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Frank Jones: Front and Center at the Gibson

Posted by on in March 2014 Editions
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Frank Jones, bartender extraordinaire at The Gibson in Washington, D.C., is quick to list star mixologist Gina Chersevani among his first mentors in the business.  Chuckling at the memory of her early tutelage, he recalled, "Gina would always tell me that I was messy and slow!  What she was trying to get me to see was, as a bartender, you are constantly on display.  You don't really think of yourself as being part of the atmosphere, per se, but you are.  Unlike a server at a table, you can't leave your post.  You're stuck there, you're in a fish bowl, and they're watching you.  So, in turn, I've learned to be much more neat.  It's very important to always be aware of the fact that you are being watched and to bring some degree of elegance to the job."

Winner of last year's Artini competition at the Corcoran Gallery, Jones has been tending bar in the Washington metro area for a decade now. He started at the Poste Moderne Brasserie in the Hotel Monaco.  From there, he went to Ardeo + Bardeo, the Belga Cafe, and the Jack Rose Dining Saloon.  "Now I am very happy to be at The Gibson," he stated, "where I pretty much manage the cocktail program."

Jones describes The Gibson as a "speakeasy-style cocktail bar," which is located on 14th and U Streets in the District.  He and his staff specialize in pre-Prohibition-style cocktails, as well as craft cocktails.  "My favorite part of the job," he stated, "is coming up with the drinks and then seeing the guests interact with them, seeing them surprised and happy with what has been set in front of them.  Few Spirits are especially great to work with.  I have two favorites.  One is the Few Rye and the other is the Barrel Aged Gin.  I think the gin, in particular, is just amazing."

He continued, "The most challenging part is consistently coming up with something that you haven't seen already.  Once you get the idea, you're good to go.  You can work it out.  I usually just sit at the bar and ask myself, 'What haven't I put in a drink?' And then I'll think about things that might go well with that. Or, I'll look at a liquor that I don't necessarily care all that much for, that I've kind of avoided using, and I'll force myself to use it in some obscure way.  I also get a lot of inspiration from food and things that I like to eat."

One question he doesn't spend much time obsessing on is which ice to use.  Cubed, crushed, shaved, an ice wedge -- he just doesn't care.  "I might catch a lot of Hell for this, but someone once said to me when asked about ice, 'You just better not run out of it!' I, myself, am the same way. The different types of ice are great. They definitely do have their purposes. However, for me, I tend not to get caught up too much in the ice.  At the end of the day, people want a cold drink, and they want it fast."

Jones also doesn't have a lot of time on his hands to go to other bars and taverns and see what they're doing.  But that doesn't mean he doesn't have a few pet peeves.  "What drives me up the wall is shaking martinis," he exclaimed, "or shaking any cocktail that doesn't need to be shaken!  Other than that, I pretty much avoid going to other cocktail bars.  I try and go somewhere I can actually shut my brain off.  I'll go to dive bars where I don't expect anything."

Customers have come to expect a lot from The Gibson, and Jones and his colleagues are always looking for fun promotions to keep them coming back.  On the horizon, for instance, is a first-of-its kind April Fool's Wedding.  "One of my co-workers and I have decided we're going to get married on April 1st," Jones laughed.  " We're actually very good friends.  She has a boyfriend, and he's going to 'give me away.'  It's going to be a relaxed party, very different from what the Gibson is normally like."

Other than that, Jones just wants to continue having fun and keeping a level head.  "Don't ever be too cocky," he concluded.  "Nobody likes a cocky bartender.  Be confident, but understand that there is a line between confidence and cockiness.  And definitely understand that no matter what you know, there is always more to learn.  Every day, somebody is doing something different and something new.  The moment you think that you know it all, you're already behind."

FAVORITE MOVIE: "Little Shop of Horrors"



PERSON HE WOULD MOST LOVE TO SERVE A DRINK TO (living or dead): Janet Jackson.

SPECIAL INTEREST: "I like to draw and paint.  No particular style.  Whatever strikes me in the moment."