In an industry hit incredibly hard by Covid-19, resilience has been the name of the game for anyone working in D.C.’s incredible food and beverage scene. These organizations, bars and individuals are making things happen, from embracing trends despite pandemic-related challenges to using platforms to bring equity to Black and Indigenous People of Color (BIPOC). And while delicious drinks are always on the menu, the social and economic impact makes them stand out to patrons and peers in this unprecedented era of drinking in the District. Note: These interviews have been edited for length + clarity.
How Local Bars Pivoted Their Business to Meet the Pandemic
When the early pandemic response shut down bars and restaurants, local businesses quickly moved to find new ways to bring their dining and drinking experience directly to customer homes. Video cocktail classes taught amateur bartenders new tricks. Favorite cocktails got packaged up for delivery, with the same meticulous presentation. And now, spaces have begun responsibly opening back up to the public with an eye on providing experiences that are both entertaining and safe. We asked these locals in the industry to talk about how they’ve adapted to this new environment.
Spirits Manager, Neighborhood Restaurant Group
The Pivot: Craft Beverages, Delivered
When bars shuttered in March, Neighborhood Restaurant Group launched an in-house delivery service offering restaurant-quality food and bottled cocktails along with nonalcoholic options and mixers. Choices range from stirred sippers to fruity sangria and lighter session drinks.
“At the start of the pandemic, it was all about giving people the classics: well-known cocktails, well-executed. It was a little bit of a back-to-basics approach. The more time has passed, however, people are once again craving variety and frequent changes, and looking again for new experiences and flavors. Packaging and presentation matters. People still drink with their eyes first, and the better you can do at putting something into their hands that looks good, the more that guest feels like they’re being treated well and treating themselves.”
Explore Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s cocktails to-go at www.neighborhoodprovisions.com and on Instagram @nrgprovisions.
Managing Partner, Please Bring Chips
The Pivot: Virtual Cocktail Classes
These online education sessions can inject new life into any home bartending routine.
“We want to be accessible and useful, with fun, easy-to-make cocktails and simple ingredients. We don’t want folks to spend money to buy one bottle of rare spirit they’ll never use again. Rather, we want them to add to their home bar and their knowledge with new favorites they can use time and time again. Thus far, our experience has been great. We’re fortunate to have a fun, knowledgeable team. Plus, we’ve had audiences who are engaged, love to ask questions and want to have a good time. Right now, an engaged audience is what this whole thing is about. Since we can’t really be in bars right now, that’s what we want to cultivate: fun interaction.”
Explore more at www.pleasebringchips.com and on Instagram @pleasebringchips.
CEO, Street Guys Hospitality + Owner, TTT Clarendon
The Pivot: Physically Distant Rooftop Vibes
In Clarendon, a new all-weather rooftop is providing a physically distant space to relax and have an afternoon or night out of the house.
“Since the inception of TTT in Clarendon, having DJs and live music performances has always been part of our concept for guests. TTT has consistently featured a pleasing collection of curated DJ tunes playing in the background as part of the dining experience. We plan to mirror this new virtual entertainment venue at our TTT Silver Spring, Maryland location in the future as well. TTT will enhance this new amenity feature by adding a chat with a moderator to invite guests to communicate onscreen with each other and the DJ. Since we’re paying rent for the space all year, our goal was to maximize its use and to provide an indoor // outdoor experience year-round, which is hard to find in D.C.”
Explore more at www.tttrestaurant.com and on Instagram @tttrestaurant.
Sales Director, Atlas Brew Works
The Pivot: Virtual Beer Dinners
Beer, food and conversation were made for each other. Atlas Brew Works is packaging its portfolio of hoppy ales and crisp lagers with food from local restaurants along with an interactive online discussion. It’s a night at the brewery with all the comforts of home.
“We did some Zoom happy hours and some Instagram live [events] and it just came about. Why couldn’t we do food and beer pairings with accounts in the same sort of fashion? It just seemed like a working platform. It isn’t a full-fledged beer dinner. I don’t think people are necessarily into those these days, and they entail a lot. This is something a little more casual but something to get people out. Everybody is looking for things to do, and this gives an opportunity to go to your favorite spot and still be safe and cautious. It’s an opportunity to step outside of my box, bring in an interactive element and have an experience within our limited surroundings these days.”
Learn more at www.atlasbrewworks.com and on Instagram @atlasbrewworks.
