728 King St.
Alexandria, VA 22314
CUISINE Bar/Pub Grub
PRICE $$ ($13-$20)
HOURS Open for dinner and late-night dining, Wednesday through Saturday.
NVM AWARDS None
NEARBY METRO None
SPECIAL FEATURESAccepts Credit Cards
By Warren Rojas
A modern speakeasy hidden in plain sight (just look for the Jolly Roger wafting above King Street or the curious blue light beckoning on South Columbus Street), PX turns the simple act of drinking into art appreciation—with a twist.
The second-story hideaway serves as the cocktail gem in Cathal and Meshelle Armstrong’s culinary crown (they also operate Eamonn’s, The Majestic and Restaurant Eve). Eve sommelier Todd Thrasher is the head mischief maker here, but he draws support from a skeleton crew including general manager (and de facto chef) Clinton Terry and fellow barkeeps Sebastian Bie and Jayson Smith.
All the name dropping in the world won’t help you once the 32 seats inside are filled (they typically do three seatings on weekend nights). But Thrasher says staff makes every effort to keep the just under a dozen bar stools and Velvet room perches first come, first served, while the so-called Blue room (featuring reconfigurable banquettes and floating ledges stocked with antique bar ware) can be claimed via online reservations.
Those lucky enough to score a seat at the bar are greeted by stacks of homemade infusions (cherry, grapefruit, mint, preserved lime, maple pepper), hard-sought solids (pastel-colored salts, basil flowers, pickled sage, violet dust) and exotic spirits galore (Licor Cuarenta y Tres is a Spanish concoction that smells lethal, but tickles the palate with vanilla and anis).
“When you think of a bar, it’s really the original chef’s table. Everyone can see exactly what you’re doing,” Thrasher posits. “There’s no hiding.”
He strives to keep around two dozen drinks on the cocktail carte at any given time—stressing that most of his seasonally-inspired libations face a very limited shelf life.
“Basically, what I try to do is never repeat,” Thrasher states. “If it comes off, it never returns.”
That, however, does not preclude variations of well-received creations from enjoying encore performances (he notes that an updated BLT could reappear any day now). Meanwhile, he says that Eamonn’s Cocktail and Gin and ‘Tonic’ have been menu staples since day one.
According to Thrasher, drinks can originate at either Eve or PX. But he suggests that he tends to experiment more at Eve.
The results are often brilliantly intoxicating.
The so-called Smoker’s Delight rolls together honeycomb bits, honey syrup, aged bourbon and tobacco syrup—the bar stocks Marlboro Reds, Newport’s, Romeo y Julieta’s, clove cigarettes and other fruit-spiked leaves for on-the-spot steeping; the doctored bourbon oozes mellow, while the tobacco sticks you in the back of the throat (surprise spice).
A Strawberry Rhubarb Smash delivers a hand-carved ice block—meticulously trimmed to just slide into the glass—doused in liquefied garden spoils (stiff, refreshing and nowhere near as overly sweet as the core ingredients would have you believe) and garnished with basil flowers (reedy buds are pretty, fragrant) and a lone basil leaf (emerald herb lies triumphantly atop its shimmering ice throne).
I strongly recommend the Detox be renamed Guaranteed Relapse, as I could unrepentantly sip this tart-spicy cavalcade all day (loved that the roasted lemon, grapefruit and habanero all hit you at different times; some times it was a citrus kick up right front, others the rolling heat took control).
Other potent potables include: a beet medley (irrepressible sweetness), and a Moscow mule with plenty of kick (powered by homemade ginger ale forged from fresh ginger and Serrano peppers).
Sustenance arrives in the form of assorted paninis (smoked but still very tender salmon arrives pressed with peppery capers; a vegetarian number pairs juicy tomatoes with wholesome avocado and zesty pesto) or fish and chips from downstairs.
Napkins, however, seem to be a rare commodity (tsk, tsk).