Green Fig beverage manager Zack Khalifa had quite the nomadic upbringing. “I’ve lived in Peru, Venezuela, Germany, and here in USA,” he says. No matter the country, though, his restaurant experiences have always been centered around the bar. “My fascination with restaurants continues to be rooted from behind the bar,” he notes. That’s exactly where Khalifa can be found these days — behind the bar at YOTEL’s Green Fig restaurant, where he serves up an array of aromatic cocktails that highlight Middle Eastern and Mediterranean ingredients. Here, the Washington, D.C. transplant chats with us about why details matter, the behind the bar technique he’s loving, and the food and drink pairing that will never disappoint.
BoozeMenus: What’s your approach behind the bar?
Zack Khalifa: I try to make every detail count. You have to remember that the experience is just as important as the quality of the drink. It’s the glue that ties everything together.
BM: What cocktail do you find yourself making the most of these days?
ZK: During the summer we tend to make a lot of mojitos and rum drinks. We try to complement that trend with some fruity and acidic themed cocktails, too. With the heat of the summer, it’s important that a cocktail doesn’t carry much weight.
BM: What was the biggest drinking trend you were seeing in D.C. versus what you’re seeing now in NYC?
ZK: I think one of the biggest drinking trends universally right now is the sourcing of local ingredients. Many places in Washington D.C. like Derek Brown’s Columbia Room have started to grow their own herbs. I see the same thing happening at places in New York. I have also been seeing some forgotten classic cocktails popping up on menus lately.
BM: Who serves as a role model in your life?
ZK: I’ve really been looking closely at Derek Brown, an entrepreneur in the D.C. restaurant scene. At all of his bars you find a certain romance that goes with each cocktail. His appreciation for the history of cocktails and the craftsmanship he promotes is something I strongly support.
BM: Where can you most likely be found post-shift, and what are you ordering?
ZK: If I am out to relax, I am usually ordering a shot and a beer at a local dive bar.
BM: What’s the last amazing food and drink experience you’ve had?
ZK: I really enjoyed the cocktails offered at Burke and Wills on the West Side. It has a cool speakeasy-like feel with excellent cocktails, along with a great Australian wine list.
BM: What are the pros to working at a restaurant in a hotel?
ZK: I like that you get to meet people visiting from all over the world — I like to hear their takes on the big city.
BM: Are there any techniques you're loving right now?
ZK: I am really into the fat washing of spirits. It brings out a whole other complexity in a cocktail.
BM: What’s the best cocktail and food pairing you’ve tried there recently?
ZK: I really enjoy Green Fig’s Rosewater Martini (vodka, rosewater, lemon juice) with the cauliflower dish (Cantine Cauliflower with green tahini, mint, “green fire,” toasted almonds, za’atar, feta, cilantro). The acidity that accompanies the cocktail really cuts through the herbaceous components of the cauliflower nicely.
BM: If you could have a bartender superpower, what would it be?
ZK: Reading people’s minds!
By Nicole Schnitzler
(Photos from left: Dining Room & Lounge by @RatedRuwan; Zack Khalifa by @RatedRuwan; Rosewater Martini by @RatedRuwan)