What was more fun growing up than slurping a bowl of sugary cereal with your eyes glued to Saturday mornings cartoons or your Xbox? Tapping into that thirst for nostalgia that we're all feeling these days thanks in part to the exhausting never-ending news cycle, José Andrés' Washington, D.C., inventive drinks den barmini is offering a new seven-cocktail flight based on childhood memories.
It all started when Andrés was inspired by a cocktail served to him in a honey bear jar, which led the bar team to start thinking about how emotions play into the perception of flavor, says bartender Al Thompson. “The approach was very conceptual: we thought about the memories we wanted to evoke first and then built the cocktails around each idea,” he says. “The development...brought up so many shared experiences and memories.”
The result is a flight of seven half-sized cocktails priced at $95; reservations are strongly recommended so the bar team can provide its signature stellar level of service. The menu itself is presented both as a View-Master and a postcard touting a photo of the brightly colored path to Hasbro’s Candy Land.
But just like all of our favorite board games growing up, there are rules. Guests are instructed to leave their cares at the door; summon their curiosity, playfulness and sense of wonder; sip while remembering their favorite childhood memory; sip again once nostalgia hits; and finally, remember that “everyone is a winner in Cocktail Land.” Easy enough.
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After a welcome drink, the experience officially kicks off with one that harkens back to days of bibs, high chairs and the first taste of solid food that was so, um, “jarring” compared to milk. Jarmini is a play on textures, temperatures and flavors, with genever, PX sherry, carrot and ginger topped with a thick and creamy espuma (foam) made with sugar snap peas. It’s vegetal, smooth and earthy, with a touch of sweetness and spice that’s reminiscent of baby food right down to the glass jar and Gerber baby look-alike painted on the label. (The drawings are actually baby photos of barmini’s bartenders.) They’ve become somewhat of a collector’s item, Thompson says, with guests asking to take them home. (No doubt to be repurposed in the garage or basement to hold nails and other tiny home improvement items, as any new parent faced with a way to repurpose the seemingly multiplying vessels can attest.)
Easy-drinking Lunch Punch is like an elevated version of Kool-Aid. A combination of brandy, Cherry Heering, Darjeeling tea, lemon and milk, it’s served in Looney Tunes limited-edition Welch’s jelly jars set in front of a tin The Princess Bride lunch box and garnished with a silly straw, ‘natch.
Before kids were downloading an app to spot virtual Pokémon characters, they were doing it old school with playing cards. For Gotta Catch ‘Em All, guests choose their own liquid adventure by selecting one of three cards that determines the base spirit. Fire-wielding Charmander results in mezcal while Bulbasaur (which has a green plant bulb on its back) gives you gin. Pick Squirtle, a water-type Pokémon, and your drink will be made with aquavit, the so-called “water of life.” The rest of the ingredients—rose vermouth, lemon and tonic—easily pair with any of them.
Imbibers are invited to Travel Down the Rabbit Hole for a tiny cup of tea that tastes remarkably like orange-flavored baby aspirin (in a good way), with gin, orange, peach, maple and vanilla. For Abracadabra, with honey vodka, Singani, coconut, lavender and lemongrass, you get to witness a little magic trick in the form of everybody’s favorite bartender parlor trick ingredient, butterfly pea flower. The trick ingredient is delivered via a little glass vial and makes a drink change its hue because of the pH level. Perfectly square, hard, cold ice cubes magically form in an enclosed canister tube after a little water is added (and you say the magic word, of course).
But it’s the last two drinks of the flight that’ll really take you back. Just like your favorite artificially flavored, high fructose-infused breakfast, Saturday Morning Cartoons is tons of milky sweet fun. Brandy, black walnut, Angostura cereal, caramelized milk and vanilla are poured into a bowl and served with an individual box of Chef Crunch cereal. Pour in the cereal and slurp it all up with a spoon while watching Looney Tunes on the portable DVD player set on the bar, and you get an addictive experience that tastes way more complex and cerebral than it sounds.
And before there were fidget spinners, constructing with LEGO bricks was about the best low-tech way to tinker and while away the hours. Barmini’s team knows that, too. For If You Build It…, you are given a flat LEGO base, a pile of blocks and a minifigure or two. Build a path from you to your glass and you’ll be rewarded with a Penicillin-like mezcal tipple with a housemade amaro blend, lemon and ginger. It’s served suspended upside down in the glass, a little more molecular mixology magic.
By the time you walk out, you might be ready to tackle adulting again.
Kelly Magyarics, DWS, is a wine, spirits and lifestyle writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter and Instagram @kmagyarics.