Drink City: “a series of snapshots of people in the DC area who are invested in DC’s drinking culture” Vol. 1 – Dani Paulson from Copycat Co.


Drink City is written by Beau Finley.

Dani Paulson is currently at Copycat Co. on H Street NE.  Drink City is a series of snapshots of people in the DC area who are invested in DC’s drinking culture. This post originally appeared on DC Focused.

What brought you to DC?

I moved back to the DMV area after college. My stepdad had just been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan and my mom needed help with my younger brother and sisters while he was away. I worked in retail for a few years and I was miserable, so I went back to school after my stepdad got home and started waiting tables to pay my tuition. I fell in love with the restaurant industry and moved to DC from the ‘burbs almost 5 years ago.

How long have you been bartending in the city?

I had two bosses at two consecutive restaurant jobs in Virginia tell me that I “didn’t have what it takes” to be a bartender, so naturally I took this as a challenge. My first bar job in DC was opening Black Jack [in 2011]. While I was transitioning to DC I had a lot of free time so I spent all of it at Black Jack doing everything that goes along with opening a new spot. On the third night of our soft opening, one of the bartenders was a no-call, no-show. One of the beverage directors came up to me and said, “Get behind the bar. You know where everything is.” At the end of the night, he asked me how I felt about bartending. I told him I felt great and he said, “Awesome. You’re a bartender now.”

Since then, I’ve been very lucky to meet and work alongside some of the most talented and respected bartenders in DC – people like Jo-Jo Valenzuela, Jamie MacBain, Micah and Ari Wilder, and Tom and Derek Brown. I’ve recently made my way over to Copycat Co. on H Street NE. Devin Gong has an incredibly high standard for his cocktails and I am thrilled to work with and be trained by one of the best bartenders in DC.


The interest in classic cocktails and craft beer has exploded in DC over the past few years – what sorts of trends have you noticed lately?

I keep seeing bars open that are straying away a bit from a craft cocktail menu and instead focusing on building a menu around a single spirit. Places like Lost & FoundThe Gin JointMockingbird HillLibertine and the list goes on.

As far as craft beers go, I’ll be honest: I’m a wino and a rye lover.  That being said, I kind of have a ridiculously huge beer crush on 3 Stars Brewing Co. I love how consistent they are with their drafts from keg to keg and how creative they are with their seasonal beers. The day they come out with cans or bottles I’ll be stocking my fridge and likely drunk. I still need to make my way over to Blue Jacket and Atlas.


What sorts of trends would you like to see in DC in the coming years?

If you look back at bar history, taverns were built to serve travelers meeting each other in inns. What this did was promote human connections more than the quality of the drinks on hand. I feel like so much of the current cocktail scene has gotten lost in what infusion or what house-made syrup or obscure liqueur you are using in your cocktail as opposed to fostering a sense of community within your bar. That doesn’t mean that we can pour swill into a glass and call it a cocktail so long as you’re being a good host, but we should invest as much effort into cocktails as the socializing environment in which we serve our guests.

Do you have a favorite drink to make right now? Why is this your current favorite?

I kind of go through cycles with my favorite cocktails. Right now I’m kind of stuck on The Last Word. I have a soft spot for perennial cocktails that you can appreciate whether it’s January or July. When it’s cold, I love the warmth and herbal notes of Maraschino and Green Chartreuse. When it’s warm, I love the gin and fresh lime. It’s a great cocktail for someone who wants to learn how to drink gin outside of a gin and tonic, with equal parts across the board.

All images ©  Beau Finley. You can see more of his work on his flickr page. A big thanks to Lost Society for allowing us to use their space to take these photos. 

27 Comment

  • justinbc

    Dani is one of my favorite gals in the whole city, excellent choice for a feature! She was the soul behind Hogo, and I’m so glad to have her mixing just up the street from me now at Copycat (a great spot btw, for anyone who hasn’t yet been).

    • So that’s where I remember her from, thanks. It kept bugging me that I couldn’t place a familiar face.

    • “favorite gals”. Ugh. I find this terribly disappointing.

      • justinbc

        I don’t really care.

      • Yup. Very common and easy way to demean a person. Think of the white cop calling certain citizens “boy”. Same thing. We (women) are used to it, but it definitely colors our opinion of the men who do it. Not that they care, as stated above.

        • justinbc

          Oh for fucks sake. How is gals any different than guys, a perfectly accepted phrase? Just because it’s about a woman it has to be twisted to be demeaning? Get over yourselves.

          • I was eagerly awaiting your response, knowing how you’ve previously responded with excellence, but I find what you are saying now terribly disappointing.

          • Some wise poster once said (maybe yesterday) (and I apologize for the paraphrase), If you don’t like my posts, just don’t read them.

