The Real Hip-Hop Is ... in Adams Morgan?
"Friday night in Adams Morgan ..." conjures up some pretty unpleasant images. Lowest-common-denominator DJs spinning tired '80s hits. Drunk 22-year-olds spilling out of bars. Roaming bachelorette parties. It's exactly the time you don't want to be in the neighborhood -- unless you want to hit one of the best old-school hip-hop parties in town.
Venture upstairs at Bourbon after 10 p.m. and you'll find Daryl "Qool DJ Uncle Q" Francis in the booth, rocking A Tribe Called Quest and JVC Force, cutting between the Roots and Common, deftly blending in hits by Biggie and LL Cool J. On the dance floor, a mixed group of 20-something shimmies in a circle around a pile of jackets and purses, and older hip-hop heads post up and nod -- until Francis drops DJ Kool's "Let Me Clear My Throat," and all of a sudden everyone is bouncing and shouting along.
If this all sounds vaguely familiar, you may have ventured into this space four or five years ago when it was called the Blue Room, and Francis was the gregarious host of the weekly "Uncle Q's Living Room," which managed to turn the lounge into the neighborhood's hottest (and chillest) house party. These days, Francis splits his time between New York and D.C. On Wednesday night, he performed at the 92YTribeca as part of DJ Peter Rosenberg's monthly "Noisemakers" series, with special guest Q Tip. Then it was back on the bus to D.C. to get ready for another weekend at Bourbon.
Francis built his rep in D.C. as part of the rap group Critically Acclaimed and for vintage hip-hop nights like the short-lived "Can't Stop the Bumrush." He stopped DJing in the late '90s because he was into "the real hip-hop" and "didn't want to play Bad Boy records," so it's somewhat odd to hear him salting Top 40 hits by Beyonce and Nelly in the mix. "As much as I'm a stickler for old-school hip-hop, at the end of the day, it's about what the crowd wants to hear and what the crowd needs to hear," he says. And if it makes for a better vibe, we're all for it -- well, maybe except the purists. But Francis brushes that off.
"It's Friday. It's a party. At the end of the day, you're playing the best dance records you've got, no matter what genre. There's 100 girls in here, and if you don't give them what they want, something to dance to, they're going to leave. And then there will just be 100 dudes in here, and nobody's dancing and nobody's buying drinks. And yeah, you won. You played real hip-hop."
Bourbon's crowds have been growing along with the bar's reputation for turning out some of the best cocktails around. The problem is that the upstairs lounge, where DJs rule and lights are lower, is "more geared towards volume on weekend nights than making elaborate drinks," says general manager and mixologist Owen Thomson. "We're talking shoulder to shoulder [at the bar]."
Yes, you can run downstairs to have bartenders whip up rye whiskey cocktails, but Thomson's come up with a new plan: On Friday and Saturday nights, the bar will be selling pre-mixed cocktails. Thomson will whip up the drinks that day, using fresh ingredients, and sell them in 200-milliliter plastic flasks at the bar for $12 a pop.
"I don't expect people who are coming up here to drink cocktails," Thomson says. "But if there is somebody up here who wants a cocktail, I'd like them to get one without putting out a bartender who's trying to do 20 orders [for beer and mixed drinks]."
I've heard objections about pre-made cocktails -- even some fellow Gurus aren't into the idea, preferring that their mixed drinks be made to order. That way, the reasoning goes, you know they'll be fresh, and you know what's in them. Fair enough. At the same time, an increasing number of bars have been serving up drinks from bowls of pre-made punch (see: Punch Club), without too many complaints. And as Thomson points out, it's not exactly a new idea; Jerry Thomas's landmark 1862 Bartenders Manual had recipes for "Cocktails for Bottling."
The real question is: Are they good? The answer is a resounding yes. The past two weekends, the main selection has been a potent Hemmingway Daiquiri (rum, maraschino liqueur, grapefruit juice and lime), and I've yet to find one that tastes stale or in any way different from a "fresh" cocktail. Thomson says the choices will expand as more people discover and order the drinks.
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