First Call: The Kingfish Cafe


A weekly Voracious feature in which our writers walk into a bar and ask the bartender to make us his or her favorite drink.

Place: The Kingfish Cafe, 602 19th Ave. E., CAPITOL HILL

The Kingfish is a rare kind of neighborhood joint because it combines that everybody-knows-your-name feel with a celebratory atmosphere that also makes you feel like you're at an "it" place . . . in a much larger city. Eat there during dinner hours on just about any night and you've likely stood at the bar to pass the time waiting for a table. But the towering wooden bar and its Southern-inspired cocktails are worth checking out as a destination in themselves. On this day it's early. Otis Redding croons in the background to a bar full of empty chairs.

Barkeep: Kammeron Brown, a cocktail alchemist who's worked at the Kingfish since February.

Beverage: The Harlem Palmer. "It has a nice ring to it, doesn't it?" says Brown. He says he created the drink on a hot day, while messing around with some bourbon. (The genesis of all great ideas.) As you might suspect, it includes lemonade and ice tea, just like that golfer-inspired summer classic, the Arnold Palmer. But Brown's concoction -- in addition to the fact that the lemonade's made from scratch with lemon, simple syrup and bitters -- has a generous helping of Maker's Mark, a splash of Mandarine Napoleon, and a spiral orange rind. It's tasty. Tart, but with a sweet kiss at the end.

The Harlem Palmer's not on the menu, but if you catch Brown behind the bar, he'd be happy to make you one. That, or ask him for another of his inspired (and unadvertised) bourbon specialties. Or try one of the other creatively named cocktails on the menu like Harlin's Back Room Jick (Absolute Mandarin and cranberry juice, with lime, and a splash of tonic), or Kenyetta's Dirty Little Secret (Grey Goose vodka, a dash of bitters, and three olives).

Brown comes back after I've taken a few sips to pour the remaining splash from the nearly empty Maker's bottle into my glass. "Ah, sweet mother's milk," he says. "Waste not, want not."

Couldn't agree more.

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