One of the District’s most popular pop-up bars started with a Christmas miracle.
“It was not my idea,” Drink Company CEO Angie Fetherston admits.
Instead, she borrowed the theme from a friend in New York, adding a uniquely DC spin to what would become something of a seasonal phenomenon in the city.
“We thought, ‘We love Christmas – let’s get together and throw up some decorations,’” she says, referring to her partners at Drink Company.
Fetherston made a call to Adriana Salame, who was living in Los Angeles at the time, with a brief explanation of the concept and a simple, “I know you love Christmas. Are you in?” She was – as was the rest of the DC area.
“We started off with a regular bar schedule,” Fetherston continues. “We had to hire more people overnight because the line was out the door. The joy and nostalgia that people felt when they walked through the door was a piece of magic.”
Miracle on Seventh Street first came to life in 2015 at Drink Company’s now-closed Mockingbird Hill bar. The goal was to have fun and bring a little more extra community spirit to the season.
With the success that Miracle on Seventh Street brought, Fetherston, Salame and the rest of the Drink Company team realized that they had stumbled upon something really special. They began to brainstorm other fun ideas for potential pop-ups.
For the first few years, the pop-up bars lived within the three neighboring bars that Drink Company owned on Seventh Street in Shaw: the aforementioned Mockingbird Hill, Eat the Rich and Southern Efficiency.
“Every time we did it, people expected bigger and better,” Fetherston says. “At one point, we had to make a choice. We couldn’t do the builds and activations without closing the bars in-between.”
With the pop-up bars becoming increasingly popular and intricate, the Drink Company team made the decision to permanently close the three locations and turn it into one large spot that allows for separate activation spaces.
While the inventive pop-up bars, also known as PUBs, keep the team on their toes, they’re also still at the creative helm of two permanent locations: award-winning cocktail bar Columbia Room in Blagden Alley and Chef Johnny Spero’s modern American restaurant Reverie in Georgetown.
“We didn’t think about it in a way to try and tick boxes off,” Fetherston explains of the PUBs. “We just pick [a theme] that excites us, and we do it. Someone comes up with something awesome and we all get into it.”
These casual brainstorm sessions have brought about the smash-hit themes for pop-ups including Game of Thrones, Cherry Blossom, Royal Wedding, the Halloween-themed PUB Dread and more.
The ideas are the easy part, but bringing to life an entirely immersive experience is nothing short of a work of art and true labor of love. Salame is now the special projects manager at Drink Company. Together with Matt Fox, Drink Company’s special projects director, they bring outrageous and wild visions to life by hand.
“High-production experiences and atmospheres are really what the people respond to, not just the spirit of Christmas and cookie dough cocktails,” Fetherston says. “[Matt] was the one who took it to the next level.”
Each pop-up varies in production lead time and execution. Salame makes two or three trips to Home Depot daily and physically constructs entire sets. Some take four days to build and are done in Fox’s backyard, while others take months and require assembly within the actual bar space. Christmas, of course, is the most elaborate.
“Each project is so different,” Salame says. “It’s always a new task I’ve never conquered before. There’s a lot of prep work involved, too.”
The sets are so fantastical that Drink Company’s team often has to be prepared to prevent theft and destruction when patrons come in.
“I used to blame it on the people,” Salame chuckles. “But now I blame it on the design for not being bar-friendly. I try to make things yank-proof.”
The craziest prop someone ever tried to steal was a giant gold reindeer from the front window. The most common items to go missing are the themed cups.
“We lost [between] 2000 [and] 2,500 pieces of glassware after the second [pop-up],” Salame adds. “People used to actually leave their IDs and passports here so they didn’t have to return the cups. I think now people have calmed down.”
Every single prop and set used for the pop-up bar’s various themes is built by Salame, Fox and a team of volunteers.
“We live in this world of very high-end, precious culinary arts,” Fetherston says, referencing Columbia Room. “This pop-up [format] is really a revelation for us. It’s more than just amazing drinks. It’s about connection.”
Their work is perhaps best highlighted by its most recent iteration, Levels Unlocked, which opened in late July and runs through September 29.
The three spaces have been converted into a gamer’s version of heaven on Earth. Each space pays tribute to three popular games: Super Smash Brothers Ultimate, NBA2K19 and Overwatch. It truly is like walking into the TV screen and through each of these games.
Salame chimes in with a laugh.
“You’ve got to be there for the nerds.”
With that as the goal, consider this pop-up bar’s level unlocked.
Check out Drink Company’s Levels Unlocked pop-up through September 29. Learn more at www.popupbardc.com/esportshome.
Drink Company: 1843 7th St. NW, DC; 202-316-9396; www.popupbardc.com/esportshome