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Behind the Bar • 14th Street Bars

January 1, 2014

It’s no surprise that our list of 20 coolest new restaurants and bars was dominated by 14th Street. Here then are insights from two of the street’s top bartenders.

Chris Houk of Ghibellina

Chris Houk of Ghibellina

Chris Houk spent a few years perfecting his hospitality game as a flight attendant. Today, he brings his creative cocktails to Ghibellina, making sure that there is something for everyone.

On Tap: How would you describe the drink menu here?

Chris Houk: I try to do a twist on the classics or something I think will be pleasing to most people. Anyone can get fancy and carried away, but we want it to be approachable. I want people to get it from the moment they see it.

OT: How often do you change the cocktail menu?

CH: I wanted to completely change it quarterly, but it turns out, people just love certain cocktails. And there is no need to take them away just because the seasons changed! So, the Sangria will stay, it pairs well with the pizza. The San Giovanni will remain on the menu. It’s made with Bols Genever Gin, ginger shrub, and lime. But we’ll add a bunch of new items this month, which I’m excited about.

OT: Tell us about the beer and wine selection.

The San Giovanni

CH: On draft we have six lines, two are Italian, and the other four are fun ones I play around with. We are not a beer place, but I want to be sure I give the beer geeks something unexpected to get excited about. I would love to take credit for the wine program, but that is all from our GM, Robert. He is like a walking encyclopedia of wine.

OT: Your bar is one of On Tap’s Top 20 Coolest New Restaurants – in your opinion what’s the coolest thing about this place?

CH: The food is amazing, and the cocktails are unique, but I think what sets us apart behind the bar is how we engage with our guests.  You can get great food at a lot of places in the city. But if you read the guests and make them feel like it’s their home, they’ll come back. Some people want to be sassed, some people want to have quiet service,  some of them want to have the night of their lives. Our job is to give them good, personal service.

Catch Chris Monday, Tuesday and Thursday-Saturday nights.

Ghibellina: 1610 14th St. NW, DC; 202-803-2389;

Ken Frazier of Mad Momos

Ken Frazier of Mad Momos

Ken Frazer started working with Mad Momos as a side gig, and the restaurant’s environmentally responsible credo meshed so well with his own values, it’s quickly become his new career. On Tap sat down at the reclaimed wood bar to hear about eco-savvy practices, and what else makes the place so unique.

On Tap: How have things changed since you opened in December 2012?

Ken Frazer: We have gained more notoriety, and we have a lot of regulars now. People have discovered how great the space is for events: parties, birthdays, even weddings. We can rearrange the furniture upstairs, or even rent out the whole place.

OT: You are one of On Tap’s 20 coolest new restaurants, what do you think makes this place special?

KF: It’s atmosphere. The whole place is unique and inviting. The furniture is locally sourced, and it feels like walking into someone’s home. We have comfort food from Asia but we also have American favorites like tater tots. We have everything from belly dancers to fire shows to poetry slams.

OT: What sort of beers do you have?

KF: Our managers spend a lot of time finding the right beers. A lot of local breweries are represented, and we are always trying to bring in something new. We don’t have too many beers from overseas, just an extra step we take to reduce our impact on the environment. We recently started doing beer flights. For $2.50 you can get a 3 oz pour from our taps, bottles, even cans.

The Intentional Blossom

OT: What’s the best cocktail here?

KF: The Intentional Blossom is popular. It’s made with 10 Cane Rum, SOHO lychee, grapefruit, and fresh ginger. Either that, or the Mad Mosa, it’s our spin on a mimosa and I swear it’s the best in town. We offer bottomless Mad Mosas at brunch, and we are booked solid!Catch Ken behind the bar 6 days a week at Mad Momos.

Mad Momos: 3605 14th St NW, DC; 202-829-1450;