Feb. 8, 2016
Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call
Henry Lewis, head bartender at the Chesapeake Room, prepares his version of the black-eyed Susan cocktail, which will be offered as a special during Saturday’s Preakness Stakes horse race.

‘The Odd Cocktail Out’

“No. Not really. No one’s really asked for it.”

That was the answer given by Chesapeake Room head bartender Henry Lewis when asked whether patrons of his bar had requested a certain regional cocktail with deep roots in one of the area’s most famous sporting events.

If you had trouble guessing that the cocktail in question was the black-eyed Susan, the official libation of the Preakness Stakes, well, you’re not alone.

The black-eyed Susan — originally a drink made with equal parts rum, vodka and fruit juice — has over the course of its history been disparaged, reconfigured and, for long stretches of each year, forgotten. Yet it hangs on.

Locally Sourced

Capitol Hill bars seldom lose a chance to tie pop cultural events to drink specials. 

The first Saturday of this month, for instance, provided a moment of rare convergence for the liquor-soaked. 

Cinco de Mayo gave bar hoppers the chance to indulge in margaritas, sangria and south-of-the-border beers to celebrate the Mexican troops’ victory over the French at the battle of Puebla in 1862.

And the Kentucky Derby gave fans of horse racing an opportunity to down mint juleps, those bourbon and mint concoctions so long associated with the Run for the Roses at Churchill Downs.

The chalkboard menu outside Wisdom, a cocktail bar on the eastern edge of Capitol Hill, said it all: “Happy Cinco de Derby/Sangria + Juleps.”

But the black-eyed Susan, which has been associated for decades with Baltimore’s Preakness, the Triple Crown’s middle race, doesn’t seem to have that kind of pull, at least on Capitol Hill.

“We like the race. We like drinks. I don’t know about the black-eyed Susan.” said Matt Manley, bartender at the Tune Inn, one of Capitol Hill’s longest operating drinking establishments. 

Manley said the bar had no plans to run drink specials tied to the race, although he said they’d definitely be watching the ponies Saturday. “I don’t know what it adds to the race,” Manley said of the black-eyed Susan.

At Wisdom, bartender Tania Morgan said, “We talked about serving black-eyed Susans on Preakness Day, but we’re not sure we’re going to do it or not.”

She said a customer had asked about them, but owner and mixologist Erik Holzherr hadn’t made the call yet. Part of Holzherr’s hesitation might arise from his own standards. Wisdom bills itself as a “premier cocktail parlour,” and it doesn’t sound like the Susan makes the grade. “It’s just a bad drink,” Holzherr said.

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