Posted on | September 27, 2014
Written by | Alia Akkam
A vet of Washington, DC’s cocktail circuit—he first made waves at the cherished Bar Pilar—Adam Bernbach has his hands full as bar director of restaurateur Mark Kuller’s motley establishments, including doi moi, Estadio and Proof. Here, he delves into the inner workings of doi moi’s bona fide subterranean cocktail joint, 2 birds, 1 stone.
THE BEVERAGE NETWORK: The DC cocktail scene has drastically changed—for the better—in recent years. What did you want to bring to the capital’s evolving drinking culture with 2 birds, 1 stone?
ADAM BERNBACH: A nice bar with an informal elegance. I wanted a place where guests could be comfortable without the weight of any expectation other than that of being guaranteed an excellent cocktail and having a fun time with friends.
TBN: What is one of the biggest differences you’ve noticed about customer drinking habits since your Bar Pilar days?
AB: Guests are significantly more educated now, and they have a more detailed idea of what they want. Palates have become more expansive. Customers ordering Manhattans, martinis and whiskey sours are doing so differently than before. The anticipation for quality vermouth and fresh juice is present and expressed, whereas that wasn’t always the case in years past.
TBN: Why the decision for your oft-changing, handwritten, illustrated menu?
AB: I like the freedom of it, and I like the idea of not being wedded to one solid structure for a long period of time. In terms of the drawings, the menus are kind of fun and silly. They lend a certain frivolity, which ties right back into the comfortable, easy atmosphere we hope to offer. They also provoke conversation and engagement both among guests and between staff and customers.
TBN: Because DC’s drinking scene has gotten savvier, are you noticing that most guests express a sense of openness to trying these new creations?
AB: Yes, and I think that sometimes that drives us almost to a fault. When we first opened, we expected to make more drinks along the lines of the classics that we’ve now detailed on the back of the menu. But the guests’ responses, what they were communicating to us, was that they wanted more of the out-there, creative drinks. Not only was there more openness and intrigue to try them, but an insistence upon it.
TBN: What do you have planned for the fall?
AB: We’ll be bringing back the Fall Pimm’s Cup [cinnamon-infused Pimm’s, gin, spicy ginger beer]. The Brit Meaw [bourbon and carrot soda] will run through October as will the Grand Army of the Republic [rye whiskey, cranberry syrup, lime juice, Fernet Branca].
TBN: Was the decision to include classics on the menu a reminder that guests aren’t relegated to just ordering the modern concoctions?
AB: In addition to regular bar costs, the originals also come with additional labor costs because we need to employ prep staff to make large quantities of the more labor-intensive ingredients. This meant the overall menu became all $14 cocktails, and that’s not what we wanted to be about. We wanted to find a way to communicate to guests who might not otherwise have known that we also do a lot of great cocktails that are $9 and $10. We’re happy to make classic cocktails requested by our guests, and the few that we call out are ones we personally enjoy drinking.
TBN: Despite 2 birds, 1 stone’s informal atmosphere, how do you ensure that hospitality is still a priority?
AB: The simple answer is when I sit down to hire somebody from a list of applicants I hire the nicest person that I talk to. Obviously there is ongoing education and training involved for everyone on the team, but at the heart of it, I seek out warm and friendly people who genuinely want their guests to have a good time.