I was invited to the launch of the new cocktail menu at The River Bar in Washington this week and having fond memories of the place from back in my school days, I was keen to go along and see how it had changed.
Seeing as the launch day was pretty blinking gorgeous, I threw on a pale pink tulip wrap skirt (recently gifted to me by a rather fabulous designer), a Topshop tank, a simple Mulberry clutch and my worn to death (but still my favourite) KG by Kurt Geiger shoes.
I rounded up Mama Tenenbaum and off we set. The River Bar is in Fatfield Village in Washington and sits right at the side of the river Wear, when we arrive I’m amazed at how much the place has changed. It’s a dual business venue (same owners) with The River Bar occupying the downstairs space and Fiume, an Italian restaurant, on the first floor. The building itself has real presence, there’s a huge outdoor terrace area to the front and side, part of which is covered over and there are lots of exotic plants, first impressions are great.
Once inside, we’re directed to a private function area where we’re handed a Gin Genie and a well presented, US inspired cocktail menu, we’re told to order whatever we want, in whatever quantities we want and to simply “get tasting!” It has to be said that the cocktail menu is impressive, it houses the widest selection of cocktails I’ve seen under one roof since I was last in Miami, all US inspired and each with a description of what to expect and some great Deep South styling and photography. The Gin Genie for example: A sophisticated mix of Gin and Cointreau, lengthened with apricot & mango juices. Sounds pretty awesome right?! Bingo! It was every bit as good as it sounds and came topped with an edible flower and an Alice in Wonderland type straw, how’s that for presentation?!
The interior of the River Bar is achingly cool, railway sleeper walls give it that real laid back modern feel and there are semi private booths on the left as you enter. There’s a resident DJ who plays from here most nights and the chillout music is great, even Mama T approves and trust me, she’s hard to impress. The bar is split level and there are several ‘zones’ throughout, it’s a pretty big place and we’re told that there’s a huge refurbishment planned for the outdoor area to bring the aesthetic in line with the speakeasy inspired interior. The area that we’re in is roped off and there’s a huge table designed to look like the lid of a grand piano, above it is a huge light feature made from trumpets, it’s a real centrepiece and looks amazing. From this area guests are able to walk out to the rear terraced area and as we look out, there are plenty of people sitting out in the sun enjoying cocktails and nibbles. There are steps down to a smaller, more private bar area here, the front of which is decked out with wood to great effect and there’s a tiled area just around the bar area, i’m a sucker for eclectic tiles, especially in bars.
On the other side, in the main bar area, there’s one long bar (great for packed nights) and ample seating and standing room, there’s also a little snug area further through towards the restrooms and all of this looks out on to the river, it’s a pretty amazing setting actually and it’s easy to see why the place is so popular amongst all age ranges. There’s also a US inspired food menu which was launched in February to great success and we’re treated to various different kinds of burgers throughout the night. Personally I detest burgers but I ate three of these ones and would definitely go back for more so they must be out of this world if they passed the Pixie Test.
Back to the cocktails. When you see the menu, you’ll understand why we weren’t able to try every single cocktail on it, but we gave it a good shot and between us we sampled;
A Bubbleberry Daiquiri: Raspberry vodka, Chambord, raspberry puree and bubblegum syrup, topped with popping candy, we all agreed that this had a great crisp clean taste and was very easy to drink.
The Twister One: Wow, this one is perfect for a warm Summer day, it’s exactly as it sounds, a Twister lolly turned into a boozy cocktail. A mix of raspberry vodka, Midori liqueur, Kwai Feh lychee liqueur, lemon and raspberry, served in a jam jar with a mini Twister lolly on top! This was gorgeous, it looked great and tasted better and once we ordered one, everyone else followed suit – yes, it’s that kind of drink.
Rhubarb and Custard: Home made rhubarb syrup shaken with vodka, raspberry liqueur and cranberry juice topped with custard cream foam. Named and flavoured after the childhood favourite sweetie, this tastes EXACTLY like it. An absolute must try.
Cookie Monster: Chocolate cookie syrup mixed with vanilla vodka, Baileys and cream, topped with white chocolate flavoured whipped cream. This arrives looking just like a traditional American Sundae and looks just like the picture in the menu. If you’re a fan of Baileys, or Cadbury’s liqueur then this is definitely one for you but be warned, it barely tastes alcoholic despite being laced with the stuff!
Smoked Gingerbread Manhattan: Now this is a real spectacle drink, Woodford Reserve, Martini Rosso and gingerbread syrup all smoked with whisky soaked woodchips. Delivered to the table in a bottle with a kiln type lid, the amber coloured liquid sits in the bottom half while smoke swirls around the top half, I’m advised to leave it for a moment or two before pouring over a gigantic ball of ice in a hi-ball glass. It looks awesome, it tastes divine. I’m a fan of a smokey old-fashioned and for me, this was better.
Texas Zombie: The clue is in the name, this one’s a killer! Laced with rum, rum and even more rum, The River Bar Mixologists use their Secret Zombie Mix along with pineapple, cranberry and citrus juices to ensure this really packs a punch. It arrives with a flaming passion fruit on top, yep, literally flaming. It’s delicious but I advise Mama T to maybe give this one a miss, after all, she does have to go to work in the morning……
Rum Runner: Santa Teresa Orange Rhum mixed with Passoa, watermelon and tropical juices, served in a half coconut mug and garnished with edible flowers. A twist on the classic Pina Colada, this has the wow factor when delivered to the table and if you close your eyes, you can almost hear the waves lapping at the shore….
Raspberry Mojito: The old classic re-mixed for a new audience, fresh raspberries and Chambord are combined with Havana Club Rum, lime wedges, fresh mint and brown sugar to give a fruit cocktail bursting with fresh zinginess. come Summer, this will be the staple diet of many a River Bar goer and rightfully so.
Mississippi Mud Pie: Damn this is good! Another one that looks like a classic Sundae, with crushed Oreo’s and whipped cream, vanilla vodka and Baileys are blended with vanilla ice cream to give a cross between a cocktail and a dessert.
Obviously this is just a small selection of what’s on offer at The River Bar, and you may be surprised to learn that we did all of this without even a hint of a hangover, but then we’re seasoned professionals at the old cocktail drinking game and we do it all for you! If you want to get in on the act, and why wouldn’t you? The River Bar run Cocktail Club every Thursday where all cocktails are half price which is a great way to get in and work your way through the menu to choose your favourites! The launch itself was a pretty slick and well put together event with mixologists and bar staff on hand to make recommendations based on preferred tastes and guide you through the menu, and with service like this, there’s no doubt the place will be jam packed throughout Summer.
I know I’ll be back for more and next on my hit list to try list is the Hoochie Mama, according to staff it’s probably “the best drink we’ve ever created.” sounds perfect, I’ll take two…..
N.B. No Mama’s were harmed in the making of this feature.