“You adopt the universal habit of the place, and call for a mint-julep, a whiskey-skin, a gin-cocktail, a brandy-smash, or a glass of pure Old Rye, for the conviviality of Washington sets in at an early hour,” wrote Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Atlantic Monthly in 1862 while in the capital city to report on the Civil War. Two blocks from the White House, the Willard (now part of the InterContinental Hotels group) has played host to Mark Twain and other notables whose portraits line the walls.
After a stroll along the hotel’s “hall of history” — which documents its colorful past and features famous guests like Walt Whitman, who gave the establishment a nod in his essay “Battle of Bull Run, July, 1861” — it was on to the Round Robin Bar. There was no deliberating what to order. I already knew I would be sampling one of the libations Hawthorne mentioned: the mint julep, introduced to Washington, D.C., by Kentucky senator Henry Clay in the 19th century and now the bar’s signature drink. –Shannon McKenna Schmidt