        • Actually it’d be like a cop calling certain citizens “guys” ..

      • I had never known or heard that the term “gal” was derogatory. Can you please enlighten the audience so other can avoid your internet wrath?

        • I consider myself pretty feminist and ‘gal’ has never once struck me as offensive. In fact, I use it all the time. I’m with Shawshank & curious why this is offensive as well…please explain.

          • Sure. Because it singles out an element of personhood which is not relevant to her qualifications (her womanhood) while at the same time infantilizing her (girl/ gal).
            Would the original use have been diminished if it had been “Dani is one of my favorite people…”? Or, because this is about a person’s profession, “one of my favorite bartenders”?
            Think about the difference between “beautiful woman” and “beautiful person”. The first pretty commonly refers to appearance, and the second to non-physical qualities, yes? By making specific reference to gender, you automatically emphasize appearance, and thereby place other qualities in a subordinate position.
            I don’t have particularly strong personal feelings about it, but in my profession, I am highly sensitized to it. I’m always intrigued to see how many people will defend their use after being told it is offensive to some, rather than alter it.

          • Really? Honestly? THIS is what you’re upset about? It was a compliment, don’t make something out of nothing.

            Also, would you be nearly as pissed off about someone using the term “he’s a great guy” instead of “he’s a great person”? I suspect not.

            Between this and the um, “stains” debate on instagram, I think I’ve had quite enough for the day.

          • justinbc

            That’s what happens when you read entirely too much into shit on the internet. You are right in that it means more than “my favorite bartender”. I have been personal friends with Dani for years. She is one of my favorite girl friends period, regardless of where she works or what she’s doing. I’m from the South, we say guys and gals all the time, it’s congenial. I also call my friends darling, you would probably hate that too. But, I don’t really care whether it offends you, because it’s not directed at you, it’s directed at someone I know, and I can promise you she doesn’t care either.

          • Hey, that’s what my southern granddad said when we told him he had to stop using *that word*. “I’m southern! That’s just how we talk! They know I don’t mean any harm, they don’t mind!” (And no, “gal” and *that word* are not the same, not even close. Point is, someone might be offended and tell you they aren’t. Socialization is funny that way.)
            Just don’t act all shocked when you encounter someone who DOES mind and it bites you on the fanny.

          • Can’t we just talk about shoes?

          • Emmaleigh504

            I don’t find “gal” infantilizing. It’s the same level as guy. If the write up was about a guy, Justin would have said “one of my favorite guys in the city”. On the other hand, I don’t like the way “gal” sounds, so I’m all for people not using it.

          • WDC you really can’t tell that it’s totally complimentary? Crying wolf every time something isn’t pleasing to your admitted over sensitivity only makes you look silly and causes frustration for everyone else involved. Good job ruining what should have easily been praise for a great bartender.

        • There’s something about “gal” that rubs me (a little) the wrong way and I’m not sure why. It is (or is supposed to be) the equivalent of “guy,” and I have no problems with “guy.” Maybe it’s because it’s an alternate form of “girl”?
          That said, I think of the various words that one can get upset about, “gal” should be pretty low on the list and should cause only a low level of upset-ness. I don’t think Justin is using it in a paternalistic or negative way, so I don’t think this particular instance merits getting upset over.
          In other contexts, I think it might be more questionable — like if a white guy refers to his Hispanic cleaner as “my gal Maria.”

          • I agree with you, it’s pretty low-level. My original foray was in support of UnsophisticatedMan.
            But what IS alarming is how fired up people will get when you tell them they could maybe be more aware of the cultural elements that reinforce the existing structures.

          • You equated it to calling someone racist on multiple occasions, maybe tone down your rhetoric if you don’t want to see strong reactions when attacking another person’s character?

  • Gender politics aside, she is spot on that the Last Word is a damn good cocktail.

  • Congrats on the linguistic sh#tshow, Beau! 😀 j/k
    But back on topic, I look forward to future editions of this series! It will be interesting to get the views of bartenders from all over the District, especially those not normally frequented by the PoP’ville commentariat.

    • Gracias. Next one should be in about 10 days, featuring a Cleveland Park spot and the return (to Cleveland Park) of a great bartender.

  • Dani should open her own bar in Petworth. She wouldn’t have much competition. Jus’ sayin’.

  • She is spot on about bars losing their sense of fostering their own communities within. I’ve seen many favorite bars that were sold and replaced with bars that focused more on 50-ingredient cocktails than they do on getting to know the neighborhood crowd. Give me a good dive or half-dive with a crowd of regulars any day. One of my favorite bars is like one big drunken family environment. We all take care of one another when life throws it’s curve balls and when there is a funeral or wedding, you’d better save a corner on the seating chart for your bar crew. I wish there were a few more places like that around here.

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