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The Line’s new “Beyond The Portico” lineup.
John Rorapaugh for LeadingDC

At the Line DC, the Barman’s Homemade Spirits Are Anything But Straightforward

Mixology wizard Lukas B. Smith showcases his own fernet, a spot-on riff on Chartreuse, and other recipes years in the making

At Adams Morgan’s No Goodbyes, the cleverly named Skyewalker cocktail leans on the tried-and-true Penicillin foundation of blended Scotch, ginger, and lemon juice. But it’s a fourth key ingredient — a float of peated fernet — that boosts the drink from an elementary whiskey sour to one of the most artful sips in D.C. The homemade liqueur is one of many examples of the craftsmanship and inventive mind of the Line DC’s bar manager Lukas B. Smith, who’s revitalizing the 6-year-old hotel’s handsome lobby bar with an influx of original liqueurs and spirits not found anywhere else (1770 Euclid Street NW).

Lukas B. Smith makes liqueurs and aperitifs at the Line’s cocktail lab.
John Rorapaugh for LeadingDC

At a time when a spike of drinking establishments seem eager to entice guests with flashy decor and pop-culture themes, Smith sees his efforts as a way to get back to the fundamentals of cocktails.

“It’s about the liquid in the glass and how it got there,” he says.

At Smith’s cocktail lab inside the Line, the D.C. bar vet’s creations range from riffs on distinctive bar standbys like Campari, in-demand Chartreuse, and vermouth, to more unique projects like his peated fernet, brown butter mezcal, or pisco lime cordial, all skillfully applied across a menu split into “Old Dogs” and “New Tricks” drinks.

The Line is the latest stop for Smith, who’s left a lasting imprint on the D.C. bartending community over the years at powerhouse places like whiskey standard-bearer Jack Rose Dining Saloon (and its former Dram and Grain cellar) and rum distillery Cotton & Reed, where he gained experience in batching and raw botanicals. Smith also opened and operated now-closed 14th Street NW hangout Destination Wedding.

For Smith’s latest role, the hip hospitality group with other Lines in Los Angeles, Austin, and San Francisco grants him the freedom in D.C. to explore his long-held interest in deconstructing spirits and liqueurs to learn what makes them tick.

“Rather than just taking something off the shelf, I want to have more control of what goes into my cocktails, to create new sensations,” he says.

The Skyewalker cocktail at No Goodbyes.
John Rorapaugh for LeadingDC

There’s no doubt a lot of food science involved, and many possible paths. But Smith says he’s building off what he knows works and not looking to create wildly new products. In other words: unique, not strange.

“We’re twiddling the dials without upsetting the apple cart,” he says. “You get it and you’re surprised at the same time.”

For a glimpse into the process, take the peated fernet. The base is a homemade fernet liqueur, which Smith said took years of research, trials, and “many errors” to perfect. The signature ingredient in fernet is myrrh, which Smith describes as “an outrageously pungent tree resin.”

“Myrrh leaps out of the glass aromatically, but its effect is most profound on the tail end of a sip,” he says. “It sits down on the palate and refuses to budge, suffusing the lungs and sinuses with its lingering fog. Some love it, some hate it, and everybody else can tolerate it, provided that a proper balance is found.”

That train of thought led his brain to one thing: peat. For the peated version, Smith follows the house Fernet formula and leaves out the myrrh, replacing a certain percentage of the total volume with Talisker 10 Whisky from the Isle of Skye.

“Compared to the way people were making cocktails 30 years ago, maybe it is really fussy,” Smith says of his methods. “Compared to the way bartenders were making cocktails in the 19th century, not so much.”

Lukas B. Smith pouring his believable spin on Chartreuse in beakers.
John Rorapaugh for LeadingDC

There’s an economic angle to all this home cooking as well. Many liquor brands are owned by large international companies, and the pandemic caused still-evident uncertainties around supply, pricing, and quality. Smith says prices on Chartreuse, a must for a Last Word cocktail, are up 40 percent or more recently, with strict limits on inventory. Learn to make something similar in-house, and it frees up possibilities.

Drinks on the standard No Goodbyes menu range from $16-$25. Options include the Ladyfinger (Il Tiramisu), which should convert any espresso martini drinker into a mezcal fan, and a Manhattan named after neighboring Lanier Heights neighborhood and enhanced by a nutty black walnut amaro. There’s something for everyone, and there’s no need for a deep backstory to make sense of it all.

“I want to make drinks that people like, and that those that are interested in will get more out of,” he says.

Neptune’s Daughter (Marnier Sauvage, Gracias a Dios Tobalá, Tio Pepe Fino, lime).
John Rorapaugh for LeadingDC
The Vieux Carré Grand at No Goodbyes costs a pretty penny.
John Rorapaugh for LeadingDC

That kind of cocktail enthusiast, or anyone looking for a reason to splurge, should ask for the “Beyond the Portico” menu – essentially the No Goodbyes equivalent of a reserve wine list. Available by request only, it’s a small showcase of cocktails and ingredients that are unburdened by affordability and practicality. Among the five choices is the $60 Vieux Carré Grand, a rich take on the New Orleans classic stirred with 6-year, bottled-in-bond rye whiskey, Grand Marnier Cuvée du Centenaire, Benedictine, house dry sweet vermouth, and bitters. And the Dino Martinez ($30) blends Monkey 47 gin with a Barbaresco chinato liqueur and Luxardo Maraschino.

As pedantic as it all might seem, Smith says the end goal is nothing more than making really good drinks that people enjoy.

“I try to give all cocktail drinkers a reason to come back,” Smith says. “Giving a shit is not a precursor.”

Beyond The Portico collective (Vieux Carre Grand, Dino Martinez, Neptune’s Only Daughter, Rise & Shine).
John Rorapaugh for LeadingDC
Lukas B. Smith stirring creations at the Line.
John Rorapaugh for LeadingDC

The LINE DC

1770 Euclid Street Northwest, , DC 20009 (202) 588-0525 Visit Website

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