Behind the Bar: Q & A With Local Bartenders

Brad Witucki of 219 Restaurant

Brad Witucki grew up on the streets in Old Town. His hometown pride resonates on the top floor of 219 Restaurant at the Basin Street Lounge. With a passion for craft cocktails and an appreciation for good blues, his welcoming personality fits in perfectly with the old school vibe.

On Tap: Where are you from?
Brad Witucki:
I’ve always lived in Alexandria. Old Town was our stomping grounds. My dad is a realtor here, and my uncle is a bartender on Union Street.

OT: How did you get into bartending?
BW:
I started out bar backing. I worked my butt off and fell in love with the industry. I read as much as I could and asked a lot of questions and eventually made my way to the bar. Bartending put my head in a good place; it gave me a chance to show the best side of myself. I’ve been here three months, and I’m really excited about the drinks we make here.

OT: What are you making right now?
BW:
Working here, you have to know the classics, like a Sidecar, a Blood and Sand, a Bellini. We have a huge whiskey menu. I love being able to craft a cocktail around a palette. There are a lot of bartenders who can throw a fancy sugary drink together and people will like it, but my cocktails don’t mask the alcohol, they enhance it.

OT: What is the best part about working here?
BW:
It’s a classic Old Town bar with a laid back vibe—but it still sets itself apart from the others because of the level of casual, comfortable sophistication. Also, I’ve met the coolest people. Our regulars are knowledgeable, well-educated— and I just learn a lot from them.

Catch Brad behind the bar Thursday through Tuesday nights and daytime on Sundays on the top floor.

A visit to the Basin Street Lounge transports you back to a time when you could have a cigar by the fireplace while enjoying a nice whiskey. For others, there are a variety of craft cocktails, and some of the best Blues and Jazz music in town. With the chandeliers, comfy chairs, relics from the past, including rumors of its very own ghost, 219 Restaurant is definitely not your average night on the town.
219 Restaurant: 219 King St. Alexandria, VA; 703-549-1141; www.219restaurant.com

Brennan Adams of A Bar

If you’ve ever had a Strawberry Margarita from El Centro D.F., you have Brennan Adams to thank. The former bar manager and beverage director for Sanibel Restaurants is now doling out concoctions at A Bar in the Avenue Suites Hotel. Featured in GQ and racking up titles for Most Imaginative Bartender, Brennan has a lot to offer.

On Tap: Where are you from?
Brennan Adams:
I sort of consider DC home. I was raised in Germany, I lived in Colorado Springs and Philadelphia. I’ve been here long enough now to consider this home.

OT: How long have you been bartending?
BA:
Eight years. I was in the design world for a while and got burnt out. I started bartending at Ten Penh on the two slowest nights of the week. Because it was chef driven and the focus was on good clean food, it made sense that the cocktail program would follow similar standards. It’s terrible when there is great food and no synergy with cocktails.

OT: How do you pick a drink for someone?
BA:
First, I figure out what they like. They want you to make the decisions for them. So I ask questions: do you like sweet, spicy, sour? What do you typically drink? If I can play within the confines of that palette or even push it, I can find something that works well.

OT: What is your least favorite drink to make?
BA:
I don’t have one. I created the most difficult mojito program ever at El Centro DF. So it would be hypocritical for me to say I hate making a certain drink. I refuse to use artificial things even if it’s more work. I consider it a value add opportunity.

Catch Brennan at A Bar Tuesday through Sunday nights.

A Bar may be tiny, but it packs a lot of might. With a seasoned bar manager creating drinks with fresh and interesting ingredients, and a terrace that makes those precious last outdoor days so much more enjoyable, this is one hidden spot you don’t want to pass by. Keep it in mind for your next private event.
A Bar at the Avenue Suites: 2500 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; 202-464-5610; www.abardc.com

Jon Schott of Shenanigan’s

Jon Schott is an enthusiastic bartender, ready to change your perception about flair bartenders. Pronounced “shot”, it seems that Schott’s calling was decided long ago. Stop by Shenanigan’s in Adams Morgan to see what tricks he has up his sleeve.   

On Tap: How did you get into bartending?
Jon Schott:
I was a bar back and they noticed I was faster than everybody. They put me on the bar. I watched these good bartenders, and they worked so fluidly, I wanted to do that.

OT: How did you get into flair bartending?
JS:
I started out on the day bar, and there wasn’t a lot to do. I’m a hyper energetic person, and it was a good way to focus my energy. It’s become a part of my craft and I’m proud of it. Being able to show off for a few extra dollars is always cool.

OT: How did you learn it?
JS:
Tins, shakers, plastic flair bottles is how you get started. Now, I’m the first to admit, there is nothing lamer than trying to do a trick and failing. It’s great when it works though. The art of it is lost on some people. We know the most important thing is to get people drinks first and foremost. After that, why not have a little fun? Flair works well because you can entertain the guest and it shows people it’s not your first day on the job.

OT: Any tips for aspiring flair bartenders?
JS:
A big mistake people make is learning the juggling first. People have to learn the basics. I don’t take on anyone for training unless they are already a bartender. First, get the drink across the bar and make them happy. Then the more you can have a good time, the better.

Catch Schott behind the bar Friday and Saturday nights.

Shenanigan’s has gone by many names over the years, but the one thing that hasn’t changed is the laid back vibe. They offer deeply discounted drink specials seven nights a week, with themes like Power Hour, All-You-Care-To-Drink, and $3 You Call Its. It’s a true Adams Morgan neighborhood pub.
Shenanigan’s Irish Pub: 2450 18th St. NW, DC; 202-588-7405; www.shenaniganspubdc.com

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