TBT: The Willard Intercontinental, Henry Clay & 200 Years Of Mint Juleps

Willard Intercontinental Hotel DC

Of all the many people and places that have come and gone from D.C. over the years, the Willard Intercontinental Hotel is definitely one District staple Washingtonians can count on. Thanks to its prime Pennsylvania Avenue location, this luxury hotel has had a front-row seat to some of the nation’s most defining moments since 1816. The prestigious address has also allowed the Willard to play its own part in hosting history; not only has every sitting U.S. president stayed there since Franklin Pierce, but Martin Luther King Jr. wrote his famous “I Have A Dream” speech while staying at 1401 Pennsylvania Ave.

The hotel is home to some pretty major moments in mixology history, too. While serving as Secretary of State from 1825-29, Kentucky native Henry Clay would often stay at the Willard and frequent the Round Robin Scotch Bar. It is in this small, oval-shaped bar outfitted in deep cherry oak that Senator Clay first coined the Mint Julep recipe. His fellow Congressmen quickly took a liking to this sweet, Bourbon infused cocktail (especially refreshing for humid D.C. summers without the luxury of air conditioning). It wasn’t long before the good word spread nationwide, eventually making this drink a staple (and particular favorite) amongst southerners.

The Willard also realized a damn good drink when they tasted one; the Round Robin made it the bar’s signature drink, requested by locals and tourists alike on a daily basis. Senator Clay’s masterful mixology is most often put to use during the spring and summertime, also being an expected cocktail at the regions many annual horse races such as Gold Cup, Foxfields, Carolina Cup and Preakness. 

And me? I just continued the legacy of the Mint Julep yesterday, in fact. Cooled with shredded ice, fresh mint, and rimmed with sugar, it’s hard to not like this dangerously sweet concoction. Hands down, no one else crafts it better than the Willard Intercontinental Hotel; after 200 years, they’ve had an awful lot of practice at it.  

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