When you look around the Washington DC bar and cocktail scene, the influence of Tom and Derek Brown may be as strong as any other bartenders and proprietors in the city. With stints bartending, managing, designing or owning such excellent spots as Cork, The Gibson, The Passenger, The Columbia Room, New York Avenue Beach Bar and Rogue 24, the range and scope of their creativity has helped define DC as one of the top cocktail towns in America.
Hogo, a new rum bar from Tom Brown, opens today on 1017 7th St NW, just down the block from The Passenger. I was able to check it out last night and came away incredibly impressed. Per an email from Derek Brown, “Hogo is a word used in the Caribbean to designate “high taste”–shortened from the French word hâut-gout–but it really describes the funky, inexplicable taste that you find in traditional aged-rums.” The name fits the interior design of Hogo, which is a mix of comfortably-appointed lounge and nautical and Tiki themed graffiti.
In the back of the bar, there’s a diner. Hogo will be rotating menus on a regular basis to feature some of the city’s top chefs. To start, The Passenger’s Javier Duran is manning the kitchen and the menu is “Hawaiian diner food.” For those not familiar, Hawaiian food is mostly a mix of greasy comfort food and relatively cheap meats. I lived in Hawaii for a while and came away incredibly impressed. Spam Musubi is one of Hawaii’s iconic snacks, featuring a big slab of Spam wrapped on a bed of sushi rice. It’s available at most diners and lots of gas stations too and it’s never been something that I’ve been taken by. But the Spam Musubi at Hogo is simply amazing – something that is at once casual and fancy, paired with a wasabi aoili.
Other traditional offerings included a Loco Moco – two hamburger patties topped with fried eggs and pork sausage gravy, accompanied by rice and mac salad – and a combination plate of Kahlua pork and Kalbi beef. Both were pretty outstanding. Again, this is essentially Hawaiian comfort food. While it’s heavy on the calories, it’s rich in flavor and makes a great accompaniment to some strong rum cocktails.
Since Duran is only the chef at Hogo for the first month, I highly recommend checking it out soon, as this is probably the best Hawaiian food I’ve had on the mainland ever.
Tom has been hosting Tiki Tuesday every week at The Passenger for quite some time now. The practice shines through in the menu and execution in the drinks on the menu at Hogo. I sampled four cocktails last night and each was outstanding.
First up was Black Heart’s Punch, modified from a recipe from Trader Tiki that was made with Cruzan Blackstrap Rum, homemade cinnamon syrup, lime juice and tonic water. It was deep, rich, flavorful and refreshing – a perfect entry into accessible yet interesting Tiki cocktails.
Pinky Gonzales is a classic tiki drink from Trader Vic that’s basically a tequila Mai Tai. At Hogo it’s made with Espolon blanco and Espolon reposado tequila, Cointreau, lime and orgeat. It’s very light and had a well-balanced use of orgeat and citrus, so the almond syrup could shine through as a sweetener and not fade into the background.
In our final round we had a Ti Punch, which is basically a rum old fashioned made with cane syrup and rhum agricole. We also had a Jungle Bird, a cocktail created in 1978 at the Aviary Bar in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Made with Blackwell Jamaican rum, Campari, pineapple and lime, it’s about everything one could want from a Tiki drink with bitter components. It’s bitter sweet, but not overpowering, with an intense tropical feeling.
Every cocktail we had was perfectly prepared, balanced, and interesting. The menu is fairly expansive, with 15-20 drinks in all, so it will take some time for one to make their way through it. That said, I can’t recommend Hogo highly enough. From the cocktails to the food to the ambience to the fact that it’s a project from some of DC’s most respected bartenders, check out Hogo as soon as you can.