SF Bay Area
Food and drink that has us seeing gold
What do Teddy Roosevelt, Russia, and Washington D.C.’s most popular pop-up bar have in common? Perhaps more than you’d think.
Way back in 1912, following the end of the Russo-Japanese War, Japan gifted thousands of its prized cherry blossom trees to the United States in a show of gratitude for Roosevelt’s having helped resolve the conflict (twice, in fact, as the first batch was found to be infected with moths and had to be destroyed). Since then and for just a few weeks every spring, the Capital City and its cherry blossoms put on a spectacular show of pink and white along the river just past the Washington Monument.
As March melts into April, thousands of camera-wielding tourists flock to D.C. for a glimpse of more than 3,000 cherry blossom trees, which bloom brilliantly and all at once. In just a mere fortnight (sometimes less), the petals have mostly floated back to earth along the shores of the Potomac, but their influence on the nation’s capital is profound and wide-reaching. Cherry blossom season has become nothing short of an event in the beltway, inspiring city-wide celebrations like music festival “Petalpalooza,” displays of traditional Japanese dance, and even a hallucinatory digital art installation called Sakura Yume, or “Cherry Blossom Dream,” at interactive art space ARTECHOUSE.
For years, local chefs and bar teams have similarly infused cherry blossom into their spring offerings, but more recently, an over-the-top pop-up bar via D.C.-based drink company, aptly named Drink Company and led by cocktail maven Derek Brown, has captivated the merry masses. In its second year, Cherry Blossom PUB (pop-up bar) brings an immersive cocktail concept and explosion of all things cherry blossom to D.C.’s youthful Shaw neighborhood, and has quickly become a favorite of visitors and locals wanting to drink in some of the floral fun.
Imagination is in no short supply at PUB and just as they did the year prior, Brown and his team of designers and mixologists have transformed the blank canvas bar into a boozy, botanical wonderland by way of 90,000 delicate cherry blossoms cascading from the ceiling and bursting from walls. If Instagram isn’t paying these guys yet, they should be. And with opening night on March 1 and plans to run through the end of April, you can spot the pop-up easily by its line of ready revelers lined up outside, sometimes as early 5 p.m.. (Note: If you’re line-averse, $20 tickets can be purchased in advance, guaranteeing immediate entry).
In keeping with the tradition of celebrating the special relationship with Japan, the multi-room pop-up pays homage to cinematic icon Godzilla. The 10-feet tall smoke-breathing animatronic statue and his foe, Mothra, both built by Andrew Herndon, loom large in front of a wall painted to resemble the Tokyo streets he so famously destroyed.
The impressive creations underscore another themed room inspired by a Tokyo street market. Last year Brown and his crew delivered a Mario Kart room that was hugely popular, but pop-up culture is all about what’s new and next and the team has given the city just that.
After a decidedly successful launch in 2017, Brown boasts about a fivefold increase in total cherry blossoms for the sophomore run. “We simply had to go bigger and better this year,” he says, and go big they did. This time around ,the faux cherry blossoms share the spotlight with boxwoods and over a thousand Monarch butterflies which adorn the adjacent atrium. The main bar borrows architectural elements from ancient Japanese Pagodas and tea houses and thousands of intricate paper cranes hang delicately in rows above it.
Brown’s cocktail menu has been equally cherry-blossomed and is spearheaded by Drink Company’s Head of Bar Concepts Paul Taylor. Much like the space, Taylor’s wild and whimsical creations (all $13) are colored by Japanese food and culture. A spin on the Whisky Sour starts with Suntory Toki Japanese Whisky and subs in Yuzu Juice, while the “Chu-Hi” (pictured below) features Shochu (Japanese liquor), Manzanilla Sherry and a citrus rice crispy treat garnish.
Cherry blossoms themselves are not forgotten in the cocktail program and a classic gin and tonic gets updated with unsurprisingly floral cherry blossom tonic, while the “Calpico Fizz” (below) blends vodka, strawberry grenadine, and Calpico, a carbonated beverage popular in Japan and often described as “yogurt soda.”
Brown and his team of creators, which include concept designers and dream job havers, Adriana Aspiazu and Matt Fox, have curated other pop-ups in the same space, like a Christmas bar in 2017 and another for “Game of Thrones.” 2018 is the first time the team plans to curate a series of concepts all year long and they’re tight-lipped with what’s coming next.
As for how they’ll top this year’s masterpiece next year, it’s anyone’s guess, but as long as people are showing up and having fun, you can bet Cherry Blossom PUB will be back next spring, just like the beautiful blossoms that inspired it.
1841 7th St, NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
Sunday thru Thursday, 5 PM – 12:30 AM
Friday & Saturday, 5 PM – 1:30 AM
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