Derek Brown (mixologist)

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Derek Brown
Derek Brown bartender.jpg
Derek Brown bowling at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building
Born (1974-09-21) 21 September 1974 (age 43)
Washington, D.C.
Nationality American
Occupation Entrepreneur, Mixologist, Writer
Organization Drink Company
Known for Columbia Room, The Passenger, Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich, Southern Efficiency

Derek Brown (born September 21, 1974) is an American entrepreneur, writer and bartender (a term he prefers to mixologist). In addition to being a leader in the classic cocktail movement, he is an expert on the history and culture of spirits and drinks. Brown travels the world teaching seminars on the importance of alcohol in shaping our society, and learning about regional and local variations of spirits and drinks. He owns bars Columbia Room, The Passenger, Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich, and Southern Efficiency in Washington, D.C..

Brown serves on the Board of Directors for the Museum of the American Cocktail.

Early life[edit]

Brown was born in Washington D.C. and grew up in Olney, Maryland. He lived briefly in Charleston, South Carolina and Atlanta, Georgia before returning to the D.C. area to attend George Mason University. Throughout high school he was a part of the Washington, D.C. punk scene and is still heavily influenced by its music and DIY attitude[clarification needed]. He credits the band The Clash with opening the world to an 11-year-old boy in the suburbs.



Brown began bartending in 2000 at Adams Morgan bar Rocky's[1] before moving on to Chef Frank Ruta's Palena and becoming interested in wine. He started working at Michel Richard's Citronelle under the tutelage of sommelier Mark Slater and then moved on to work alongside Chef Johnny Monis as the sommelier at restaurant Komi and was included in Wine & Sprits magazine's 2007 Top 5 New Sommeliers in America. While at Komi, Brown was a founder of the underground cocktail club Hummingbird to Mars that operated out of Bourbon in Adams Morgan and highlighted then forgotten classic cocktails.

As an early pioneer of the classic cocktail movement he decided to return to the bar full-time in 2008. He worked alongside owners Ian and Eric Hilton to open speakeasy The Gibson on the 14th Street Corridor in Washington D.C. which exalted classic cocktails and an old school cocktail lounge vibe.

The Passenger and Columbia Room[edit]

The Passenger

In 2009, restaurateur Paul Ruppert approached Brown about opening a bar in a space adjacent to the Warehouse Theatre. Brown brought his brother Tom Brown on board, a bartender at wine bar Cork at the time, and they decided on turning the space into two projects. The first was The Passenger, which opened in November 2009. Designed to be a wine bar where customers could sip a fine burgundy while listening to Fugazi, it opened with a great wine list and no cocktail list. The brothers decided that if someone wanted to order a cocktail, it would be much easier to talk through their preferences than have the guest read a list of ingredients that gave an inaccurate indication of what the cocktail would actually taste like. This approach became a hit and very soon the wine list disappeared and The Passenger became a full swing cocktail bar, without a cocktail menu. The Passenger is named after the Iggy Pop song of the same name.

Columbia Room

Next up was Brown's Columbia Room, a 10-seat cocktail haven in the back of The Passenger which opened in March 2010. Also without a cocktail menu, Columbia Room focuses on a tasting menu that combines seasonal ingredients, classic cocktails, and a razor-sharp attention to craftsmanship.[2]

GQ magazine wrote that Columbia Room makes the best Martini in America.

The Passenger and Columbia Room have garnered awards and acclaim under Derek Brown's direction including:

  • 2010 Bon Appetit Top 10 New Cocktail Bars in the U.S.: Columbia Room
  • 2010 GQ 25 Best Cocktail Bars in America: Columbia Room [3]
  • 2011 US Airways Magazine 14 Most Trend Setting Restaurants in the US: The Passenger and Columbia Room
  • 2011 Garden & Gun Best New Bars: Columbia Room
  • 2011 Travel + Leisure America’s Best Cocktail Bars: Columbia Room
  • 2012 Food & Wine 50 Best Bars in America: The Passenger and Columbia Room
  • 2012 USA Today 10 Great Classic American Cocktail Bars: The Passenger and Columbia Room
  • 2012 James Beard Foundation Semi-finalist for Outstanding Bar Program: Columbia Room
  • 2012 Washington Post Dining Guide Critic's Rating 3 Stars: Columbia Room
  • 2012 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards Top 4 Nominee - Best American Cocktail Bar: Columbia Room
  • 2012 Travel & Leisure America's Best Cocktail Bars: Columbia Room
  • 2013 Esquire 25 Best Bars in America: Columbia Room
  • 2013 Washington's 18 Most Iconic Drinks: Columbia Room's Dry Martini
  • 2013 Esquire 25 Best Bars is America: Columbia Room
  • 2014 James Beard Foundation Semi-finalist for Outstanding Bar Program: Columbia Room


On January 1, 2015 The Passenger and Columbia Room closed. Their building at 1021 7th St NW was sold to make way for a large office and retail development by Douglas Development Corp. The Columbia Room re-opened in Blagden Alley in February on 2016 under Derek Brown's direction. The Passenger re-opened north of its old location on 7th Street in the fall of 2016 under the sole ownership of Tom Brown.