Owner, Maxwell Park
The Pivot: The Restaurant-Within-a-Restaurant Pop-up
Maxwell Park opened its second location in March 2020. Capacity restrictions pushed owner Brent Kroll to launch Russell Island, a pop-up concept he’d been toying with for a while. It offers wine tastings paired with small bites.
“I get to do something with pairings in a casual setting that I’ve always wanted to do. The challenge is our kitchen is the size of a walk-in closet, and we’ve never tried this type of service. Luckily, everyone on staff has been a manager and sommelier, so in my mind, we’re built for this. The food component and pairings are completely different. Part of creating Maxwell Park was making a wine bar I wanted to drink at [by] stocking it with sommeliers and making it sophisticated and/or casual. This is a pop-up where the table is lined with thoughtful snacks and half glasses. It’s what I like to do at home with snacks and wine.”
Learn more at www.maxwellparkdc.com or on Instagram @maxwellpark_navyyard.
Food + Drink Trends That Hit D.C. This Year
The D.C. region continues to be among the most diverse destinations for food and drink concepts, full of local creatives eager to explore and innovate. This past year saw small D.C. businesses get in on national drink crazes like spiked seltzer and natural wines. There’s also been a push toward fine dining meals to-go (takeout doesn’t have to be just fried and greasy!) and a reimagining of the stalwart sandwich. We asked these D.C. industry professionals to elaborate on some of our recent favorites.
Chief Brand Officer + Founder, Denizens Brewing Co.
The Trend: Hard Seltzer
Mass-market hard seltzer continues to be one of the hottest beverage trends. Local brewers are getting in on the action, including Denizens Brewing Co. in Silver Spring, which launched its line this spring.
“We launched our MoCo Hard Seltzer in late May of this year, first in lime flavor. We recently added blood orange with more flavors on the way. We spent a year testing the recipes in our taprooms to get things just right before putting it in cans to send out to retailers. Overall, the response has been tremendous, and it has quickly become a top seller [in] our taprooms, through delivery and [among] retail partners in Montgomery County. We are super proud of MoCo Hard Seltzer and can’t wait for everyone to try it.”
Explore more at www.denizensbrewingco.com or on Instagram @denizensbrewing.
Chef + Owner, Xiquet
The Trend: Date Night Meets Takeout
Planning a special occasion meal at home isn’t always easy, and options like pizza and curry don’t always feel fancy. Luckily, chefs have begun offering dinners to-go that aim to bring date night-quality meals from the restaurant to the home, including curated wines and shareable cocktails.
“We offer two to-go cocktails: a house-batched rum Old Fashion that serves two people made with Bacoo 8-year-old rum, orange curaçao, orange and angostura bitters, and garnished with dehydrated orange, as well as a house-batch Valencian [gin and tonic] that serves two people composed of orange blossom honey, grapefruit juice, Beefeater gin, tonic and garnished with an orange twist. We also offer a limited selection of wine online. We decided to limit the wine list online since you don’t have someone to guide you through it like you would at the restaurant. This way we are able to select our favorite bottles that pair well with the type of food we serve to maximize the home experience. The experience has definitely improved with the addition of cocktails because we are giving customers the ease of not having to make them at home. When they order a cocktail, they know it will be a quality drink they can enjoy without the time or effort that goes into making one at home.”
Explore more at www.xiquetdl.com and on Instagram at @xiquetdl.
Owner, Lulu’s Wine Garden
The Trend: Wine Gardens
Beer gardens have long been go-to spots for outdoor drinking and camaraderie. In the heat of summer though, sometimes nothing beats lounging with a chilled bottle of rosé and bar snacks. Spots like Lulu’s have popped up around the area this summer, offering a variety of intriguing wines by the glass and bottle at reasonable prices.
“There’s something so comfortable about the casual setting of a beer garden, but we’re huge wine lovers so we set out to create a space where people could enjoy great wine in an approachable, unintimidating setting. We wanted people to order their wine based on what they like and not based on price. [By] choosing to price all of our 50-plus bottles at $49, we figured we would take one element out of the decision-making process for guests and encourage them to order what they really love to drink. We’re lucky [we have] two patios plus a brand-new ‘streatery’ along 11th Street. We offer plenty of safely distanced outdoor seating but we also designed our indoor dining room to have a Southwest patio feel with cacti, tropical plants and twinkling string lights, in hopes to bridge all of our different spaces and make it feel like one big indoor // outdoor bar.”
