Georgetown’s drinking renaissance continues with the addition of a high-brow tasting room and cocktail bar centered around pours of distilled delicacies from all over the world.
The Fountain Inn (1659 Wisconsin Avenue NW), debuting at 5 p.m. on Wednesday, March 16, pays respects to the Georgetown landmark where Thomas Jefferson once drank. Fast forward to over 200 years later, a group of diehard whiskey collectors decided to resurrect the iconic bar and unleash a wealth of liquid loot for aficionados like themselves.
The Fountain Inn is affiliated with The Bourbon Concierge, an online store for the deep-pocketed collector that spiked in popularity during the pandemic. Local spirits vet Morgan Kirchner, the former whiskey advisor at Jack Rose and wine director at Imperial, was brought on board to oversee the intimate, two-level space styled with soft leather seating, glossy reptilian walls, patriotic prints, and fire places filled with drippy candelabras.
Per request, Kirchner will gladly bust out some of The Fountain Inn’s most prized possessions held behind lock and key. That includes the ever-elusive Pappy Van Winkle 25-year, a bourbon unicorn that can easily sell for upwards of $50,000 per bottle, alongside other big-ticketed rarities like Hibiki 30-year and Macallan 25-year.
“We are able to get our hands on a lot through the [owners’] connections and my own,” she says.
The small, 1,500-square-foot space reserves real estate around the dimly-lit bar and inside illuminated lockers to showcase over 250 unique spirits. Expressions cover categories like American, Scotch, and Asian whiskeys; brandy; agave and cane spirits; gin; and amaro. One-ounce pours wildly range in price, from $10 all the way up to $4,500. All goods are poured in tasting-approved Glencairn glasses etched with The Fountain Inn’s logo.
Flights showcasing a range of terroirs, barrel finishes, and aged options start at $75 and soar to $500. One curated lineup of golden-hued gems comes from Kentucky’s Stitzel Weller, the pioneering American whiskey distillery founded by the legendary Julian “Pappy” Van Winkle in 1935.
Forgotten cocktails from the late 18th century are back in style at The Fountain Inn ($17 each). A Rattle-Skull packs a punch with peach brandy, cognac, Jamaican rum, Swedish punsch, white wine, and nutmeg.
Food takes a back seat to spirits. A quick list of snacks (cheese, charcuterie, olives, and homemade bar mix) makes The Fountain Inn more of a pre- or post-dinner destination, she says. Hours are 5 p.m. until midnight on Wednesday to Thursday and Sunday and until 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday (closed Monday and Tuesday).
Kirchner can figure out which specific spirit guests would like to sip before they even come through the door. When making a reservation online, an optional questionnaire asks about drink-related preferences and spirit knowledge levels.
“It enables us to figure out what experience they’re looking for. The whole idea is to pair people with spirits. I’m very passionate about this — spirits should be a tasting experience [using] all your senses,” she says.
A custom bar cart made in Brooklyn, outfitted with insulated ice drawers, room for mixologists’ tools, and snazzy bicycle wheels, will roam around upstairs to serve stirred cocktails, neat, or on-the-rocks spirits (the bar downstairs will handle the rest). The second level is framed with handsome, wood-framed spirit lockers, prints of former presidents playing pool, and drinking memorabilia like Old Crow’s ceramic “Chessmen” whiskey vessels from the ‘60s.
Fountain Inn doesn’t just cater to the serious spirit connoisseur or vintage enthusiast, however. The 21-seat downstairs bar area reserves space for walk-ins who simply want to drink and soak up Fountain Inn’s historical significance.
Originally established in 1783 by clockmaker John Suter, The Fountain Inn (also known as Suter’s Tavern) is one of the most important bars in American history. It’s where the first presidential debate between Thomas Jefferson and John Adams went down in 1800 — a pivotal moment in time recently made relevant again by hit musical “Hamilton.”
Jefferson was also a regular at the then-Georgetown hotspot, and once said: “No man on the Atlantic coast can bring out a better bottle of madeira or sherry than ol’ Suter.” To honor Jefferson’s tastes, homemade madeira tincture plays a part in a “Rebellious Old Fashioned” with Demerara sugar and rye.
While the precise location of the original tavern remains up for debate, a “K & M” insignia under The Fountain’s Inn logo symbolizes its known vicinity (somewhere around Georgetown’s K or M Streets NW).
“We are taking the idea and resurrecting it, trying to tell history the way it happened,” she says.
Fountain Inn Hospitality Group comes from Viyas Sundaram, Prav Saraff, Craig Limon and Charlie Berkinshaw and Ameya Kulkarni, who hatched a plan to open a D.C. tasting room — while buzzed, of course — during a sprinter van tour of Whistle Pig and other Vermont distilleries.
Sundaram owns the Georgetown building, and when his beauty shop tenant closed during the pandemic, the opportunity to make it Fountain Inn’s future home came to fruition fast. D.C. design studio //3877 put together the sophisticated look, working with a fresh canvas torn down to studs.
Each founder has a locker for their coveted collections, some of which is up for grabs. An in-the-works membership system will let guests store their own spirits across 30 remaining lockers. Unlike official U.S. states, D.C. is unique in that it lets bars source through secondary markets like private collectors and estate sales.
“I joke we are the ‘Wild West’ of liquor laws,” says Kirchner.
This spring, an adorable, pebble-lined patio will add a handful of wrought iron tables and chairs out front.