As the holidays approach, D.C. area cocktail bars are getting creative with how to be festive while also keeping guests safe. Alexandria, Virginia-based speakeasy Captain Gregory’s just launched its Miracle Alley pop-up, with the timely theme of Winter Wonderland, on November 10. The outdoor space packed with heat lamps captures the ambiance of the holiday spirit, with cocktails ranging from the Rum Rum Rudolph to the Oaxacan Hot Chocolate and comfort food like lobster beignets and pork belly. We caught up with chef Brandon McDermott about the inspiration behind his concept and why locals should check it out.
District Fray: What inspired the Miracle Alley menu?
Brandon McDermott: Looking at this year and having the patio space available, I knew for sure we wanted to do something a little more fun and lighthearted. That was when the idea for running themed patio menus tied to seasonal holidays came about. [The] Winter Wonderland theme just seemed like the natural fit after our Halloween and Tropical Getaway themes.
Did you collaborate with anyone on it or was this your brainchild?
The drinks are definitely a collaborative effort, with the entire bar staff contributing. Every one of us has a different flavor palate, and getting everyone involved leads to a much more balanced menu and good variation between cocktails.
What cocktail do you think will be a crowd favorite?
I think as [the] temperature drops, the cider will creep up as people look for a warm cocktail.
Are there any drinks that you have a special attachment to, or would recommend specifically to locals to step outside of their comfort zone and try?
We like to think of it as a journey. I think the Last Minute Gift is approachable and outside most people’s drinking repertoire, as far as cachaca goes. Putting people onto a spirit that they may never have had is always something we enjoy. Those times when you can spread some knowledge and introduce someone to something new is always rewarding. For a more spirit-forward cocktail, the Hearty Breakfast is going to be unique and memorable. To wrap up the night, Early Mornings is always a hit – just a simple, comforting flavor profile that brings everyone back to mornings as a child [when] the leftover cereal milk [was] the best part of breakfast.
How did you select what to include on the food menu, and what makes those selections pair especially well with the drink menu?
Some of our most popular items lend themselves to the winter season already, so those were no-brainers. Our pork belly has become a crowd favorite for being the perfect rich [and] fatty item to go with cocktails. Our Brussel sprouts have something of a cult following with our regulars, and have been on the menu since I first introduced them when I got here four years ago. Other than that, it was a mix of adding enough snack items for the drinking crowd and things like root vegetable chips (parsnip, celery root [and] potato) with truffle powder (truffle, sea salt and tapioca maltodextrin) seemed like a crowd-pleaser. [We] also brought back a version of our deviled eggs with a twist as a great shareable.
Any standout food items that are new to the Captain Gregory’s menu?
[The] lobster beignets have been a hit, and are a great snack to share while sipping on some cocktails. The molasses whipped butter really goes well with them in cutting the sweetness of the powdered sugar to add some depth and earthiness.
What else will the alley have in terms of decor and ambiance to get folks in the holiday spirit?
[The] alley area will be full of snow-covered trees, wrapped presents, nutcrackers and winter items like ice skates to really set [the] mood. Our QR codes will be on the back of nutcracker dolls for each table, as well as little touches like snowflake coasters.
How do you feel the alley has been received by locals since opening?
Reception has been great. Being a speakeasy [or] hidden bar doesn’t lend itself to people spontaneously finding you, which has caused a lot of locals to now stumble upon us being outside. The building, landlord and City of Alexandria have also helped make the transition really smooth and fruitful. Overall, we’ve had a great mix of first-timers and regulars partaking in the experiences.
What makes it a unique socially distant experience?
I think the patio’s uniqueness comes from the simple difference that we’re trying to convey. Craft cocktails can be done in a way that doesn’t take itself so seriously, and still have the passion and quality behind it. Great food, or in this case drinks, don’t need to be served on white tablecloths, and we’ve taken that approach and mentality to our patio. All of us need a little reminder that it’s okay to have some fun, and we hope these experiences let people have that time and unwind.