There’s a new cocktail king in town at sister 14th Street establishments Black Jack and Pearl Dive Oyster Palace. Bar manager E.Jay Apaga, formerly of Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s EatBar at Tallula, is shaking things up with a refreshed cocktail menu at Black Jack that puts a new spin on standard libations like the mojito and Long Island Iced Tea.
You’ll still find Black Jack’s two most popular cocktails — the Blue Vein and Maple Derby — but the rest of the menu is a fresh assortment imagined by Apaga, who played rugby and sang competitively in college before developing an appreciation for tequila as a server at a Tex-Mex restaurant, and eventually becoming certified a Level One Sommelier.
“I’ve never had a decent paloma in this town… ever” says Apaga, explaining the two versions that grace the new menu. The Paloma Picante has a spicy kick with Tanteo Jalapeno tequila, and both that and the Paloma Tradicional use a house-made grapefruit soda, lime, and plenty of brined grapefruit garnish (the latter three combine for a tasty mocktail for teetotalers).
If the paloma is E Jay’s answer to a void on the D.C. cocktail scene, the Minted Cucumber Lemonade — also called The ISCD, short for Industry Standard Cucumber Drink — is his take on something more ubiquitous. The only beverage on the list that uses a flavored spirit (Ketel One Citroen), this one combines a non-brewed mint simple syrup with sparkling lemonade and house cucumber soda.
Mixology lovers should also considering trying the Black Jack Iced Tea, which Apaga calls a “bartender’s iced tea,” likening it to “the gateway drug” of proper mixology. More adventurous than the standard version, this one features Byrrh, a red wine aperitif that was only reintroduced to the post-Prohibition market in 2012.
Other spins on classic bevvies include The House Grog (a beer cocktail) and the So Fresh and So Green, Apaga’s take on a mojito that uses herbaceous cilantro simple syrup with Green Chartreuse and Hendrick’s. No matter your selection, it’s worth noting that every cocktail on Apaga’s list packs in three ounces of booze, which is nearly double the city standard. All the better for playing indoor bocce!
Lauren Sloat, Drink DC