James Hohman is the Head Bartender at CIRCA at Clarendon in Clarendon, VA. After college, it didn’t take James long to realize that a 9 to 5 job wasn’t for him. After taking a job waiting tables at a restaurant that didn’t have a day bartender, James received some unexpectedly fortuitous bartending lessons by a cranky, old waiter. Those lessons in crafting martinis were what made James know he’d be spending his life behind the bar.
How long have you been bartending and how did you get into it?
15 years! After attending James Madison University, I got a 9 to 5 job. However, due to my attention deficit disorder, I could never stay awake at my desk. I picked up a side job waiting tables at The Sea Catch restaurant where they had no bartender during the day so the servers had to make the drinks for the guests. There was a cranky old server named Ricky who showed me how to make my first drink which was a martini and then he explained all the different ways to make them and why. That was the moment that I was hooked. I had some friends that were already bartenders and so I set myself down in front of them at their bars and watched and learned all the basics. Since then I have worked at many different types of bars/restaurants/nightclubs to give myself a really good diversity of knowledge so that now when I make cocktails I can pull from many different perspectives to get the flavors I am looking for.
What's your favorite classic cocktail?
Through the years my tastes have grown and changed. Currently I am really into whiskeys and the different ways to use them. I love drinking and making an Old Fashioned and manipulating and elevating the classic.
What's your favorite part about working at CIRCA?
The thing about bartending that I am most passionate about is the technique. At its heart it’s chemistry, and I get to use my creativity and a seemingly endless amount of techniques to create new drinks. I love that CIRCA empowers me to that end.
What makes CIRCA unique?
Of all the Restaurants that I have worked at, CIRCA goes above and beyond to be a very professional and nurturing environment. I have worked for them for 5 years now and I have watched their beverage program grow and mature. The staff at CIRCA is the most educated and intelligent group of individuals I have had the pleasure of working with - ever. The management both front and back of the house work endlessly to improve and streamline our menu and recipes, making our guest and my own experiences very unique and making it a very special company and store to work at.
What cocktail do you hope people ask for?
I really enjoy when a guest asks me to make a specialty cocktail called the Bulleit Trail. It’s a simple drink to make but I love that we float a half an orange slice on top that is covered in bitters so that as you drink the cocktail you smell the bitters coming off the orange, and it enhances the flavor of the drink. I also enjoy when the guest asks me to come up with something off the cuff so that I can engage with the guest and find out through a series of questions what they really want, which I believe brings me closer to them and starts to form a bond between myself and them.
What's your favorite cocktail to sip on when no one is looking?
I have a great time coming up with and making new and exciting drinks but sometimes I just need a good comforting Captain and Coke. Throughout college and even today I have had a love for those.
Who's our favorite bartender in town?
When I am not working I enjoy going out to have nice dinners, but I also love a good dive bar. One of my favorites is Rocket Bar in Chinatown and when I go there the one bartender I am going there to see is Phil Heins. He has the perfect bit of edge mixed with and inviting personality that makes anybody feel welcome. He has become a good longtime friend that is actually going to be in my wedding party in my upcoming nuptials later this year in September.
What's your favorite menu item + cocktail pairing at CIRCA?
In the winter when I am craving a nice steak I love pairing our Clarendon Sour, which has a red wine floater on top of it, with our steak frites which are over a spicy chimichurri sauce. In the summer I can always pair our Cucumber Melon Sangria, which has a sauvignon blanc base, with any of our amazing salads or fish dishes. That’s a perfect pairing for sitting on our patio and sipping on a hot day.
What is your favorite Belle Isle creation?
I couldn’t pick just one, so here are two that are both perfect for the summer that use seasonal, fresh ingredients.
Photos by Kate Magee
- 2 oz. Belle Isle Honey Habanero Moonshine
- 2 limes, sliced
- 1/2 oz. Velvet Falernum
- 1/2 oz Turbinado simple syrup
- 1/2 oz. Habanero simple syrup
- Sprig of mint
- Soda water
Muddle first five ingredients in a Collins glass. Fill with ice and top with soda water.
Recipe by James Hohman
- 2 oz. Belle Isle Premium Moonshine
- 1 oz. white peach puree
- 1 oz. fresh rhubarb
- 1/2 oz. peach schnapps
- 1/2 oz.cinnamon simple syrup
- 1.2 oz. lemon juice
Muddle all of the ingredients, then shake with ice. Strain into a rocks glass over ice.