Meet Gina Chersevani. I was intrigued by Gina's talent when I first met her years ago at PS7's. In her new role as a partner with Chef Jamie Leeds of Hank’s Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill, she developed the entire beverage program for the restaurant, as well as the artful cocktail list.
At the University of Maryland, she majored in psychology and fine arts, two fields that would lend themselves naturally to her life’s work. There she began bartending; spent many hours in the chemistry lab [“I got really good at burning holes and making bubbles;”] taught art theory, and embarked on her voracious reading habit – even now, her conversation is liberally sprinkled with references to James Joyce and Mark Twain.
After graduating and entering the mixology world in full swing, the first drink Gina Chersevani made for Jamie Leeds was at 15 Ria in 2003, and as a result Leeds asked her to design her beverage program for the restaurant. The imaginative cocktail menu she developed for Poste Moderne Brasserie at the Hotel Monaco made her reputation. She signed on to be master mixologist for Rasika, the acclaimed modern Indian restaurant, where she was introduced to exotic ingredients like saffron, cloves, and lotus. Then she crossed the Potomac to become Bar Chef for the Neighborhood Group, headquartered at the group’s renowned gastropub, EatBar and upscale neighborhood restaurant, Tallula. Then from 2009 to February 2012, Gina collaborated on a cocktail-culinary direction for PS7’s with Chef Peter Smith.
Gina delivers award-winning, exceptional, cocktails; but traditional, they are not as she is daring and adventuresome, incorporating unconventional ingredients and flavorings that make her cocktails stand out – far out — in the crowd. She also favors fresh – often home-grown – produce in her concoctions, from peppery nasturtiums to the locally raised figs. Her cocktails are out of this world! Make your way to Hank's Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill to try them first hand.
When did you know that this was the profession you wanted to pursue?
I knew this was for me when I realized I could incorporate, art, science and food in one arena. I think it had to have been around 2003.
Whiskey anything, usually, but lately gin and house mixed tonics have stolen my palate.
What's it like to be a partner at Hank's?
Pretty amazing Jamie gave me the opportunity to grow and MATURE. I finally feel like I have stability in my life, I know that I will always have job :)
What was your inspiration in creating the cocktail menu?
Politics and Cocktails never mix...except at the EDDY bar, I made a political list with a very clear statement, everything goes with our food.
How would you describe the DC cocktail scene?
Growing and maturing...still slowly. Lots of cheap (by cheap I mean not good) versions of cocktail menus popping up. However, there are some that are just amazing.
What is your favorite local bar and why?
Oh that's hard...I would have to say Jack Rose for whiskey and its a too for one, I can see Rachel Sergi and Frank Jones at the same bar. For the tie, Passenger, what can I say I love Alex Bookless and of course, Derek's cocktails in the Columbia room. I don't get there enough, but I love it, ChurchKey I never have to ask for food or a beer suggestion, Greg Engert and Erik Bergman just know....and how could you not love those chocolate chip cookies from Tiffany!
How do you de-stress after a long day of working?
As silly as this sounds a hot shower, pj's, perhaps a book--I usually fall asleep a few pages in...what can I say I work too much. I wish it was spicier...maybe in the future ;)
What are your most exciting challenges right now?
Buying all the equipment and stock piling the last of the season local fruit to make soda syrup for the next few months. I just made a 176 quarts of Basignani Winery grapes soda...I call grape drank.
The name of the fountain is Buffalo and Bergen, its named after the street corner where my mom grew up in Brooklyn, (Buffalo Avenue and Bergen Street). It has hand crafted sodas, everything from classic egg creams to caramel cream soda...I took classics and spun them like a Mixtress should...every which way. We also have a new take on classic knishes. Yes the fountain is very NY.
What advice do you have for an amateur mixologist trying to make some fun cocktails at home without all of the specialized spirits?
Read the recipes and make due with what you have, I do :)
What do you like to do when you aren't working or presenting around town?
I paint. I have a degree in Art and its something that I have to do, but as of lately there isn't much time.
Anything else you’d like to share with the readers?
Cocktails are about having fun, good environment and enjoying them with others, don't take it too serious and you will find your inner bartender.
Photos by Emily Clack and Bart Kendrick