Rachel Sergi of D.C.’s The Next Whiskey Bar started out in the cocktail world as a hobbyist. While studying film in San Francisco, she was introduced to the local hospitality scene through a then-boyfriend who was a chef; she started poring over cocktail books and casually making drinks for fun at events. Upon returning to her hometown of D.C., she covered a shift for a bartender friend and quickly learned that life on the other side of the stick was dramatically different from talking shop from a perch on a bar stool.
“My interest was in sitting in bars and talking to people and drinking gin Martinis—but then I got thrown to the wolves,” she says. “I didn’t know what the hell I was doing.” What she did know was that she liked it—and so she decided to make the switch from pursuing a career in film editing to bartending. “Where editing was more manipulating film and the experience, when you’re behind the bar you are in the experience,” she says.
Over the two ensuing decades, she’s watched customer tastes evolve from preferring vodka-sodas and blue drinks to appreciating everything from absinthe to whiskey. “The market has come a long way,” she says. “Making sugary cocktails for the masses has changed into making all sorts of drinks for the masses.”
As the head bartender at The Next Whiskey Bar, located in The Watergate Hotel, Sergi focuses on brown spirits, trying to ensure there’s a little something for everyone in the process. “I have drinks on the menu that are for the beginner… or the one that wants it strong and stirred,” she says. Her ideal whiskey drink, though, is all about the star ingredient: “I want the whiskey to shine.”
So what does Sergi get up to when she’s not behind the bar? Here, she takes our Lookbook Questionnaire to share her best-ever meal, favorite bars and weirdest hobby, plus the recipe for the Bee Keeper, her pineapple-tinged, Scotch-based riff on a Whiskey Sour.
Rachel Sergi makes the Bee Keeper
Current occupation: Bartender.
What do want to be when you grow up? Taller.
What’s your favorite classic Scotch cocktail? The Rusty Nail.
Tell us about your drink. I wanted to do a twist on a Whiskey Sour—with bite. I love Dewar’s, and it plays really well with pineapple. I made a pineapple-white pepper cordial, added some Burlesque bitters, and I made an espuma that goes on top of the drink from an iSi charger.
How do you think about developing a Scotch cocktail vs. one that uses rye or bourbon? What are your key tips to keep in mind? Scotch has so many regions and flavors available to play with, so there is a lot of testing with differing modifiers and special flavor combinations. Regions should be kept in mind.
Best thing you ever drank: Coconut milk from a fresh coconut in the Philippines as a kid.
Worst thing you ever drank: A glass of warm vodka, mistaking it for my water.
Weirdest cocktail experiment you’ve ever attempted: Dehydrated cocktails.
What’s your favorite thing to do when you’re not eating, drinking or drink-making? Hanging out with Freddie Mercury, my big pitbull.
If you had to listen to one album on loop for the rest of your life, what would it be? The Clash, London Calling.
What’s the weirdest hobby you currently have or have had? Wanting to be a cobbler… still do!
What do you know now that you wish you’d known five years ago? That dogs really shouldn’t sleep on a human’s bed.
Weirdest drink request you’ve ever gotten: Double rail triple sec, warm, in a snifter.
Your favorite bar, and why: Hotel bars—they all have a sense of mystery.
Best meal you’ve ever had: At wd-50.
What’s your go-to drink in a cocktail bar? Gin and Tonic.
Wine bar? Lambrusco, Valpolicella, CDR [Côtes du Rhône].
Dive bar? Rolling Rock.
The one thing you wish would disappear from drink lists forever: Cotton candy.
The last text message you sent: Oh, he is very cute!!