While we’ve survived another Blue Monday, the winter blues aren’t over yet. As we continue to navigate social distancing in and around the District, we’re all flocking to the locales that give us some semblance of normalcy. HalfSmoke in Shaw is at the top of our list, with its new Winter Wonderland pop-up complete with 12 heated igloos, room for up to 100 guests at socially distant picnic tables and a festive atmosphere to snap you out of your pandemic funk. The pop-up, located in a parking lot adjacent to the restaurant featuring No Kings Collective’s iconic Washington mural, is offering dishes from its new Morning After Next breakfast concept in the early hours and classics from its comfort food-focused menu into the evening. A new winter cocktail menu is also in the mix, with plans to revamp the theme and menu of the entire pop-up as we approach warmer weather. We caught up with HalfSmoke’s founder and CEO, Andre McCain, about the pop-up’s success since opening in late December, why locals are loving it and what’s up next for this outdoor space.
District Fray: What inspired Winter Wonderland?
Andre McCain: [It was] inspired by our desire to create a safe, fun and memorable dining experience that utilizes the flexibility granted by the Mayor for restaurants to expand in ways [like] never before. We wanted to incorporate all of our favorite elements of what makes the wintertime such an endearing time of the year, where we spend time with close friends and loved ones.
How has it been received by the D.C. community since opening in late December?
The community has been incredibly supportive. They realize how much time and effort we put into creating the Winter Wonderland experience, and they have consistently shown strong support.
How would you describe the ambiance and vibe of Winter Wonderland?
The ambiance is lighthearted, playful, gleeful and whimsical. There are thousands of lights, trees, decorations [and] games, all designed to transport the diner to another world.
What about the decor?
The star of the show is the igloos. They are beautiful, warm and translucent – perfect for people watching, hanging with friends, having an intimate dinner or just getting some fresh air. We have both lounge seating and table seating, with many places to have Instagrammable moments.
Walk me through the Morning After Next breakfast concept menu. What’s a favorite that you’re particularly proud of?
The hashes are absolutely incredible. We are proud that it is a bonafide breakfast option that gives everyone something they can enjoy. It’s a great way to start your day or reminisce about the night before.
What’s been a crowd favorite on your winter cocktail menu?
The Campfire Toddy has definitely been the crowd favorite. It was inspired by winter classics that we put a new twist on to show a new way to try our favorite winter drinks like hot chocolate [and] apple cider.
How will the food and drink menus evolve over the next few months?
We will be introducing new seasonal menus for the spring, as well as new decor as the seasons evolve.
How long do you plan to keep the outdoor area open?
Indefinitely – as long as we can.
How are you and your team at HalfSmoke doing overall, amid Covid and the other recent chaos in the District?
Our team has been incredibly resilient and determined to stay focused on our core mission of providing approachable, affordable food in a setting that makes you forget about all of the chaos around you and just have a great time.
HalfSmoke’s Winter Wonderland is open 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. daily, and reservations for the igloos are $50 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Igloos seat up to six, and are complete with bluetooth speakers, games and comfortable lounge furniture. Learn more about the pop-up here, and follow HalfSmoke on Instagram @halfsmokedc.
HalfSmoke: 651 Florida Ave. NW, DC; 202-986-2079; www.halfsmoke.com
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