Dimly-lit Drinks at the Gibson

The worst part is the people…

Dimly-lit rooms at the Gibson. Photo by Hannah Berman.

The Gibson (2009 14th St NW) is a dark, quiet bar that aspires to be a speakeasy. The door is painted black and looks like it leads to second-floor apartment units; the establishment’s front windows are shuttered. Inside, the lights are so low that an iPhone on its dimmest setting stands out as rude, which is a shame because the menu is QR-coded.

I arrived far too early and was lucky enough to be stuck listening to a date in progress one table over. A man in a grey suit with brown loafers asked the woman across from him, whose blond hair was curled like she had just come from a stylist, “What’s your favorite type of bourbon?”

How much bourbon do you have to drink to have a favorite type? I wondered, tuning all the way into their conversation. After they extolled the virtues of various bourbons for a few minutes, they returned to the basics. They seemed to still be in the getting-to-know-you stage — a second date, if not first. She told him about her sister and her job while he laced his fingers, nodding every so often and leaning forward to seem interested.

When the waiter arrived, the woman ordered a drink that was actually on the menu, and then the man nonchalantly locked his phone and asked, “Can I get an old fashioned? Wait — do you have [specific brand of bourbon]?”

“No, sir, just [a different brand of bourbon].”

“Oh, I’ll just have whatever’s house, then,” the suit responded, and I coughed so that I wouldn’t laugh.

The waiter interrupted my thoughts. “Do you want to order, or wait for your date?”

Taken aback, I stuttered over the words, “It’s not a date,” and then, realizing I hadn’t answered his question, added, “I’ll wait.”

When I turned back to the date, they had moved on to another normal topic of conversation amongst the upper echelon: new businesses. “There’s a new Takoda opening up,” said the woman, and the man nodded knowingly. “Should be nice.”

“Better than most of the places that have stayed open after COVID, anyway,” the man agreed. “My cousin just graduated and asked me if there’s anywhere else to go to get a good drink aside from Mission. Can you imagine that? Thinking that Mission is a place to go to get a good drink?” The woman laughed.

Interior and drinks at the Gibson. Photos by Hannah Berman.

Thankfully, at that point my second cousin arrived, and I didn’t have to listen to those two covertly talk about their respective wealth any longer. The waiter came over immediately and said, “Ooh, okay, hate to be nosy, but are y’all related?” From that moment on, the Gibson began to grow on me.

I ordered the Before the Dawn cocktail, which according to the menu includes “Mezcal, Don Ciccio & Figli Ambrosia, Salers, lime, and salt.” It was billed to me as “citrus-y,” which I guess it was, but I mostly picked up on a smoky flavor — possibly the Salers. My second cousin ordered the Star-Child, another complex drink made with passionfruit liqueur that was still somehow less pink than my cocktail.

Being at the Gibson was considerably better with another person in their twenties across the table from me. Still, I realized when I said, “What is it really like living in the Olympic pod?” that I might sound just as ridiculous as the people on the date.

Soon, it was time for me to stop griping about my job and for my cousin to stop regaling me with tales of speed-skating sponsorship woes. When we asked for the check, the waiter arched an eyebrow. “Just one round? You gotta be up early or something?”

“I do, I’m a teacher!”

“Oh, my goodness. Let me tell you one thing about being a teacher in the District,” he replied, and then he set off on a fifteen minute tangent about his high school English teacher who used to shelter him in her office while he skipped the rest of his classes, and whose retirement party he just threw a few months ago.

At long last, my second cousin and I emerged from the Gibson onto the street outside, which was lighter than inside despite it being 10:30pm. I have to go back to the Gibson soon, I thought, and made my way home smiling, wondering whether that man would pause to take off his expensive watch before getting into bed with his date.

Read more musings at Do Not Disturb, Hannah is Eating, or subscribe to get the newsletter delivered to your inbox here.

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