Todd Thrasher on Rock 'N' Roll Cocktails and Bar TNT
The mixologist shares his farm-to-table approach, music choices, and inspiration for Bar TNT
There's no doubt that PX, owned by Todd Thrasher and the EatGoodFood Group, is the current hot-spot among Washington D.C.'s long list of watering holes. Thrasher is known for his "bar magic" not only at PX, but also at Restaurant Eve. Now, with the impending opening of the group's newest bar, Bar TNT, The Daily Meal spoke with Thrasher to get the inside scoop on the expansion, his James Beard nominations, and his return to his home town.
The Daily Meal: How did it feel to be nominated for another James Beard award? [PX was a 2012 semi-finalist in the new oustanding bar category.]
Todd Thrasher: I’ve been nominated five times for wine and spirits. You get numb to it after awhile. A lot of people will tell you no, it’s not a big deal for the James Beard awards, but this is my life, I’m in the restaurant business, it’s the epitome of recognition. I would love to have one at some point.
TDM: You’re already on a roll with PX, why the expansion?
TT: We opened PX almost six years ago. The whole idea of opening PX was to give people a place to go where they could sit, relax, and not be talked over. It’s a place to have quiet conversations, and not have people bumping into them. Now, we wanted to go the complete opposite direction. The atmosphere will be a diametrically opposite, not even close to PX. If people want that quiet bar they can go to PX, but if they don’t, they can go to Bar TNT and listen to loud music and not have to get dressed up. The cocktails will still be great cocktails, but the atmosphere will be much more laid-back and easygoing.
TDM: Why the focus on farm-to-table cocktails? Why should cocktails use the same sourcing methods as food?
TT: An apple tastes better picked on a Tuesday and eaten that Wednesday, rather than an apple that’s been shipped from Chile and took 60 days to get here. Everything tastes better fresh. This has been going on for few years. People got away from sour mix out of a gun, and started using real juices and ingredients in drinks. Fresh is always a better approach.
TDM: What kind of cocktails can guests expect at Bar TNT?
TT: I don’t ever want to repeat cocktails expect for one — the gin and tonic. But one side of the bar menu at TNT is original cocktails based on the rock 'n’ roll lifestyle. The other side of the menu is a “cocktail bar road map across the U.S.” I asked a bunch of my bartender friends across the country for recipes; the menu has ten recipes from ten different bars. The idea is to keep rotating cocktails on that side every season.
TDM: That sounds great, what’s your favorite borrowed cocktail from that side of the menu?
I’d have to say [from] Tad Carducci, in New York City. The name of the cocktail is Curly and the Turk [from his bar, The Tippler]. It’s got blue curaçao, hibiscus-chile, and tequila. It’s kind of sweet, and really spicy — and it’s blue in color.
TDM: And the other side of your cocktail menu is based on rock n’ roll —what are the drinks on that side?
TT: I looked into the history of drinking with rock 'n’ roll and performers, from the books that I’ve read, and the stories I’ve heard about what people like to drink. One of the cocktails is from Slash from Guns N' Roses, and his book. He talks about when he was really into alcoholism and the cocktails he made for himself at night, and he said he’d often fall asleep with it at his bedside, and then drink it first thing when he woke up in the morning. So one of the cocktails I named The Cocktail Left on The Nightstand. He talks about putting out his cigarette in it and still drinking it — and we knew we can’t get away with doing that. So instead we smoke and char Jack Daniels, and we make our own cola so it’s completely flat, without carbonation – just like it would taste when you would leave it on the night stand. Then we mix it with a little water, and serve it at completely room temperature. It’s a room temp cocktail, just in reminiscence of what he’d drink at 8 a.m.
Another one is called Thymes Like These. It’s from a Foo Fighters song. It's made with Citadelle, Cocchi vermouth, kaffir bitters, and a thyme lime mixture. It’s a really boozed-out cocktail, like you would envision rock stars drinking onstage. Some are also inspired by songs – like an Avett Brothers song, "In the Curve." [The drink] is named for a line in the song, Metal Surrenders When Oak Trees Meet Fenders. That’s the name; it’s got bourbon whiskey in it, crème de peche, sorghum pecan syrup, water, and peach and Angostura bitters.
TDM: Are they inspired by your own musical choices?
TT: Definitely inspired by my music choices.
TDM: It sounds very musically inspired, will there be live music at Bar TNT?
TT: Unfortunately the space is really small, but we're going to play lots of music. It’s a cool atmosphere – we’ve got one wall in the restaurant that’s completely cement walls, and a graffiti artist has been in there for two weeks working at putting graffiti on the walls. So yeah, we’re going to play all kinds of very loud music – it’s going to be a loud bar. And the name of it, like at the other restaurants we [at EatGoodFood Group] own, is named after our kids; this one is the initials of my son, Tristan Noah Thrasher. It’s a family tribute.
TDM: So when will Bar TNT open?
TT: We’re shooting for the last Friday in June. We’ve learned to always open on Friday — if you can open on a Friday and make it through your first Friday, you’re all right. It’s more fun to open on a Friday. We’ll probably be having some sort of party to celebrate, for sure — I grew up in Arlington, and this is the first restaurant outside of Alexandria and our six-block radius of restaurants. It’s kind of exciting to go back to the little city where you grew up and open something there; the whole area is up and coming. There’s a rebirth of young people moving into the area; for what we’re opening, where a 50- or 60-year old person wouldn’t want to be there. That’s why we decided to do it there.