Mug Shots: If You Can Find It, the Gibson Is a Hidden Treat

Posted March 4, 2009 at 3:56pm

If you’re having a secret love affair or negotiating a backroom deal on the down low, then the Gibson is the perfect place. This speakeasy-style establishment in the heart of the U Street corridor is unmarked and has a distinctly intimate feel, making it perfect for a private visit with a friend or colleague.

[IMGCAP(1)]Getting into the bar can be tricky. Reservations, which can be made by phone, are strongly recommended, though not required. Once you have a reserved table, it is yours for two hours and the waitstaff will tell you when you have 30 minutes left.

On a recent Sunday night, the wait for those without a reservation was more than an hour. Rather than making patrons line up outside, the Gibson takes down cell phone numbers and calls potential customers when a table becomes available.

The reservation system may seem pretentious, but it’s simply a way to control the crowd. The bar holds fewer than 50 people and does not allow standing. The result is that reservations are almost always necessary on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, but anyone can make a reservation regardless of social stature or who you know. The cocktails are well worth the fuss.

Once you walk through the unmarked door (hint: It’s right next to, and owned by, the restaurant Marvin), you enter a dimly lit, quiet room. The fully stocked bar takes up much of the front room and seats a handful of people while the rest of the lounge is peppered with tables and booths. The drinks menu is written on a chalkboard, and the tables are candlelit.

The Gibson is not for those on a budget. The cocktails, while inventive and delicious, are a bit pricey, starting at $8 and running up to $16. The average drink falls in the $10 to $12 range. If you have the cash to spend, the drinks, with fun names like Satin Sheets and the Expat, are well worth the cost. My favorite is the Salad Days Sour, composed of celery-infused Macchu Pisco, lemon, the Bitter Truth Celery Bitters and burnt cinnamon. It’s not always easy to find pisco, a Peruvian grape-based spirit, at a bar, and the Gibson makes good use of it. The Salad Days Sour is frothy and smooth with an aftertaste that has a hint of celery. It sounds a little strange, but it’s delicious.

Other hits on the menu are the Golden Child, comprised of fig-infused gold rum, Castries peanut cream, crème de cacao and lemon tincture, and the Satin Sheets — ideal for anyone who loves the taste of tequila — which includes Siete Leguas tequila, falernum and agave syrup.

The service at the Gibson is fantastic. Our waitress was both friendly and knowledgeable. Quick to make suggestions, she was able to describe the taste of most cocktails, which helped guide my party through the sometimes-foreign-sounding menu. Unfortunately the menu can be difficult to read by candlelight.

My chief complaint about the Gibson is the entry process. The second time I visited, my party size had changed from three to two. I didn’t call ahead to notify the manager, and upon our arrival my friend and I were forced to wait in the hallway while the staff broke apart a four-top table to seat us. They were extremely friendly upon letting us enter, but I found it rude that we were forced to wait in the hallway rather than in the bar.

Overall, the Gibson is a welcome addition to the D.C. bar scene. Creative cocktails and service with a smile goes a long way in this town, and the environment is a pleasant change from the noisy watering holes that populate Washington.

The Gibson is located at 2009 14th St. NW. Reservations can be made by calling 202-232-2156.