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Posted at 3:17 PM ET, 04/ 1/2005

With Cheap Cocktails, You Get What You Pay For


I love sampling new drinks, but so many Washington area bars have made their cocktails prohibitively expensive -- hot spots like IndeBleu, Degrees and Blue Gin push and break the $10 barrier with alarming regularity -- that it's tougher on the wallet than it is on the liver.

That's why my ears pricked up when I heard that the M Street Bar and Grill offers $3.50 rail martinis all day, every day. In view of the competition, M Street may as well bill its special as a three-for-the-price-of-one deal.

But this goes against one of my cardinal rules: avoiding no-name rail spirits. Sure, Ruble Vodka was a lifesaver at college parties -- a giant bottle for just $6.99? Excellent! -- but once you've got a real job, do you really want bargain-basement alcohol that smells more like paint stripper than something you'd actually want to drink?

When you order one of those budget-busting $10 cocktails, you know you're paying for premium labels and inventive flavors. Put Hanger One vodka or Plymouth Gin up against lesser name brands like Smirnoff or Gordon's and you're going to see a difference. At M Street, they're smart enough to know that a classic martini -- straight gin or vodka with vermouth -- would be virtually undrinkable with sub-par ingredients, so they cover the unattractive bathtub-quality vodka with layers of fruit juice, sour mix and liqueur.

Thus the limited $3.50 menu is limited to a healthy pink Cosmopolitan, the standard day-glo-green Apple Martini, or the Blue Islander, a tropical drink with an exciting Windex hue. The latter was acceptable -- pleasant and orangey, garnished with a cherry, but tasting strongly of straight-from-the bottle sour mix. The Cosmo was a little better, but the glass smelled like it had come straight from the dishwasher. (Don't order from the regular drink menu or you'll find yourself paying $8 for a margarita.)

Still, I think M Street's onto something. On Thursday night, groups of young women -- literally, a 15-to-1 female-to-male ratio -- filled the attractive, high-ceilinged room, grouped around tables in front of a fireplace or in front of the huge plate-glass windows that face the street. Seats are tight at the marble-topped bar, but if you're looking to save a few pennies, it's worth a visit.

-- Fritz

By  | April 1, 2005; 3:17 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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Sorry this is not related to this post.. but where is an article about Deaf West Theatre production of Big River @ Ford's Theatre that opened last week?!

Posted by: Lite2shine | April 1, 2005 6:36 PM | Report abuse

Attention vodka snobs: did you miss the taste test in the New York Times that was won by... Smirnoff? Yes, I have some fancy vodkas that my husband brought back from business trips to Eastern Europe. But I will also gladly drink Smirnoff. I prefer to save my $10 drink money for, oh, let's say... rent. Or furniture, or airline tickets. There's a huge middle ground between paint stripper and Hanger One.

Posted by: Florafloraflora | April 2, 2005 11:16 AM | Report abuse

Can you really taste the difference of a premium vodka against Gordon's and Smirnoff, once you combine it with all the "interesting flavors" ?? What a waste! Now if you're drinking it neat, you'll get no argument from me.

Posted by: Juan Pescado | April 2, 2005 11:42 AM | Report abuse

"Neutral spirits" was what the NYTimes article kept repeating. Vodka isn't gin - it's *supposed* to taste like nothing. Put any three vodkas from different price points in the freezer and see if you can taste the difference - it's SLIGHT, and you might be suprised at what you prefer. Buying more expensive vodka is just about making a statement, not about taste.

Personally, at home I tend to opt for the 100 proof offering from Smirnoff...more bang for the buck. And hey, drinking's all about having a good time, right?

Posted by: Adam | April 5, 2005 11:34 AM | Report abuse

I love some hanger one, and i will happily drink some my girlfriends says "I am to pretty to drink cheap booze" life is to short to drink crap

Posted by: Joel | April 6, 2005 2:55 PM | Report abuse

Really now, did you think no one would notice the URL?

Posted by: Sack (DC) | April 22, 2005 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Do you guys have any idea why Bricks and Park Bench Pub in Cleveland Park are closed. THey were not open all weekend and they are a great place for a cheap drink...

Posted by: Concerned Citizen | April 27, 2005 9:47 AM | Report abuse

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