While Eater's 2012 Bartender of the Year Todd Thrasher may have most recently opened the modern, rock-n-roll TNT Bar, he's best known for his beloved Old Town Alexandria speakeasy PX. There, the vibe is quieter, calmer, old school — as Thrasher explains it, "I don't think I could make another PX. It was where I was in my life. It was a point where I really wanted to listen to quiet music and have a conversation with my wife. I don't think it could ever be done again."
And PX also has an antique-laden decor to match its old-fashioned atmosphere. Through the years, Thrasher has amassed an impressive collection of vintage barware, much of which is on display at the iconic cocktail bar. In honor of Cocktail Week, Thrasher shared his collection with Eater — from a fire hydrant decanter that doubles as a music box to all of the antiques that, yes, are definitely shit people steal.
It All Started With Shakers
- This shaker is one of Thrasher's favorites, reminding him of his scuba diving pastime.
- Thrasher's scuba diving instructor gave him this seltzer bottle that was quite valuable but just sitting in his garage.
- A shaker disguised as both a fire hydrant...
- ...and a music box!
- An absinthe fountain that was an opening gift for PX from a Restaurant Eve regular.
- Shakers line the walls.
- The red and green buoy/lanterns that Thrasher owns. The red one has since been stolen.
- Thrasher got into collecting from looking at old bar books.
- Thrasher bought this — yes, it's a shaker — for $1,000 in Georgetown. It is not on display at PX.
- The still Thrasher bought in the Ozarks that is now a piece of art for PX.
Thrasher started collecting barware before PX opened, inspired to track down the shakers he saw in pictures from old bar books. He loves the ocean and so the first vintage shakers he ever bought were green and red buoy markers that were about $600 apiece. Now Thrasher's go-to shops for killer antique barware include Old Town's very own Trojan Antiques and The Hour, the former whose owner calls Thrasher when she gets in something he might like. He and his wife will also go antiquing in Frederick, MD, Fredericksburg, VA, and Georgetown.
It was at a Georgetown shop that Thrasher found the most expensive shaker he ever bought: a cocktail shaker shaped like an airplane that he bought for $1,000. He says he saved up six months to buy it, and he now keeps it at home considering he wouldn't be likely to actually use it at PX, explaining: "It's just a piece of art."
Of course, many of the antiques around the bar are purely for decor anyway. The absinthe fountain, for example, "leaks like a sieve," while some of the shakers lack strainers or with their time-consuming twist-off caps are "not feasible for bartending at this level." Other items, such as the still he bought in the Ozarks, proved to be too beautiful, too much like artwork to be used professionally. And, of course, there's the fear of antiques being stolen or broken — PX broke three glass shakers the first night they were in business. Thrasher explains: "Part of me just feels guilty when you break something old.... It hurts your soul."
There's pretty good reason to worry about theft. People have stolen a whole lot of shit from PX over the years: the bar lost 20 antique olive picks by the second week it was open, Thrasher's red buoy shaker made it about two years, and metal straws and cups are always flying out the door. Since hospitality is the Eat Good Food group's motto, Thrasher doesn't confront anyone he notices stealing from PX, chalking the loss up to business.
The deal with all the glassware
On any given day, PX will have a variety of glassware options, some vintage and others that merely look vintage. When PX opened, Thrasher was using a lot more vintage, but enough pieces broke that it was no longer economically viable to keep buying exclusively antiques. The good news, though, is that meant PX was able to drop drink prices by about $1.50 since it no longer had to cover the costs of glassware.
Not every cocktail at PX has its very own glass, but no more than two cocktails go in the same glass, Thrasher explains. If he sees a glass he likes, he'll buy it, make a cocktail for it and when the glasses are gone (read: broken) he'll take cocktail off the menu. And because Thrasher thinks it would look weird to use martini glasses for everything, PX stocks all kinds of shapes: cognac, single malt, tiny champagne glasses.
And yes, the glasses have to match the drinks. Thrasher talks of a wine class he once took in which he discovered that wines really did taste better when poured into their proper glasses — whether it was just the power of suggestion or the science of "how things rest and disperse across your tongue." So when he comes up with a new cocktail, Thrasher will sometimes try it in different glasses to find just the right taste. And that dichotomy of a new cocktail in an old glass just about sums up Thrasher's philosophy for PX. As he explains, "I would rather make new cocktails, but use old glassware."