Drink City Vol. 3 – Van Hillard

Drink City is written by Beau Finley.  This post originally appeared on DC Focused

Van Hillard has served drinks under a number of aliases around the District: Dr. Clock, Mr. MiG (of MiG Bar), and Hassan (of Hassan’s Rumpus Room). Ever elliptical, he currently serves as the heart and soul of the surreal, atmospheric upstairs of Adams Morgan’s Rendezvous Lounge, colloquially known as Dr. Clock’s Nowhere Bar. Drink City is a series of snapshots of people in the D.C. area who are invested in D.C.’s drinking culture.


What brought you to D.C.?

Tunes and a desire for a new homebase. I was playing with a band out of the South and we were routinely trekking up and down the East Coast. D.C. made for a decent place to pop a squat for a little while—this was about 12 years ago. I’m cozily mired here now and too lazy to uproot anytime soon.

How long have you been bartending in the city?

Since day 3 of arrival (circa 2003 via an ad in the City Paper). It was initially at some jerky little joint that has long since kicked the bucket. Bartending off and on ever since, but profoundly on for the last four years.


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

There’s interest aplenty [in classic cocktails] here in D.C. for sure, however I don’t go too nutso with it. The bar is itty bitty so I’m a wee restricted. I’ll generally stock a few user-friendly “quantity” beers but my selection mainly consists of chewable brews from around the DC area. Sans kegerator at the bar, so I only deal with breweries that offer bottles/cans. Port City, DC Brau, and Flying Dog are all within slingshot distance and have a sturdy set of options in the quality suds department.

As for classic cocktails, I’ve taken a few of them and given them a shave and a haircut, for example your Old Fashioned would be my Curmudgeon (fresh OJ instead of the orange, rye, dash of creme de almond, sugar, bitters).


What sorts of things would you like to see in D.C. in the coming years?

Perhaps I’ve read too many Philip K. Dick books and/or watched too much Lynch and Godard, but without compromising the fundamentals (see: booze/beer), I adore the feeling of creating something that seems at times, outside of time and space, and the cozy camaraderie that revelers generate among themselves as a result of this feeling. I never come in and simply press *play* – the disposition of the bar (small, somewhat hidden) shifts with each bag of bones that comes through the door. There are a number of tiny elements that, if discreetly manipulated, can create a supremely unique environment. In short, I treat the place like an extension of my psyche, for better or worse.

[I prefer] a decent balance between some low-grade fundamentals (canned campin’ beer/stiff & surly rail drinks) and some fun, out there options to keep it interesting.

(See: Needle Trax: lemonade, Blue Coat gin, dash of absinthe).

And then there’s the double-dog dare-y stuff like the Meth Mouth (Jager and Cherry Coke). The Meth Mouth is like having grasshopper on the menu. 9 out of 10 folks will reach for the barf bag before they go off and actually order one. Alas, those same 9 will tell their buddies and their buddies’ buddies about it.

(And who fucking knows what the 1 weird critter who actually orders it does).

(Consult Steve Buscemi’s character in Happy Gilmore for that one).

It’s a sugar bomb. Those two or three weirdos who you see order cotton candy at a baseball game and actually eat the damn stuff would love it. That said, it’s unusual, so those people will come back and (perhaps discreetly) seek it out.

I’m motivated by weird, esoteric reasons. For example, I carried Asahi for months and months because having it around made me think of Tokyo. I had a blast there for a stretch of a few blurry weeks.


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

I make a heck of a lot of Snakeskin Jackets. Supreme yawnfest at the bar one night and a knucklehead regular double-dog dared me to toss Fireball and Absinthe in the same glass “just to see what happens” so I did the dirty deed and then cut the sucker with ginger beer and OJ. I’m still probably more surprised than anyone on this planet or any other at how suspiciously well it worked. Four ingredients that have no biz being in the same room conspired to create a very distinct taste. It’s not for everyone, but hell, what is? David Lynch’s Wild at Heart was flickering on the boob tube at the time so I dubbed it the Snakeskin Jacket (after Nick Cage’s snakeskin jacket, which he was inspired to wear after seeing Marlon Brando decked out in one in the Fugitive Kind). I sell a lot of Log Ladies, too (also a name swiped from Lynch), which is Bulleit Bourbon and then equal parts champagne, ginger beer, and cranberry.


All images © Beau Finley. You can see more of his work on his flickr page.  If you or someone you know would like to be a part of this series, you can contact him: beaufinley at google’s email service.

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