Los Angeles has the Oscars, New York has the Tony Awards and Washington, D.C. has the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
However, instead of awards, jokes and barbs will be handed out liberally on Saturday night in front of an assembled crowd of reporters, pundits, celebrities and, of course, politicians, including President Barack Obama.
Part roast and part summer camp talent show, the festivities will be hosted by Comedy Central’s anchor Larry Wilmore who is known for his acerbic wit.
And like any good black-tie affair, much of the action will take place after the meal ends at exclusive parties around the capitol.
While there is no official cocktail for the evening, I’d like to nominate the refreshing Rickey, since it is, after all, the city’s signature drink. (Nearly five years ago the city council and the mayor even went as far to name it the official native cocktail of D.C.)
What tipple could be better to enjoy while Wilmore and the President make fun of the assembled room and no doubt Donald Trump?
While the concoction—usually a mix of bourbon or gin with a squeeze of lime and sparkling mineral water—may not have the same name recognition as other classic cocktails, like the Manhattan or the Martini, its history is no less interesting.
In fact, according to top D.C. bartender Derek Brown, who is co-owner of the renowned Columbia Room, it dates back to the 1880s and was created at local institution Shoomakers, which was also commonly referred to as Shoos (as well as Cobweb Hall).
“Shoomakers was where every politician went until it closed in 1917,” says Brown. “I wish I could be a fly on that wall.” (The one exception was Rutherford B. Hayes, since the country’s 19th president wasn’t a drinker.)
It was likely whipped up for Col. Joe Rickey who usually had a bourbon and soda in the morning. One day, according to Brown, his bartender, George Williamson, added a rejuvenating squeeze of lime to his eye opener. And so the Rickey was born.
Not that long after bartenders began using gin and rye instead of bourbon.
The Rickey also can work with just about any spirit you like. While some bartenders make the elixir with sugar, according to Brown, the recipe never originally included a sweetener and in his opinion one shouldn’t be added now. Why? The Rickey was intentionally designed to be have a big refreshing hit of citrus and spirit.
As a result, the concoction is the perfect antidote to D.C.’s famously humid and hot summer weather. “Its nickname is air conditioning in a glass,” says Garrett Peck, author of Prohibition in Washington, D.C.: How Dry We Weren’t. “It’s the perfect hot weather drink.”
One reason for Shoomaker’s (and the Rickey’s) popularity was that the watering hole was just two and a half blocks from the White House. But Shoos wasn’t the only joint close to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.
In fact, according to Peck, at the turn of the century there were 47 saloons along the one-mile stretch between the White House and the Capitol Building. They all had to close in 1917 when D.C. passed prohibition legislation three years before national Prohibition went into effect.
After Repeal, the Rickey, like many classic cocktails was largely forgotten until the recent rebirth of the cocktail. And over the last 15 years, it has been showing up with more regularity in bars around the city. One reason: “The Rickey is a blank slate,” says Brown. And local bartenders have been able to put their own spins on the drink.
And, of course, “if you come to D.C.,” says Brown, “you’re obligated to drink a Rickey.”
Contributed by Derek Brown
2 oz Plymouth Gin or old Tom ginHalf a limeSparkling mineral water
Highball or goblet
Squeeze and drop lime into highball or goblet. Add the gin and fill with ice. Top with sparkling mineral water and stir gently.