Quietly, and almost beyond the gaze of social platforms, D.C. has completely returned to public drinking indoors. It’s almost surreal: If it’s not posted, did it really happen? But my hangover says it did.
Top of my indoor drinking list (even if I’m not posting about it) is the newly reopened Allegory, the intimate cocktail den hidden behind the lobby of the radically chic Eaton Hotel. Slip through an unmarked door and you’ll find an extravaganza of art, social commentary and artful beverages that pack a punch.
First impression: The stunning mural by Erik Thor Sandberg wraps around the room, telling the story of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” — except Alice is now Ruby Bridges, the first Black student to integrate into a Southern elementary school. Second impression: a compendium of spherification, clarification and other culinary magic folded into the pages of the newly launched and gorgeously illustrated menu. Butter fat-washed tequila? Kefir-clarified Afro-Caribbean rum? Yes, please.
We sat down with Deke Dunne, Allegory’s charming master mixologist, to discuss the new menu, the creative process and what’s next.
[This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.]
District Fray: The bar is themed with some intense issues, including around social justice racism. How do you respectfully position the mood and insert some fun?
Deke Dunne: We wanted to find balance between spoon-feeding [a message] and being too conceptual. We don’t straight up bludgeon you with the fact we are a bar focused on social justice and advocacy and activism, but it’s there to find and explore, if you like.
What is the 30,000-foot view on aligning the theme, the stories, the drinks?
We viewed this reopening as if we were opening for the first time. The pandemic reset everything, and we got a chance to really put a framework in place. We wanted to showcase the art and we wanted to tell its story. We partnered with the artist Erik Thor Sandberg, who gave us brand-new sketches from when he conceptualized the mural. He was so gracious to give us this art to feature on our menu. The first cocktail is called “Through My Eyes.” It is based on Ruby Bridges’ autobiography, talking about the moments leading up to desegregation. Every cocktail is named after a different part of the story.
What’s your favorite creation on the drink menu?
Every bartender’s personal favorite leans toward ones they create. One of my personal favorites is the only drink we brought back from the [pre-pandemic] menu: “They Can’t Kill Us All.” It’s a clarified milk punch. And instead of milk we use kefir, which is a cultured milk — tangy, slightly fermented, it has a zing to it — and then we add rum and bourbon and a little bit of sherry. After the clarification process we add ube, which is a Filipino yam: bright and purple, with chocolate and caramel notes. We combined that with a gum arabic syrup, which gives texture and a little maltiness.
How do you see this menu evolving in the next year?
We’ll do a brand-new menu. We’re going to work with an artist, conceptualize the art, conceptualize the theme. Then we’re going to build cocktails around the theme. Think dark adult children’s books.
Any idea of upcoming themes?
Every six months, we want to work with a new, amazing artist and give them a concept. For this one, the theme was obviously social injustice, and the social justice allegory [involves] racism, systemic oppressions, systemic racism. Who’s to say the next artist isn’t focused on immigration, or LGBTQ+ issues? Whatever is near and dear to the artist’s heart, whatever they want to explore and express — we want them to have leeway to do that.
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