Explore more at www.luluswinegarden.com and on Instagram @luluswinedc.
Manager + Sommelier, Domestique Wine
The Trend: Natural Wines
When it comes to drinking wine, consumers are looking to get back to basics, enjoying wine that is clean and simple. In D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood, Domestique Wine’s shelves are stocked and ready to be discovered.
“Natural wine isn’t something new. It’s wine made without chemicals, using organic and/or biodynamic principles. What sets it apart is a sense of relatability. Natural wine has played a big part in stripping away wine’s longtime ingrained pretension and has made it fun to drink again. Most natural wines are vins de soif, meant to be thirst-quenching, fun and consumed quickly. There are a ton of natural wines in the $20 to $35 territory that express a wide range of styles, so there’s quality and selection at what many would consider an accessible price point. Covid has certainly changed how people drink a bit. In particular, I think it’s been fantastic to watch some of our fresher takes on red wine convert some rosé drinkers to red drinkers.”
Visit www.domestiquewine.com and Instagram @domestiquewine.
Owner, Grand Duchess
The Trend: Dressed-up Sandwiches Paired with Amari
With takeout food taking over, portability is key. That’s where sandwiches come in, and it helps that they are one of the best and most adaptable comfort foods around. Earlier this summer, the team at Grand Duchess launched their Hoagie Boyz menu, featuring sandwiches stacked high with quality deli meats, cheeses and seasonal produce. The bar offers a selection of Italian bitter amari to complement the food.
“The idea for the pop-up arose out of the pandemic shutdown. We had been working on another food concept before the pandemic hit – the bar never had much of a kitchen before – and then shifted gears to hoagies when dining in became impossible. We felt that hoagies gave us the ability to combine two of our favorite influences: Italian food and Philadelphia. Working through the pandemic has meant constantly reimagining and reinventing our menu and offerings to fit new needs and realities. The amari, on the other hand, preceded the pandemic and have been something that we at Grand Duchess have been into for some time now. They help settle the stomach after a big meal, and there is a seemingly endless variety of them to try including some made right here in D.C.”
Visit www.grandduchessdc.com and Instagram @grandduccessdc.
Local Changemakers Bring Booze-Free Options to All
Whether you’re many years sober, trying out abstaining from alcohol or just taking the night off from drinking, D.C.’s spirit-free and sober-curious communities are ready to welcome you in – without compromising on amazing nonalcoholic drinks.
Vergie “Gigi” Arandid
Founder + Owner, Binge Bar
Vergie “Gigi” Arandid aims for her soon-to-open booze-free bar and social events space on H Street to combat the “frustration with the lack of panache when it comes to ordering booze-free cocktails or the lack of option in general.” She hopes the space opens doors for new patrons curious about the movement to partake in creative and delicious nonalcoholic drinks.
“Binge will have a good selection of nonalcoholic beers: Heineken and Athletic Brewing Company are at the top of my list. We’ll grow garnishes indoors. We’ll offer fresh juices, infused drinks, mushroom keto coffee and teas. Choosing Binge as your first and last destination for the evening means you won’t need a designated driver [and you won’t have any] overdraft fees. [You can wake] up on a Monday and jumpstart your week on an energetic note because you don’t have a hangover and you were in bed at a reasonable time the night before. If you’re looking for a great conversation or more, what better way to hit an instant connection than a place where alcohol is not served to impair your inhibitions? I encourage everyone to try spirit-free drinks because it is a heightened experience.”
For the latest on Binge Bar’s opening, currently slated for 2021, follow on Instagram @__bingebar__ and Facebook at www.fb.com/bingebar.
Founder, Columbia Room
Spirits and cocktails expert Derek Brown is known for award-winning, carefully crafted drinks both with and without alcohol. Between the drinks offered at Columbia Room, an upcoming book release and more, Brown’s hope is to offer “artfully made, sophisticated adult drinks” for those who are skipping alcohol, whatever the reason may be.
