The newly renovated boutique hotel comes with a fantastic bar and restaurant in the heart of Old Town Alexandria.
By Sery Kim
In the heart of the city where George Washington once called home, beautifully preserved Old Town Alexandria resonates with a genteel charm and style of a halcyon era. Two-story federalist buildings line up still-cobble-stone streets, with wood shutters, white lights and the occasional historic figure walking around in full-dress.
Within this tranquil setting is the recently, multi-million dollar renovated Morrison House, managed by the Kimpton Hotel Group.
Kimpton has recently re-envisioned this five story Federalist home into a relaxed contemporary, with all the easy technological conveniences (free wi-fi, cable, sleek wall-mounted televisions) of the 21st century. Interior designs are a soothing palate of beiges and warm blues, with bright pops of color in unique alarm clocks, lighting fixtures and pillows, with the Kimpton signature bed anchoring each room. The bathrooms remain tight and small to maintain the sizing of the original Federalist style.
For the common spaces, Kimpton has woven in a library, a relaxing sitting room with a fireplace and chess tables, as well as the Ashlar Restaurant and Bar – the singular mandate to visit Morrison House.
At Ashlar Bar, a muted palate surrounds the exposed bar with seats for six, with four side tables for a bit more elbow room. Nestle in one of the two cozy front window tables, for a very intimate and romantic craft cocktail session where Head Bartender Maria Concepcion’s carefully curated a cocktail menu shines. Anchored by fresh ingredients (juices squeezed fresh, rustic sugars, fresh fruits from a local vendor), Ms. Concepcion’s vivid imagination brings to life this rather staid corner of the D.C. area’s food-and-beverage universe.Start your evening with the bright, almost palate-cleansing Shrub Cocktail ($12). Grey goose vodka, red bell pepper shrub, falernum, majoram and seltzer combine in a lighter, less sweet cousin to an Italian Spritz. For those who like a refreshing start to the evening, this is the beverage of course.
Then move to the more interesting, late 17th-century colonial inspired drinks such as the Old Fashioned Cocktail ($13). Rather than the somewhat hair-growing qualities of a quintessential old fashioned, Ms. Concepcion has added a delicate, calming touch to this masculine beverage with rustic sugar. For me, this helped leveled the chairman’s reserve spiced rum, cardamom bitters and decanter bitters into something very soothing. Perhaps, one might say, it is my newest favorite drink in the Washington, D.C. area!For the sweeter palate try the Sangaree ($11, Broadbent rainwater madeira, laird’s applejack, lemon, rustic sugar and nutmeg) or, the better of the sweet choices, Sherry Cobbler ($12, alexandro px sherry, lustau manzanilla sherry, novo fogo cachaca, jalapeno). Truly delicious. And for those who prefer a sharper, edgier drink, the Rattle-Skull ($12, Cruzan black strap rum, laird’s applejack, port city porter, lime) or the Liberty ($13, aviation gin, campari, broadbent 5 year madeira) are two solid choices.
A nice wine and beer selection is also available for those who prefer cocktails to start their evening before coursing over to dinner.
Stay for bites at the Ashlar Bar or move into the intimate (and super romantic) dining room for some of marvelously talent Executive Chef Bobby Surdam’s “rustic-meets-fine-dining” menu. Traditional “bar snacks” such as a Charcuterie Board ($16), Cheese Board ($16), and Burger (Ashlar Burger, $19) offer comfort to those diners preferring familiar main-stays when they dine out. But for those willing to step just a bit-beyond the familiar, do not miss the opportunity to try the best dish I had all night, the Braised Pork Shank ($26). An incredible value for its money, this gently cooked pork falls off the bone with the slightest nudge of silverware and the perfectly blanched spinach and excellently seasoned mashed potatoes are a nice accompaniment.
Be sure to also order the Roasted Cauliflower ($9) for a fresh pick-me-up before closing the evening with a few more of Ms. Concepcion’s delightful cocktails.