Grab your overalls and red sweater, because there’s still time to catch the hottest pop-up bar in DC (open through this Saturday). Unless you’ve been trapped in a pipe underground, you’ve probably heard about the Cherry Blossom PUB (Pop-Up Bar) and its Super Mario Bros.-meets-Cherry Blossom theme. Housed in Mockingbird Hill and Southern Efficiency, the bar combines the timeless beauty of DC’s cherry blossoms with the immortal iconography of the Super Mario Bros. On a recent Saturday afternoon, we nabbed a few minutes of Paul Taylor’s time before the pop-up opened its doors to the long line forming outside. Drink Company’s (Mockingbird Hill, Southern Efficiency, Eat the Rich, Columbia Room) Senior Bar Manager walked us through the inspiration behind the pop-up’s drink menu and his creative process. Read on to learn more about Taylor, his favorite Super Mario Bros. character and the inside scoop on Cherry Blossom PUB.
On Tap: When did you join Drink Company?
Paul Taylor: I left the Vintage Restaurant Group [in Arlington] to work for Derek [Brown.] That was about two years ago. My last day at Vintage was actually the day of the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight, Cinco de Mayo and the Kentucky Derby.
OT: Do you single-handedly develop the menus for Drink Company’s pop-ups?
PT: I have a decent amount of responsibility in that for sure, but it’s definitely a team effort. For the Cherry Blossom menu, and most menus, it’s sort of a theoretical menu, and there are different palates that will taste the drinks. We’ll have all these minds in the kitchen and behind the bar to help steer the menu toward where we think it should be. Every cocktail is very, very thought through.
OT: What was your creative process for the Miracle on 7th Street [Drink Company’s first pop-up project] last winter?
PT: So the first menu was developed by JP [Fetherston] and me. We sat down with Derek and gave him the 20 cocktails that were seasonal, or had things that would catch people’s attention. We wanted to do seasonal flavors, but we also wanted stuff that connected to the theme as well. For instance, one of the cocktails we did was a cookie dough cocktail, and we wanted to connect that to snow angels and ice skating. Connecting the theme on more levels is what we want to do. That’s the reason we have these thematic bars now. You’re taking a sip of the drink, and it’s hitting on five or six levels, which is the game plan.
OT: What did you learn from the last pop-up that shaped your decision-making process for Cherry Blossom PUB?
PT: We’ve learned a lot of lessons from all of the pop-ups now. At the end of each, we’ll talk about what worked and what didn’t work because we want to get better. We have a better idea of how long it’s going to take to put up all of the decorations, [and] to develop the cocktails and source all of the ingredients. We’re also trying to develop different kinds of cocktails for the diverse palates that we serve. We’re getting a lot of people here that aren’t craft cocktail drinkers, so we want them to pick up on ingredients and take away memories. We want to show people things that we care about, and why we care about them.
OT: Tell us about your bartenders.
PT: We have about 30. And these are people that want to be a part of it, and are used to high-volume attendances. These are very skilled people. It takes a lot of skill to bartend these [pop-ups]. And bartending here really is like working with a family. There are a lot of really cool people here. It’s very fast-paced and obviously craft cocktail-oriented, and I don’t think there’s another bar on the East Coast that does what we do.
OT: Have you had a ton of 90s kids visit specifically because of the Super Mario Bros. theme?
PT: For sure there is a gamer component. Taking both of those concepts, Cherry Blossom and the Super Mario Bros., combines something that is native to DC and something people from everywhere have experienced [in some way]. I remember playing Super Mario Bros. and Mario Kart. Mario is one of those constants that’s been here awhile.
OT: Walk me through the standout cocktails on the menu.
PT: One that I’m definitely super proud of is the Neko Colada with miso-infused rhum agricole. I don’t think too many people are drinking rhum agricole, at least not enough people in my mind. It’s very funky and a really vegetal rum. It comes from the French colonies, like Haiti. It usually tends to be a little more funky, and we’re taking it a step further by infusing it with miso. It’s almost like a salty piña colada. Another one is the As They Say in Brooklyn, Banzai. It’s a little more rustic, and again, you have some of those funkier notes in it. The I Call Yoshi! is one where all of these ingredients came together so perfectly.
OT: How do the bartenders respond to being asked what to try on the menu?
PT: Most people ask the bartenders “What’s your most popular drink?” and that makes sense because we have tons of traffic, and the most popular is probably one that most people will enjoy. Our bartenders are so good at finding what people like and guiding them along the menu. We want to get you the right drink.
OT: The drink names are very clever. Did you come up with them?
PT: It was a combination. We knew the theme months in advance, so whenever one popped into our head, we’d run it by the group. I came up with the idea for an “Amario” drink based on amaro. I knew we had to call a drink that. Press Start + A was an ode to gamers and their cheat codes. That’s actually an original cheat code, where when you died in Super Mario Bros., instead of starting from the beginning, you’d start back where you died.
OT: What’s your favorite Super Mario Bros. character?
PT: I have a good and an evil. I’m definitely a Yoshi fan for sure; I was big into dinosaurs. For evil, it’s the Moombas, because I love mushrooms.
OT: What’s your dream pop-up?
PT: I’m living the dream right now. This is great, and I know we’re working on some stuff right now, and I think the upcoming things will be even more over the top. We want better and more outrageous. This one might seem that way, but the next one will push the boundaries even more.
The Cherry Blossom PUB at Mockingbird Hill and Southern Efficiency is open through April 15. Hours are 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 5 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Mockingbird Hill and Southern Efficiency: 1843 and 1841 7th St. NW, DC; www.cherryblossompub.com
Monica Alford contributed to this article.