The phrase "Southern efficiency" may having a mocking connotation, but this particular Southern food and whiskey bar in the heart of Washington, D.C. is anything but a joke. One of a few D.C. fixtures created by renowned bar owner Derek Brown and award-winning oysterman Travis Croxton, Southern Efficiency specializes in a wide range of Southern whiskey and recipes. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Senior Bar Manager Paul Taylor, who curates Southern Efficiency's eclectic collection of whiskies ranging the gamut from traditional Bourbons to whiskey from craft distillers.
Tell us about yourself…
I'm the Senior Bar Manager at Drink Company, which created a few locations in the area, including here and Eat the Rich. I've been bartending for 9 years, but it feels like yesterday. Carpool in Arlington, Virginia gave me my first shot at slinging drinks behind the bar, but if you are being technical I started at a much earlier age pouring drinks for my cousins in my grandmother's basement during the holidays. There was no looking back after that. I instantly fell in love.
What do you do when you’re not bartending?
I enjoy getting lost in a good cookbook. Right now I’m on a 1987 Southern Living classic. My girlfriend and I look for cookbook finds at flea markets and estate sales. Cooking is a super-cathartic happy place for me. The entire meal is a production from the planning process of our menu, to sourcing the products and heading over to Union Market and figuring out what drinks will pair well.
What’s something people would be surprised to know about you?
I am an Arlington Native and spent most of my youth skating up and down the streets of DC. I went to school for graphic design but left before graduating to follow my true passion, which so far has worked out nicely. I still have a pair of skates and box of spray paint in a closet somewhere.
What’s your favorite thing to drink? Favorite classic cocktail? Favorite thing to drink when no one’s looking?
Picking just one classic cocktail is tough, because there are so many and it changes based off my mood that day or where I am, but I will always enjoy a sazerac. I would say that nine times out of ten though, people could catch me across the street from my house at Rhodeside Grill with a shot and a beer.
Tell us about your bar…
According to JFK, Washington, D.C. is a place of “Southern efficiency and Northern charm.” And while he was using it to describe the politics of the Capitol, we rather liked the idea of Southern efficiency: lazy Sunday afternoons with bourbon in hand, Country Captain on the stove while listening to bluegrass. Turns out that Washington, D.C. has many identities, but has always held on to a little bit of the South.
What makes your bar unique?
We are a whiskey bar with so much attention to detail involving whiskey cocktails. Our whiskey menu is well-curated, and the entire staff has a say here. It's easy to engage guests about something we love so much. This is as much an educational experience as it is a bar, although at the end of the day we are here to have a good time.
What’s your favorite part about working there?
At Southern Efficiency I am surrounded by people that truly care about the craft of bartending and the appreciation of whiskey. I enjoy working alongside people that share so many common interests and goals. I have made some life-long friends in this bar.
What’s a good night look like for you?
A good night for me would be busy one, filled with lots of faces. I enjoy introducing new things to people and test-driving cocktails that are on the drawing board for me at the moment.
What’s your favorite menu item / cocktail pairing?
For Southern Efficiency, it would be the "Wet Hot American Sazerac" (Rittenhouse Rye, Pineau des Charentes, Lyon Dark Rum, Pineapple Gomme, Peychauds and Absinthe) with our pickle-brined fried chicken sandwich. Sazerac and fried Chicken scream summer to me.
If we are talking Belle Isle Moonshine, it has to be the "Summer On the James" with pork belly and grits. The smoky spicy flavor profile of that cocktail works perfectly with the savory characteristics of that dish.
Can you share a Belle Isle creation with us? What inspired it?
This cocktail was inspired by the Champs Elysee cocktail. We wanted to make something spicy and quaffable.
- 1 oz. Belle Isle Honey Habanero Moonshine
- ½ oz. Del Mageuy Vida Mezcal
- ¼ oz. Yellow Chartreuse
- ¼ oz. Allspice Dram
- ¼ oz. Grapefruit Ginger Cordial
- ¾ oz. Lemon
Shake all ingredients, fine strain into a chilled coupe.
Recipe by Paul Taylor of Southern Efficiency
Photos by Alex Kreher