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Gina Chersevani has been tending bar in Washington for years. But rather than calling herself a "bartender," she prefers another title.
"I like calling myself the 'mixtress' because it's just a little bit naughty, and a little bit nice," she says with a laugh.
Chersevani heads up the Eddy Bar, inside Hank's Oyster Bar on Capitol Hill. This Valentine's Day weekend, Hank's and Eddy are offering a tasting menu inspired by Aphrodite. Each dish — many of which involve those famous oysters — is paired with a duo of his-and-hers drinks.
Each cocktail couplet is named after well-known romantic pairs who've been known to squabble from time to time. So, you've got the Al Bundy and the Peg Bundy. The Richard Burton and the Elizabeth Taylor.
"We have the Fred and Ethel," Chersevani explains. "It is a ginger-rye drink for the man. And then it's going to be the cucumber and the lavender for the woman."
But why ginger and rye for the guy, and cucumber and lavender for the gal?
Chersevani says it all boils down to chemistry: a subject the University of Maryland science and art major has been teaching in her new class, "Cocktail Chemistry."
"We go through different herbs, flavors, their profiles," Chersevani explains. "Like fresh ginger. What does it do to a woman? Well it makes her think of cleanliness. Things smell like ginger, perfumes.
"For men, when they eat it, it keeps the hoo-ha going!"
Chersevani says the biggest surprise for her students is the appealing nature of soap.
"Cleanliness [is] the best thing for women. Laundry. What's the number one thing they add in laundry detergent? Lavender. Fresh laundry is said to be the best aphrodisiac for a woman. Period.
"If there was a way I could just make a fresh linen cocktail and not have it be the grossest thing that you've ever had, maybe I would really hit it!"
The Eddy Bar features a wall of herbs and other mix-ins for Chersevani's cocktails. One of her favorites is cassia.
"That's a really good one for men," she says. "Cassia is found in different liquors and it's just like a root, but it's very appealing to men's libido. It's the reason why in general, men stick to something with bitters in their cocktail, or Manhattan. That flavor is what they like."
And a flavor women especially like, she says, is cucumber.
"Cucumber is very appealing to the sensuality of women. They really respond to it. That's why when you go into Body Works or down the aisle in CVS, what's the number one flavor? Cucumber melon. They're all things that remind you of that euphoria of love, friendship, warmth."
Another Cupid-like item Chersevani enjoys mixing in cocktails is sassafras.
"To women [it] smells a lot like root beer; it's got a raisiny undertone for us," she says. "But for men, it is a sweeter sensation. And it is definitely found in most colognes."
But if all else fails in the liquor/love department, Chersevani says, there's always the old standby: gin.
"If you are missing aphrodisiacs, if you need a really quick fix, gin is one of the best things that you could do," she says. "It contains all the things that get people in the mood: the juniper, the cassia, the lemon peel, orange. It's pretty interesting. If you're going to have cocktails that give you some sort of feeling, you can start there."
[Music: "Love Potion #9" by Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass from Classics Vol. 1]
Photos: Chemistry Cocktails