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Posted at 9:00 PM ET, 01/10/2010

Black Fox brings jazz, cocktails and a retro feel

By Fritz Hahn

The Black Fox, a new lounge and restaurant just north of Dupont Circle, isn't part of a hotel, but its retro styling and simplicity harken back to hotel bars of the '70s and '80s.

The decor tells you this is intentional: Three huge paintings of Bath, England, reclaimed from the Watergate Hotel's Circle Bar, dominate one wall of the first floor bar. In a small lounge area in the rear of the room, chocolate-colored tufted leather sofas salvaged from the old Jefferson Hotel practically beg you to sink into them.

The bar itself is long, fronted with wide, heavy barstools. The colors throughout are neutral -- glossy brown wood, beige marble floors, butterscotch walls. It screams "adult," not "happy hour," which is rare along Connecticut Avenue.

Given the surroundings, you might expect a cocktail list full of classically boozy Manhattans and martinis, but the drink list is full of sweet tastes. The Black Fox house cocktail is based on Sazerac rye whiskey and orange bitters, but a touch of crème de cacao adds a subtle hit of chocolate. I liked it, but it was very surprising at first. Dressed up with green crème de menthe, a bourbony mint julep becomes unnaturally minty. Much better was the oddly named Cowgirl Hoof; made of silver Jamaican rum, orange bitters, mint and a bit of lime, it's a strong, refreshing drink. Expect to pay about $9-$10 per cocktail.

Outside of cocktails, there are several "special" wines for $5 a glass at all times; there are no draft beers.

The Black Fox is barely three weeks from its soft opening, and the staff is still using cheat sheets when they make unfamiliar cocktails, but they're overwhelmingly polite and friendly.

Downstairs from the lounge, there's a stripped-down space featuring live music daily: mostly solo guitarists, pianists or duos during the week and jazz trios Thursday through Saturday. The mismatched furniture -- couches, armchairs, leather cubes -- and the lack of cover charge make the environment less formal than the upstairs. We settled in with our drinks and listened to pianist Bill Forrest playing everything from Gershwin to the Beatles. The upstairs staff wandered down every to see if those of us listening to the music needed anything.

The only dissonant note: The flat-screen TVs (one on each floor) were playing one of those Music Choice TV channels, which was odd and a little distracting.

-- Fritz Hahn

By Fritz Hahn  | January 10, 2010; 9:00 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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