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Distilling Presidential History Into 44 Cocktails

Washington, D.C., bartender Jim Hewes distills presidential history into cocktails.
Liz Baker
Washington, D.C., bartender Jim Hewes distills presidential history into cocktails.

As Washington, D.C., gears up for the 57th presidential inauguration, political parties are in full swing. We're not talking about run-of-the-mill partisan bickering. We're talking about inaugural celebrations: balls, galas and cocktail parties. Emphasis on the cocktail.

The Round Robin Bar in the Willard Hotel is just a stone's throw from the White House. Bartender Jim Hewes has been serving up drinks there for nearly 30 years.

"I've served presidents prior to their going to the White House and after," he tells Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered, including Presidents Reagan, Ford and both Bushes.

But non-presidents can order a drink, too. And if you do, you are likely to be served up a dose of presidential history.

"My background was originally history and education," Hewes says.

Patrons come into the bar, he says, and ask about the political portraits adorning the walls.

"Well if I don't know, who does know?" he says.

So Hewes boned up on the presidential past, especially as it relates to the Willard. As it turns out, it's a rich history.

The original Willard Hotel was built in the 19th Century. Abraham Lincoln slept there the night before his inauguration, and President Ulysses S. Grant would enjoy a drink and a cigar in the lobby.

Southern Style Mint Julep, in honor of our tenth president John Tyler.
Liz Baker / NPR
Southern Style Mint Julep, in honor of our tenth president John Tyler.

In honor of the inauguration, Hewes has come up with a special drinks menu, distilling presidential history into 44 drinks. Some of the drinks are based on what the presidents would have actually had, like the Madeira enjoyed by George Washington. Our first president made references to the fortified wine in Revolutionary War expense reports.

Other drinks on the list are more symbolic, like the Blue Hawaiian created by Hewes in honor of our current president. It's made with tequila, Curacao and lime juice.

"You feel like you're looking at the beautiful blue waters of the Pacific and, of course, this honors the president's heritage in terms of growing up in Hawaii," Hewes says.

Our sixth president, John Quincy Adams, would have warmed up with a hot buttered rum.

"At the time of inaugurals, the weather tended to be rather inclement," Hewes says. "A hot buttered rum was a very, very popular drink at the time, made with Caribbean rum, fresh spices from the island and fresh fruit."

And, according to Hewes, the mint julep was introduced to Washington and our 10th president, John Tyler, by politician Henry Clay at the Willard's bar.

"You hear these stories and that legacy continues," Hewes says. "You're walking in the shadow of giants."

Jim Hewes' Drink Recipes Served At The Round Robin Bar:

The Blue Hawaiian, for 44th President Barack Obama

Serves One

Patron Silver Tequila, (2 oz.) Blue Curacao (1/2 oz.), lime juice (2 oz.)

-Muddle 3 lime wedges with tequila

-Add ice, Curacao and lime juice

-Shake and strain over crushed ice

-Garnish with a wheel of lime and pineapple

Hot Buttered Rum, for sixth President John Quincy Adams

Serves One

Aged Cruzan Rum (2 oz.), triple sec (1/2 oz.), hot water

Cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, pat of butter

-Place a wedge of orange, lemon and cherry in a brandy snifter

-Add 1 tablespoon of cinameg/sugar and liquor

-Pour piping hot water into snifter

-Float butter on top

Variation : substitute hot apple cider

Henry Clay's Southern-Style Maker's Mark Mint Julep, for 10th President John Tyler

Serves One

-Place in a crystal tumbler: 1 teaspoon of sugar, a small measure of Maker's Mark Kentucky Straight Bourbon and eight to 10 red-stemmed mint leaves.

-Gently muddle and add a handful of cracked ice; stir vigorously.

-Add equal measures of Maker's Mark Bourbon and sparkling branch water, re-stir and fill with ice, agitating with relish.

-Garnish with a freshly snipped sprig of mint, the zest of a lemon peel and dust with powdered sugar.

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