“I have a new book forthcoming in January 2022 with Rizzoli [Publications] called ‘Mindful Mixology.’ For me, nonalcoholic cocktails are just as important as cocktails with alcohol. For too long, mocktails have been an afterthought or kiddie drinks like the Shirley Temple – if they’re even offered at all. I want to help change that. Right now, we have a reduced menu [at Columbia Room] to go and with limited patio service. It’s always been important to us to cater to everyone. We currently have one of our favorite nonalcoholic offerings, Zero Proof Bay Leaf Soda, to go. [We also have a] whey soda and nonalcoholic Long Island iced tea on the patio [that’s] full of flavor but without alcohol – a brainchild of our chef, Paul Taylor. He’s doing a sandwich and cocktail pop-up at Columbia Room: Your Only Friend. We try to make nonalcoholic cocktails with the same level of care we do alcohol-based cocktails, sometimes even offering a nonalcoholic corollary. We have even made one of our most popular cocktails of all time, The Getaway, into a nonalcoholic version. It tastes nearly identical.”
To enjoy Columbia Room’s current nonalcoholic offerings, food and more to go or on their patio, visit www.columbiaroom.com and follow on Instagram @columbiaroom.
Founder, Well Read
DMV native Karina Carlson connects individuals who care about being informed as much as they care about their own wellness journeys. Well Read’s gatherings, held online and in-person (though that format is currently on pause), consist of wellness activities and article discussions. Carlson’s own journey and curiosity led her to become involved in the booze-free and sober-curious movements.
“For a while, I was definitely on the more curious end of the spectrum. [I was] still drinking socially because of what I thought I should be doing. When the pandemic hit, I noticed my drinking at home escalated and began to self-reflect. Alone with my thoughts, I finally felt ready to give up drinking. Coincidentally, I won a coaching session with Leah Adams of 1,000 Hours Dry at an event led by Laura Silverman of Sans Bar DC and The Sobriety Collective. That session kickstarted the past three months of alcohol-free life. I think people, especially during a pandemic that has stripped folks (myself included) of so many external markers, are trying to figure out who they are outside of work. I sense that this, coupled with an increasing consciousness around self-numbing and self-medicating with alcohol, is contributing to the growth of the booze-free movement in D.C.”
Join the conversation with Well Read at www.thisiswellread.com. Follow on Instagram @thisiswellread.
Founder, Mocktail Club
Mocktail Club’s flavorful collection contains ready-to-drink cocktails sans spirits but full of all-natural ingredients. Idogho says a growing interest in health and wellness plus any number of reasons people may abstain from alcohol such as pregnancy, religion or sobriety have added to a new interest in healthy and well-made nonalcoholic cocktails such as those her club offers.
“The most rewarding part of doing this has been hearing from my customers and listening to their stories about how having better alternatives to alcohol has helped them moderate their alcohol intake with a healthier substitute. I hear stories of people suffering from health issues [who] have been longing for something nonalcoholic they could enjoy and still feel like they were part of the social fabric and part of the fun. That’s exactly what it’s about: inclusivity. I am also excited about building a company with a social mission: 1 percent of sales goes to supporting clean water access globally to support the one in 10 people who do not have access to water. As a Black female, I am also rewarded by being part of an innovative segment of the natural beverage industry. Diversity of cultures and experiences bring about exciting and innovative products. I look forward to seeing more females and minorities in the industry.”
To learn more, purchase Mocktail Club drinks or find a local supplier, visit www.mocktailclub.com. Follow on Instagram @mocktailclub and Twitter @mocktail_club.
Founder, Booze Free in DC
When she’s not hard at work with her web design and marketing // outreach firm LMS Designs, Laura Silverman is your guide to all things spirit-free and fun in the District through her blog Booze Free in DC. Her blog is a go-to for anyone diving into the lifestyle, whether for a day or for life – from spots to grab nonalcoholic cocktails and ways to connect with other sober-curious D.C. denizens to relevant information surrounding Covid specially tailored to her readers.
“I think the most salient change I’ve seen in our backyard and across the globe is the prevalence of not just the zero-proof beverages themselves, which come in all sorts, but of growing community spaces that cater to wellness, mindfulness and authenticity. The biggest reason [to try booze-free options] is why not? There are beverages, there are communities, there are options. Because we’re still in the middle of the pandemic, research is showing this time is already heavily affecting people’s mental health. People are more likely to abuse a substance in isolation. So why not give yourself the gift of trying out a booze-free or sober-curious lifestyle? Become a scientist in your own life and more mindful with your habits and choices. Even if it’s just for a week, month or year – your body and mind will thank you.”
Visit www.boozefreeindc.com and Instagram @boozefreeindc. Follow Silverman on Instagram and Twitter @wearesober. Follow Zero Proof Nation @zeroproofnation on Instagram.