Drink Company[edit]

Formerly knows as Laughing Cocktail, Drink Company is owned by Derek Brown and Angie Fetherston. They formed their partnership in April 2010 and have since worked together on many projects, including a trio of bars named Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich, and Southern Efficiency - known as the DB3 - in the Shaw neighborhood. They also led the efforts in working with the D.C. City Council to pass a proclamation naming the Rickey the official cocktail of Washington, D.C.[4] with author of Prohibition in Washington D.C. Garrett Peck.

Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich, and Southern Efficiency were named among Bon Appetit magazine's 2014 "50 Best New Restaurants in America".

Mockingbird Hill[edit]

Mockingbird Hill

Mockingbird Hill, which opened on June 5, 2013, is a bar that focuses on sherry (a fortified wine from the south of Spain) and is influenced by bars in Madrid. The name of the bar comes from The Clash song Spanish Bombs which gives homage to those who fought together against the fascist regime in the Spanish Civil War. Sherry, a long-time love of Derek's, is a compliment to food, especially cured ham.

  • 2013 Garden & Gun 10 Best New Bars: Mockingbird Hill
  • 2013 Zagat Hottest new bars in D.C.: Mockingbird Hill
  • 2013 Washington Post: 2 stars for Mockingbird Hill
  • Washington Post: 13 Best Local Dishes of 2013: Trout Salad at Mockingbird Hill
  • 2014 Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards Best New Bar semifinalist: Mockingbird Hill
  • 2014 New York Times: 6 Innovative Ice Coffees: Mockingbird Hill
  • 2014 Southern Living 100 Best Bars in the South: Mockingbird Hill

Eat the Rich[edit]

Eat the Rich

Eat the Rich, which opened on October 18, 2013, is an oyster bar created by Derek Brown, Angie Fetherston, and award-winning oysterman Travis Croxton of Rappahannock River Oysters. Featuring local oysters and a Chesapeake Bay-centric menu, Eat the Rich is a tribute to the great oyster houses of Washington, D.C. and Mid-Atlantic cuisine. They serve pitcher cocktails and oyster shooters alongside a playlist of Derek and Travis' favorite genres punk, rock, and heavy metal. The bar was named after a Motörhead song. No other names were considered.

  • Eat the Rich received a 2.5-star rating by Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema.
  • 2014 Best of D.C. Brunch Dish: Eat the Rich's Chesapeake Boil

Southern Efficiency[edit]

Southern Efficiency

Southern Efficiency, which opened on December 21, 2013, is a Southern food and whiskey bar specializing in the breadth of Southern whiskey and off-the-beaten path Southern recipes. The spirits menu is curated by whiskey fanatic and bar manager JP Fetherston, Derek Brown's protégé, with a small but eclectic group of whiskies ranging the gamut from traditional Bourbons to whiskey from craft distillers. JP, former head of research and development at Columbia Room, has also created a whiskey-focused cocktail menu that includes classic cocktails alongside cocktails in jars and on tap, such as his much lauded Smoked Cola & White Whiskey.

  • 2014 Food & Wine The People’s Best New Bar (Northeast): Southern Efficiency
  • 2014 Zagat 10 hottest bars in D.C.: Southern Efficiency
  • 2014 Eater D.C. Best Bartender: JP Fetherston of Southern Efficiency
  • Washington Post: 40 Dishes Washingtonians must try in 2014: Southern Efficiency’s Peanut Soup

Columbia Room[edit]

In the winter of 2014 Drink Company signed a lease to relocate the Columbia Room to Blagden Alley, which is three blocks away from its original location. It is expected to open in late 2015.


Derek had a regular web column for The Atlantic from 2009-2011. He's since focused on freelance writing with articles published in The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Entrepreneur Magazine, Punch Magazine, Table Matters and Bon Appetit Magazine.

Professional accolades[edit]

Derek Brown has shared drinks with some of world's most interesting people, from Martha Stewart and Woody Harrelson to the Barack and Michelle Obama. He travels the world in search of great drinks, spirits, and their history.

Some of his personal accolades include:

Personal life[edit]

Derek Brown lives in Washington, D.C. with his young son Avery Strummer Brown.

Interests and advocacy[edit]

Brown is involved with Share Our Strength and has served as mixology chair for their Taste of the Nation fundraising event where his bars participate every year to raise money and awareness with the goal of ending childhood hunger in America. He's also an Ambassador of Washington, D.C. for Destination D.C., an organization that supports tourism and travel to D.C.


  1. ^ Storch, Jason (15 June 2011). "Restless Derek Brown". D.C. Foodies. Retrieved 2 April 2012. 
  2. ^ Nerenberg, Kate (29 December 2010). "Columbia Room - Cocktails Dazzle in DC's Mount Vernon Square". The Washingtonian. Retrieved 2 April 2012. 
  3. ^ Sintumuang, Kevin (October 2010). "The 25 Best Cocktail Bars in America". GQ Magazine. Retrieved 2 April 2012. 
  4. ^ Carman, Tim (15 July 2011). "The rickey earns a place in D.C. history". Washington Post. Retrieved 2 April 2012. 
  5. ^ Graff, Garrett (6 December 2010). "Attention-Getters: 40 Who Shaped 2010". Washingtonian. Retrieved 2 April 2012. 
  6. ^ Felten, Eric (4 December 2010). "A Master of Mixological Science". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 4 December 2010.