Since August 2014, Andra Johnson (AJ) has been the general manager at Macon Bistro and Larder, and also is a stakeholder in its smaller sister bar, Magnolia Room. Along with regular GM duties, AJ handles all the event booking, and manages all beverages- developing cocktails, creating the wine list, etc.
While it takes long hours to run the two establishments on her own, AJ loves to explain her wine lists to customers, and is delighted when she can convince people to try wines they would not normally order.
“You don’t ask people what type of wine they normally drink, you ask them what flavor profile are they looking for. I will stop what I’m doing to do wine and go over the list. My staff does a lot of training and tasting as well.”
As mostly amateur wine lovers, we Young Winos are always eager to get tips from the experts. AJ recommends taking a class at Capital Wine School to work on your wine knowledge. And of course, go to as many tastings as you can afford!
When navigating a wine list, AJ says it’s best to assess the type of cuisine the restaurant serves; for example white wine is going to be the wisest choice when you’re eating spicy Indian food. After that, region is most is the most important factor – choose a varietal that the region is known for. This requires a little bit of study, but finding a great wine on a budget should not be. She says you should be able to get a good bottle anywhere for $30-$50, and the more you educate yourself, the less likely you will be to overspend.
When asked how we can all enjoy our wine more, AJ says to make sure it’s the proper temperature. Whites should be served between 45-48 degrees, and even red should be slightly chilled as well.
“Don’t judge off the first sip, give it time to breathe, and a bit of the alcohol to blow off. Aeration is key. If you are pairing wine with food, be sure to taste it immediately before tasting your food.”
The experience of tasting wine should have a distinct three-part evolution from the beginning, the middle, to the finish. One-note wine is a bad sign, as it should not taste the same all the way through. She also warns against the terrible wet cardboard taste and aroma that indicates a wine is off. Another pro tip- “Don’t be afraid to tell your sever that you’re not happy with a wine- if a bottle is off, the restaurant gets credit back from the distributor.” (Just don’t drink the whole bottle first!)
She also had some advice for women and girls interested in a career in the food and beverages industry.
“Get with as many other females as you can who are interested in the same thing; meet the other women in the industry. Try to find people who are willing to give you a chance and extend that lifeline to you. If you’re out at a bar that has a female bartender, ask her how she got there.”
For networking opportunities, AJ suggested checking out the DC Craft Bartenders Guild, Women Who Whiskey, and Speed Rack (an all female speed bartending competition), as well as other all-female events.
From her first job at Chili’s in Rockville back in high school, to her big break revamping the wine program at both Mussel Bar locations, to her current gig at Macon Bistro and Larder and Magnolia Room, AJ is making a name for herself in the industry. She radiates passion for her job, and rose in her career through hard work- gaining the trust of the owners of higher-end establishments as she went along.
But even for someone as friendly and knowledgeable as AJ, working your way up is rarely easy. As a young woman with locks, and tattoos covering her hands (which she was once fired for having), we were curious if she ever faced prejudice in the industry. She laughed.
“Sometimes people are not expecting me to walk over when they ask to see the manager. Bias comes more from some guests than other people in the industry; it sometimes takes a lot for a man to trust my recommendations on whiskey.”
But in the end, she lets her work and expertise speak for her, and earns the respect and trust of her customers and colleagues. She also says she’s lucky to have a proud, supportive mom who comes to visit her at work! Though her career is incredibly demanding, AJ says she loves it and shows no sign of slowing down.
We asked for a few drink recommendations to pair with Macon's French-Southern menu. As you go down the list, the cocktails transition to pair with food as your meal progresses. AJ’s favorite cocktails on the menu right now are Basque in the Glory, and Ode to Roxanne. She also gave us her recommendations on her favorite bottles!
Macon Bistro and Larder is located at 5520 Connecticut Ave, NW. The restaurant is open 5pm – 10pm Sunday through Thursday, 5pm to 11pm Friday through Saturday, and open for Brunch on Sunday as well from 10am-2pm. The bar opens every day at 4pm.
Look out for a Young Winos event here soon!