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A Friendly France vs U.S.A Bartender Face-Off

Jerome Susini and Todd Thrasher.
Jerome Susini and Todd Thrasher.
Missy Frederick is the Cities Director for Eater.

A cultural and tourism exchange between Paris, France and Alexandria, Va. took place yesterday — and it was set in a speakeasy.

Bartender Todd Thrasher of PX and Jerome Susini and Sephora Cohen of Paris' Shake n' Smash bar met for the first time. The meeting, set up by Alexandria's tourism arm, was an opportunity to swap techniques, show off a little and bring back a taste of each other's cocktail styles to their respective home countries.

Eater learned some fun facts in the process, too: among them, that Thrasher will release a cocktail "cook" book sometime in the future, that Shake n' Smash prepares cocktails that are just as beautiful as they taste, and that Todd Thrasher has quite the fascination with Andy Ricker of Pok Pok fame.

Cocktails are in Susini's blood, it seems — his family has owned the bar, which now also pairs cocktails and wine with French cuisine, since 1923. He and Cohen were in vacation in New York touring various cocktail bars and made the time to visit Alexandria while they were in the U.S.

Each bartender made three drinks to offer a sense of their own unique style. Susini and Cohen's drinks, like the absinthe and chartreuse-focused Le Dandy and the smoky, Calvados-based On My Way Back From Omaha, all showcased French spirits. Thrasher's drinks were all over the map — the Sweet Basil, with Lillet Blanc and gin, has been on the menu since PX's inception, while his Change This, Change That, Change Everything showcases rum and sesame.

For the event, Thrasher decided to make one cocktail for the first time, and his inspiration was Portland restaurateur Ricker. Influenced by a cucumber salad he tasted at Pok Pok, the Inspired by Pok Pok cocktail was spicy and a little salty, spiked with a homeade syrup made of palm sugar, honey, lemons line and Thai chile that he's calling "Andy."

Susini believes flavor isn't the only element that goes into the cocktail. "The taste is important, the story around the cocktail is important and the decoration is important," he said. His cocktails feature several garnishes, intricate glassware and theatrical presentations. Thrasher was particularly impressed with the grape-accented In Bacchus We Trust, which he likely will put on PX's menu. Meanwhile, Shake n' Smash will feature a PX cocktail at a special event promoting the Capital region (D.C., Virginia and Maryland) as a tourism destination for the French market later this fall.

About that cookbook. Thrasher didn't have many details to share, but he did confirm a PXcookbook is on the way. "Our chef had a book, so you know," he said, referring to Cathal Armstrong's successful My Irish Table, which debuted earlier this year. Update: A spokesperson clarifies that Thrasher's cocktail book will be a retrospective of sorts, chronicling his time spent both at PX and at bars like Cafe Atlantico.
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