Foreign National is the new bar just to the right of sibling Stateside on Capitol Hill (look for the small plaque with the name and the sun symbol on the door), and it's already getting raves for its cocktail program and atmosphere. We stopped in recently to check it all out, and here are three impressions from the visit.
The Drinks: The bar staff, led by Adam Fortuna, makes amazing cocktails (11 on the list when I was there). But what friendly and knowledgeable bartender Eli Hetrick (former Sun Liquor manager) says really sets them apart is the style behind the cocktail menu. Expect “transportive” drinks, unique numbers that incorporate lesser-known flavors from all over the world to offer people something they haven’t had. Take the Silk Road, featuring multiple rums, coconut cream, curry, South Asian and Southeast Asian cooking highlight pandan, and ginger. It’s super creamy, and conveys an explosion of tastes. The Sorrel Sour is also a highlight. A new branch on one of the oldest cocktail trees, it has traditional gin, lemon, lime, and egg white, but then features leaves from the herb red meadow sorrel, which have had liquid nitrogen poured on them to instantly freeze them. The leaves are then muddled to powder. The process ensures the herb’s flavorful oils impart a rich flavor without bitterness–-and also brings a lovely green hue to the drink. Amazing! The cocktail list so full of intriguing numbers, it’s hard to choose. There’s also a fun menu of three Boilermakers (the Champagne of beers Miller High Life paired with actual Champagne is inspired), and a small list of beer and wine.
The Food: There isn’t an expansive list of “Drinking Snacks” as they’re called, but what’s available for edibles shares the attention to taste and detail that you’d expect alongside the cocktails. Though they might seem at first glance the most mundane of the snacks, don’t skip over the Crispy Fried Potatoes, which are perhaps the finest Jojos (or potato wedges, if you didn’t grow up in the Midwest) I’ve ever had: a lovely crisp on the outside, smooth and soft inside. Dip them into the accompanying Sriracha Hollandaise. If you want to travel a little farther afield, you’ll encounter more exotic fare, like Malaysian Spiral Cut chicken curry puffs, or a Shrimp and Avocado Dip featuring miso and yuzu and with rice crackers for dipping. The two banana splits are also developing a devoted following: one has lemongrass ice cream, with a Lychee sorbet, plus Jackfruit, Longan, coconut tapioca, whipped cream, macadamia nut, feuilletine, banana, and a cherry.
The Space: It’s not a large spot—there’s room for 34 if all seats are used as designed, but they keep the amount of folks in check, to ensure people can enjoy their time in a comfortable space. The style mirrors the drinks and food, and really the whole package is the vision of owners Eric Johnson and Seth Hammond, with help from designer Callie Meyer. It really is, like the drinks, transportive, especially if you come in early to the low-lit interior. It takes a second to adapt, but once in, it’s easy to dream you’ve traveled to an early 1900s lounge in Asia or other far-away locale. There’s a low wall of booths with small tables and stools, concrete floors, candles, and load of brass accents: brass swans on the bar, brass light fixtures, brass and glass coasters. Plus a slow rotating mosaic mirror ball. The best way to experience it is to come in with just one other, and grab two of the eight bar stools. You don’t want to miss the cocktail making in action. It can fill up quick (already lines are forming on Friday and Saturday), but even if you have to wait a bit, it’s worth it.