Glendon Hartley. Photo courtesy of Luck & Hustle PR.
Bar star Glendon Hartley, 37, has two missions: to introduce drinkers to the ingredients of his family’s native Trinity and to build the largest pisco collection in North America. The former mostly takes place at Service Bar, Hartley’s popular U Street haunt, and nearby at the two-month-old St. James’s restaurant on 14th Street, where he crafted the drinks. As for grape brandy, you’ll find a collection of over 100 bottles at Causa’s Bar Amazonia, his new Peruvian venture at Shaw.
What is your obsession with pisco?
It is the purest spirit in the world. There’s no dilution, you can’t age it in a cask, you can’t flavor it during distillation. It all depends on the harvest and the microclimates of where they harvest. Pisco is floral, but it can also be salty, rich, spicy. It really is something special.
How does that play into your love of Caribbean ingredients?
This is often misunderstood – people think pisco is like tequila. I don’t think Caribbean cocktails are presented for what they really are. In the Caribbean you have so many ingredients – tamarind, hibiscus. People think the Caribbean is just pineapple and tiki cocktails. Tiki drinks are not Caribbean drinks. They’re fake Polynesian drinks, and it’s sort of cultural appropriation.
What else is important in Caribbean drinks?
In the Caribbean, everything is used, there is no waste. With herbs, the stalks and stalks have more flavor than the leaves. At the Service Bar, I use leftovers from my staff to experiment with their own cocktails. For example, you take the leftover pulp from citrus juice, boil it, and make citrus broth – it tastes so fresh, especially when refrigerated.
Where did you start?
I have always been interested in art and science. I worked my whole career in high school [at Richard Montgomery in Rockville] go to fashion school. I paid for my spot as a bartender and started learning the chemistry that goes into mixology. At that time, Founding Farmers was just getting started. A friend invited me to the orientation and I fell in love with this farm-to-table approach, learning how to make a drink from scratch. It was like a new chemistry for me. I dropped out of fashion school and became a full-time bartender.
What was your vision of the Service Bar when you opened in 2016 and how has it evolved?
My business partner, Chad Spangler, who was my bartender at Founding Farmers, we have similar opinions. The bar industry in DC at the time was trying so hard to emulate New York: dark bars with no atmosphere and squinting over a candlelit menu. We hated going to those cocktail bars because it was boring. The places we liked were the Irish pubs. They don’t care about your color or your religion. You order a pint and everyone is your best friend. We’re always serious about everything we do – we’re just not pretentious about it. If you want to know more, we’ll talk about it. But if you just want to come and have a drink with friends, that’s what bars are for.
You know a bartender’s signature drink has to be tasty when he gets it tattooed on his arm, like Glendon Hartley’s pisco punch. The versatile concoction dates back to the early 1800s, combining fresh citrus, sugar, seasonal flavors – here, raspberries – and Peruvian pisco. Hartley recommends the Caravedo brand of spirits (available at local liquor stores and online) for its “beautiful citrus aromatic notes, which add a lot of flavor to the punches.” Home bartenders can also use any Peruvian pisco, but look for the citrusy torontel variety. Hartley’s Punch is designed to be adaptable – try replacing raspberries with figs (fresh or jammed) in early fall.
¾ ounce fresh lemon or lime juice
1 ounce simple syrup*
4 to 6 raspberries, plus more for garnish (or 1½ ounces raspberry jam)
1½ ounces unsweetened cold green tea (jasmine works well)
2 ounces of pisco, preferably Caravedo torontel
2 dashes bitters or fresh pineapple, apple or orange juice (optional)
In a tall glass or shaker, add lemon or lime juice and simple syrup. Mash the berries or jam and quickly stir in the liquid. Add tea and pisco. If you want a fruitier cocktail, add 2 dashes of the optional bitters or juice. Add ice and stir or shake to combine. Strain the drink into a glass over more ice. Garnish with berries.
* If you are making a larger quantity of cocktail, add the berries or jam to the simple syrup, blend in a blender, and pass the larger pieces (like seeds) through a sieve. Then skip the scrambling step.
This article appears in the July 2022 issue of The Washingtonian.