The secret, Gregg Holcomb says, is to slap the mint. Not grind it. Not mash it. Just break the oils free gently. There’s a certain way to make a proper mint julep. It may not be Canon. But it is certainly gospel.
Thursday night, barring any flood of biblical proportions, Witness is set to make its official public debut on Broadway bringing Capitol Hill’s craft cocktail culture to its main strip.
CHS first reported on longtime Hill barman Holcomb’s plans for a “new Southern” cocktail bar in May as work first began to transform a short-lived fish and chips joint at 410 Broadway E into a church-inspired house of spirits. “You’re offering your testimony, your presence — there is kind of like a revelation standpoint,” Holcomb said about the Witness theme when we talked to him earlier this year.
Re-Settle Design, also behind the pub look at Capitol Cider, has created a space that feels, indeed, like a small house of worship tucked into — an on warm nights when the roll-up front can be lifted, opening onto — Broadway. It’s not overly theme-y and will be less so after some of the church lady hats currently hanging on the wall slowly disappear. A row of authentic church pews lines the southern wall of the Southern bar. Behind the bar hangs a large painting of the old South created by the father of one of the joint’s owners. Staff is dressed in their Sunday best.
Holcomb lives with his wife and five-year-old son a few blocks from his new creation — the first bar he has opened on his own. He had notions of a pre-Pride debut but the project missed the mark by a country mile. In the meantime, you may have seen a few staff meetings and interview sessions on the sidewalk in front of the business as construction was underway inside. Challenges getting the space into shape continued into Wednesday night’s preview event as plumbing problems forced an early end to the party.
With prayers that the plumbing problems are behind him, the honest-to-goodness church pews in place and the build-out complete, Holcomb tells us the biggest change of plans has been the miracle in the Witness kitchen where Jesse Elliott has been able to squeeze more out of the limited space behind the counter than Holcomb could have dreamed. The more ambitious than initially planned menu ranges from $7 bacon peaches to $12 pork and beans and $13 baby back bone marrow. Elliott is also taking a baptismal plunge headlong into a biscuits and gravy and johnny cake-filled brunch starting with Witness’s first weekend of business.
Behind the bar, Holcomb’s years at Knee High Stocking Company and Chez Gaudy have shaped about as down home a craft cocktail menu as a craft cocktail menu can be. A “Soul Tonic” gin and tonic — with “aromatic lime cordial” weighs in at $8. The Champs Elysees will set you back $11. A mint julep will run you $10. The mint will be slapped.
Witness is located at 410 Broadway E. Hours are Monday to Thursday, 4p to 1a, Friday, 4p to 2a, Saturday 9a to 2a and Sunday 9a to 1a. You can find full menus and more about the project at witnessbar.com.