Diversity + Drinks in the District
These D.C.-based individuals and initiatives are creating space and awareness for BIPOC professionals in the hospitality industry to thrive and be recognized for their talent and contributions to the industry and the city.
President + Engagement Ambassador, Chocolate City’s Best
After attending the world’s largest cocktail conference, Tales of the Cocktail, Kapri Robinson noticed a lack of Black and brown professionals in attendance. In an effort to change that, the bartender, educator, event organizer and D.C.’s 2017 Cocktail Queen founded Chocolate City’s Best as a competition and platform to elevate BIPOC individuals in the DMV. Robinson is also part of Back to Black Pop Up.
“Chocolate City’s Best is a platform to enhance the careers of people of color in the food and beverage industry. This is all done by providing these individuals with more accessible doors to opportunities and networking events that will elevate one’s career path. Our competition focuses on bringing experiences to bartenders of color that they may have never received before. Each [of the four] days is filled with mentorship, educational classes, panel discussions, competitor bonding and constant creative competition. The cocktail competition is strictly for BIPOC. We are only highlighting them. From the mentors [and] panel members [to the] judges, we highlight BIPOC leaders in the industry and the work they do.”
Follow Chocolate City’s Best on Facebook and Instagram @chocolate.citys.best and online at www.chocolatecitysbest.com. The competition takes place October 5-8. Be on the lookout for ways to support the top 10 competitors.
Creative Director, Back to Black Pop Up
Lorena Prada brings her 15 years of experience in graphic design to Back to Black. Since meeting the pop-up’s founder Andra “AJ” Johnson a few years ago, she says the two have been inseparable and Johnson helped her understanding of the hospitality industry. When Johnson asked Prada to join Back to Black after its inception, she said yes “without hesitation.”
“Through this initiative, not only are we helping the Black community, we are [also] empowering individuals by using the Back to Black platform in order to share their story. Through history, we have seen how it has been redacted to a particular point of view depending [on] who is telling it. In our narrative, we omit wrongful information and tell our truth. We wanted to ensure that each individual story did not get lost among everything else. This is also reflected visually through our imagery. We purposely showcase the cocktail [and] food on a black background. We wanted to maintain the viewer’s focus on the story through the cocktail or culinary item. Having a background would just clutter the message.”
Follow Prada on Instagram @ljprada and visit www.ljprada.com.
Co-Founder, Daring Kombucha Cocktails | Beverage Director, Roy Boys | Team Member, Back to Black Pop Up
With over 11 years in the food and beverage world, Frank Mills brings his expertise to the Back to Black team. He’s proud that the pop-up has raised almost $20,000 in a little over a month divided among 14 different charities that “advocate for Black and brown success around the world.”
“Due to the heightened notions of the Black Lives Matter movement, I have seen improvements within our local bar guilds as well as spirit brands to acknowledge and speak up about the need for further inclusion. The hospitality industry and its origins of craft were created in the kitchens and dining rooms of plantation homes. From enslaved people to indentured servants and freed African Americans who made their living tending to the families of early America, it was those individuals [who] produced the framework for the industry we’ve all come to love. Composing merriment [and] particularities and turning a negative situation into a booming business, there should be more recognition set upon people of color with the same aptitude to excel in the hospitality realm as our fairer-skinned counterparts.”
Check out Roy Boys at www.royboysdc.com and on Instagram @royboysdc.
Team Member, Back to Black Pop Up
As a Back to Black team member and the beverage and art director for a 2020 James Beard Award-winning restaurant, Sterling helps keep Back to Black storytellers prepared and supported during their cocktail prep, in addition to helping with executing events.
“All [Back to Black team members] enriched the mission with our stories and helped further the efforts and exposure of organizations that are doing their part to support the Black community. Our labor is often glorified in performance only, much like any support for Black lives and its relation to use and appropriation of our art and voice. Very rarely are Black people brought to the table in bringing change to our industry. [Restaurant and bar] owners can work less on the performance and more on the equity and respect. The greatest reward is increasing the safe spaces Black people and allies can turn to and find solace in. Back to Black is a platform in the fight for civil rights and liberties. We’re doing our small part.”
To learn more about Back to Black Pop Up, visit www.serenatadc.com/backtoblack and follow on Instagram @backtoblack_popup.