The Watering Hole: The Sexton, 5237 Ballard Ave. N.W., 829-8645, BALLARD
The Atmosphere: The decor of this latest and greatest addition to bustling Ballard Avenue is a blend of old and new that's difficult to pigeonhole. The booths and tables are made of elegant dark wood that makes the place feel like it's been around forever, while the bar itself comprises dozens of white cassette tapes encased under glass, one of many modish touches. It's also vaguely Southern-inspired, with mason jars serving as water and beer glasses. The lighting is soft, with candles and vintage bulbs, and a youngish crowd trickles in early on a Tuesday evening.
The Barkeep: Adam Fream, a Baltimore native, moonlights as a mixologist at Belltown's faux-speakeasy Bathtub Gin. The Sexton opened a month ago, and Fream has been on board from the start. He followed former Bathtub Gin cocktail craftswoman Marley Tomic-Beard, now running the show at The Sexton.
The Drink: The drink menu includes a "Bet on Your Bartender" option, which allows Fream and co. to "create a custom cocktail based on your preferences," but he opts instead for the Sweater Weather, a house specialty of his creation. He fills a pint glass with ice and pours in Old Overholt rye, Carpano Antica vermouth, Cynar (an Italian artichoke liqueur), and a dash of Abbott's bitters. This he stirs, strains into a short cocktail glass, and tops with freshly grated cinnamon. "It's basically a winter spice Manhattan," Fream says of his amber concoction.
The cinnamon grabs hold of the tongue at first, but gives way to a luscious, lingering bite from the bitters, Cynar, and rye. After a few moments, Fream pours a separate sip of Carpano Antica vermouth. It is dark red and delicious, tasting vaguely of spiced cherries, chocolate, and Madeira. When I switch back to the Sweater Weather, the vermouth's sweetness is much more pronounced. Fream explains that Carpano Antica is one of the oldest types of vermouth, and it "makes quite the Manhattan."
The Verdict: The cocktail is sublime, but The Sexton prides itself on its bourbon selection. "We have a smaller shelf to start," Fream says, "but it's growing every day. It seems like every time I come to work there's a new bottle." So as an encore, Fream pours a dram of Elmer T. Lee, a single-barrel bourbon from the Buffalo Trace distillery. Smooth and warming, this is a liquid- blanket cure for a blustery January evening.