Destination Tiki Bar: Tiki TNT & Potomac Distilling CompanyBy Jake Emen
MAKE RUM NOT WAR. So reads the smokestack standing proudly beside Tiki TNT & the Potomac Distilling Company in Washington, D.C.’s new Wharf neighborhood.
“I just want people to have fun here,” says Todd Thrasher, the longtime star bartender who’s now donning a few additional hats—such as distiller and chief tiki officer behind the massively ambitious distillery project.
His iconic Alexandria speakeasy, PX, opened its doors 12 years ago. In the decade-plus since, Thrasher has been involved in numerous other successful bars and restaurants. However, there was always the allure of making his own products from scratch.
CREATING A LEGACY
The quest began in earnest while Thrasher was on a trip to New Zealand. There he stumbled upon a product from another D.C. resident, Melanie Asher. “It was in 2010, and I was drinking in a bar in Wellington and saw a bottle of Macchu Pisco,” recalls Thrasher. He couldn’t believe he traveled halfway around the world and found his friend’s pisco, texting her immediately about his discovery. “And I thought, I would love to do something like that and leave a legacy, to do something more besides opening bars and restaurants.”
Todd Thrasher / Photo Credit: Potomac Distilling Company
Today, the culmination of that original idea continues drawing its inspiration from Thrasher’s world travels. “The whole place transports me to vacations I’ve taken,” says Thrasher. “I want people to be transported. This bar is from my trips to Polynesia, bits and pieces of bars I took from the South Pacific. What I wanted was to open a local Polynesian pub.”
That spirit and ethos fills the place, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a local Polynesian pub quite like this. Picture multiple bar spaces; bar spaces within bar spaces; hidden dining nooks and private tasting rooms. Numerous seating areas all around the building line a jam-packed summertime plaza and a rooftop bar.
TIKI BAR + RUM DISTILLERY
To say this was a massive undertaking may be selling it short. Opening a bar and running a distillery are each hard enough on their own. Thrasher combined those tasks with a hands-on approach—one that saw him stringing lights, wallpapering and painting to make sure every detail was covered.
Potomac Distilling Company / Photo Credit: Potomac Distilling Company
“The transition really hasn’t been hard once you put your mind to it, but time management can be rough,” says Thrasher. “If I had to open in April , I would have died.” Instead, the opening finally came through in December, with the fully functional and licensed distillery following suit in early 2019.
His rum lineup will include four varieties, including a white, a gold and a spiced rum. The fourth member of that group is where things really get interesting. What Thrasher has dubbed a Green Spiced Rum has a flavor profile closer to what you’d find in gin. Ingredients include lemon verbena, mint, lemongrass, lemon balm and green cardamom. These herbs and botanicals will eventually be sourced from a rooftop garden.
TIKI AS THRASHER
His rums will be distributed in the mid-Atlantic region to start with. However, Thrasher hopes for a quick expansion once he has the product supply to move forward. In the meantime, his bar is his distillery’s own best customer. There he’ll serve a lineup of tweaked tiki classics and original cocktails. “What I did do is dial back the sugar level on the drinks,” says Thrasher. “Some of the people that are tiki as f*ck don’t thank me when they’re here … but they’ll thank me the next morning.”
Tiki TNT / Photo Credit: Tiki TNT
Clearly, Thrasher isn’t afraid to branch out beyond the sometimes strict confines of tiki to pursue his vision. And so there are drink options such as a frozen Rum In Coke cocktail served in a koozie-clad Coke can.
“You don’t have to be serious in here, you don’t have to yell at me for not wearing a flower shirt,” Thrasher continues, while donning a black Thrasher’s Rum tee as opposed to the typical tiki bar uniform. “I wanted to dial the kitsch down, because while I think there’s a market for that, you don’t have to all do the same thing.”
Tiki TNT & Potomac Distilling Company is located at 1130 Maine Ave. SW, Washington D.C. The bar is open daily Monday-Friday 3pm-1:30am, Saturday 11am-1:30am, Sunday 11am-11:30pm.