When the team behind Washington, D.C.'s Columbia Room — including owners Derek Brown and Angie Fetherston, head bartender J.P. Fetherston, and head chef Johnny Spero — began plotting out their seasonal menu for winter, one idea found instant traction. "I said, 'wouldn't it be amazing if we honored these women who have fought to build the industry and let us do what we do today?'" says Angie Fetherston. "And everyone was completely on board."
The result is Women Rule, an inventive lineup paying homage to 18 inspirational women in the food and beverage industry, from chefs and bartenders to distillers and company founders. "We've been mentored and inspired by these women, and they're all women who have touched the Columbia Room in some way," says Fetherston. "It actually sprung from my induction into the Dame Hall of Fame this year, and it was really a moment where we all reflected on the women who have been trailblazers, and how we are lucky to be in an industry where not only women help other women, but we all help each other rise."
The menu debuted on January 10th — a mere ten days ahead of the presidential inauguration in the city, which might make it tempting to make a connection between the two. Yet, Fetherston insists that it's more of a coincidence than anything else. "Honestly it might seem timely, but really for us it was just people that we love, who have been very inspiring to us," she says.
"In our careers, so many people have been role models or mentors, and this comes from a genuine place," continues Fetherston. "With the exception of Ada Coleman who's a historical figure, these are women who we know and love. Whose contributions we've seen, and whose careers we've admired for years. In many cases, these people have paved the way."
Coincidence or not, it's a concept which quickly resonated in the community. "It's great when you get something that strikes a nerve," adds JP Fetherston. "Angie just came up with it in a meeting, but everyone thought it was a perfect idea immediately."
Coming up with such an idea is one thing, and executing it in a cohesive way is another. It's the type of challenge though that the team at Columbia Room relishes, allowing them to fully flex their creative muscles. "I may have come up with the idea, but it was JP and Johnny who really ran with it," says Fetherston.
Some of the resulting connections were obvious, such as the Petit Sazerac served in honor of Tales of the Cocktail founder Ann Tuennerman, who's not only a Sazerac devotee, but also helped lead the charge to have the cocktail named the official drink of New Orleans. That, in turn, also helped key on Brown and others to move towards having the gin rickey dubbed the official drink of D.C.
Other connections may be more esoteric, but Fetherston, Spero and the rest of the crew offer rich and in-depth stories and tutorials to help guests put it all together. At Columbia Room, you never leave having "only" experienced wonderful cocktails, food and hospitality — you’ll also receive an education and an enhanced appreciation for whatever your instructors were serving up that day.
Among the honorees are also several with a local connection, women who Fetherston takes extra pride in showcasing. "With Becky Harris, Catoctin Creek was one of the first local modern distilleries in the area," she says. It's run by a husband-wife team, but she's the one that distills the whiskey. And Melanie Asher is from D.C., she's our homegirl. And she brought back this category from the dead. She's just been an incredible woman."
One of Angie Fetherston's favorite things on the Women Rule menu is the Speed Rack Roulette, inspired by Speed Rack founders Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero. Guests who select the roulette spin a wheel to get one of the drinks that Speed Rack contestants have to learn. (Photo: Jake Emen)
As for her favorite inclusion on the menu, Fetherston found picking just one to be a difficult proposition. "You know, they're not my creations but it is like picking a favorite child in a way," she says. "But I really love the course that's inspired by Ivy Mix and Lynnette Marrero, the Speed Rack Roulette. Because it's not just one drink, you spin a wheel and then you get one of the drinks from the Speed Rack list of drinks that competitors have to learn."
It's a unique and interactive experience for the guest, but also a reminder that these things are actually supposed to be — what's the word? Fun. After all, the emphasis on inspiration and education would be lost if it wasn't enjoyable.
"Being behind the bar, as much as there's a culinary art and everything else to many aspects of it, it's really supposed to be fun," says Fetherston. "And that's what I think their competition has brought to the world, and also who they are as people. There's a little bit of whimsy, a little bit of fun. That's an awesome one."
Bringing things full circle, honorees Mix and Marrero, along with Pam Wiznitzer and a handful of other leading ladies behind the bar, will be hosting an all-female takeover at Columbia Room over inauguration weekend, on January 20th and 21st, with a portion of the proceeds going to Planned Parenthood.
The full list of inspiring women that the Columbia Room is tipping their hats to over the next three months includes:
- Elena Arzak
- Melanie Asher
- Rachel Barrie
- Ada Coleman
- Leire Extaide
- Angie Fetherston
- Becky Harris
- Misty Kalkofen
- Naomi Levy
- Lynnette Marrero
- Franky Marshall
- Ivy Mix
- Julie Reiner
- Rosio Sanchez
- Audrey Saunders
- Ann Tuennerman
- Alice Waters
- Pam Wiznitzer