Cocktail Hour: Eye On The Rye

In Washington, D.C., Angel Cervantes celebrates The Rye Bar’s namesake whiskey.

The Rye Bar head bartender Angel Cervantes aims to bring simplicity and creativity to rye whiskey–based cocktails.
The Rye Bar head bartender Angel Cervantes aims to bring simplicity and creativity to rye whiskey–based cocktails. (Photo by Scott Suchman)

When the Capella hotel opened in Washington, D.C. in 2013, The Rye Bar was conceived as a way to resurrect rye whiskey consumption in the city. “Rye whiskey wasn’t mainstream in D.C. for the last 25 years,” says head bartender Angel Cervantes. “I’ve worked in bars that didn’t even have one bottle of rye. And to this day people always ask for Manhattans made with Bourbon, but the original recipe used rye.”

The Mexican native hopes to change rye’s reputation by highlighting the spirit in various cocktails that appeal to both men and women. Four of The Rye Bar’s seven signature drinks ($16 to $22) feature the whiskey, including the Old(er) Fashioned, made with (ri)1 straight rye, Hidalgo Pedro Ximenez Sherry, Luxardo Maraschino cherries and orange peel. “It doesn’t matter who you recommend that cocktail to—they just love it,” says Cervantes, who spent two decades behind the bars at acclaimed D.C. restaurants like chef Mark Miller’s Red Sage and chef Michel Richard’s Citronelle before taking over The Rye Bar.

One of the venue’s best-selling cocktails is its Barrel Aged Manhattan, comprising Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania rye whiskey, Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth, Byrrh Grand quinquina and house-made orange bitters. It’s aged for 10 to 12 weeks in charred white oak barrels, and Cervantes can go through a full 330-cocktail batch during a busy week. “That’s a drink that people hear about and tell other people about,” he says, noting that the bar has five barrels aging at a time.

For customers who want a different spirit base, there’s The Moral Hazard, mixing Greenhook Ginsmiths Beach Plum gin liqueur, Dolin Blanc vermouth, Shrub & Co. Spicy Ginger shrub and fresh ginger. “We do really well with that one. We buy five or six cases of Beach Plum at a time,” Cervantes says. He also makes cocktails on the fly for patrons. “That’s a part of my job that I really love,” Cervantes adds.

Another popular non-whiskey drink is the “Not an Apple” Martini, blending Russian Standard vodka, basil, lemon juice, simple syrup, Domaine Carneros Estate Brut Cuvée sparkling wine and a rinse of Pernod absinthe. “Female guests were always asking for Apple Martinis, so I decided to play with a couple ideas,” Cervantes explains. “I muddle the basil and strain it to get a pretty green color.” He notes that the absinthe serves as an aromatic component to balance the strong basil flavor.

At The Rye Bar, Cervantes aims to offer simple but sophisticated cocktails. “We want to be creative, but we don’t want to overdo it,” he says. This approach to the cocktail experience has made The Rye Bar a destination for locals and travelers alike. “We’re committed to quality and to people having a good time,” Cervantes says.

Angel Cervantes’ Recipes

The Rye Bar Barrel Aged Manhattan

By Angel Cervantes
(Photo by Scott Suchman)

2 parts Dad’s Hat Pennsylvania rye whiskey;

1 part Dolin Rouge sweet vermouth;

½ part Byrrh Grand quinquina;

3 drops house-made orange bitters1;

Orange peel.


Combine whiskey, vermouth and quinquina and age in charred white oak barrels for 10 to 12 weeks. To serve, pour 4 ounces into mixing glass with ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a rocks glass over one large ice cube and add orange bitters. Garnish with an orange peel.

1 Peel 10 oranges and sun-dry peels for eight hours. Combine dried peels with 1.75-liter bottle Everclear, ½ cup coriander seeds, ½ cup peppercorns, ½ cup sesame seeds and 2-3 drops orange bitter in a large container and store for six months before using.

“Not An Apple” Martini

By Angel Cervantes
(Photo by Scott Suchman)

1½ ounces Russian Standard vodka;

½ ounce simple syrup;

½ ounce fresh lemon juice;

3 fresh basil leaves;

Pernod absinthe;

Domaine Carneros Estate Brut Cuvée sparkling wine;

Apple slice.


Rinse a Martini glass with absinthe and set aside. Muddle basil leaves in a cocktail shaker. Add vodka, simple syrup, lemon juice and ice, shake and strain into the Martini glass. Top with a splash of sparkling wine and garnish with an apple slice.