This Valentine’s Day Bar Promotion Sets Guests’ Hearts Aflutter

Mysterious Death by Chocolate. Images: Iron Gate

Whether you're suffering from a scorching case of unrequited love, are juggling several paramours, have found your true soulmate or are feeling jilted and bitter this Valentine's Day, one Washington, D.C., restaurant has you covered. Iron Gate’s spirits director Nick Farrell, executive chef Anthony Chittum and pastry chef Paola Velez have brought back Tunnel of Love, a limited-edition menu of drinks and bites this year inspired by Edgar Allan Poe and divided into sections with options for the amorous—and the averse.

Last week I headed into the Greek and Italian small plates-focused restaurant housed in a historic building close to Dupont Circle for a preview on the eve before the menu was unveiled. I encountered the carriageway bar decked out in red and black, an overall vibe that straddles the line between the seductive and the macabre, depending on your perspective. Large paper lanterns hung overhead, feathers and lights were strung on shelves behind the bar, roses were tucked into vases, and (of course) a stuffed raven held court.

Read this: A Whole Lotta Love: 26 Valentine's Day Cocktails

Farrell told me Iron Gate is considered by many to be the most romantic restaurant in the District. Since staff had so much fun last year with the Tunnel of Love, they decided to offer it again, running it from February 1 through the 14. “It's impossible for everyone to get a reservation at the place they want on Valentine's Day,” he admits. “So celebrating love for two weeks at Iron Gate assures that industry people, people in other jobs that can't go out on a Wednesday [or] late planners can celebrate on a day of their choosing without planning two months ahead.”

It’s also a chance to be more playful and whimsical with cocktails, for which Farrell collaborated with head bartender Sam Ward. “Nobody wants over-the-top garnishes and themes every day, but sometimes it’s fun to let loose a little, especially during the coldest time of year.”

Galentine’s Day cocktail at Iron Gate in Washington, D.C. - This Valentine’s Day Bar Promotion Sets Guests’ Hearts Aflutter

I perused the Full Hearts side of the menu (designed for the lovey-dovey among us), opting for the garden-in-a-glass-esque Stop and Smell the Cocktails, which stirs limoncello-like gin and bergamot liqueur from Italy with blanc vermouth, garnished with red rose petals and topped with a few spritzes of a rose bergamot mist that I was tempted to take home and start using as cologne. A guest next to me ordered the DC Tinder Negroni, a deconstructed version of the original that served up a Martini variation with a red amaro-based gelatin heart on an appetizer spoon. Most over the top and festive is the Galentine’s Day, a tray for two of Manhattans made with Rodham Rye, Cocchi Torino Vermouth, Yellow Chartreuse and mole bitters, flutes of Simonet sparkling wine, and three kinds of amaro truffles: milk chocolate with Varnelli Caffe Moka, white chocolate with Amaro Vecchio del Capo and dark chocolate with Amaro Pasubio. The presentation is both decadent and indulgent (the bubbly and the dark chocolate truffles were my favorite).

The Tell-Tale Heart cocktail at Iron Gate in Washington, D.C. - This Valentine’s Day Bar Promotion Sets Guests’ Hearts Aflutter

Still, Hearts Day is a polarizing holiday and its trappings can be a real turn off for some, so Farrell and staff wanted to be mindful of that duality and inclusive for everyone. “Poe fit that theme, as a Romantic author who wrote about love lost and the dark side of things,” he points out. Several of the drinks on the Heartbreaks section are named for Poe works. “The Tell-Tale Heart” has always been my favorite Poe story; the liquid version is a tall drink that mixes tequila with blood orangecello and habanero shrub, topped with club soda and black heart-shaped ice cubes. Farrell’s preferred concoction is the Cask of Amontillado, a complex, brooding libation of apple brandy, mezcal, Cocchi Americano, activated charcoal and the namesake sherry.

Cask of Amontillado cocktail at Iron Gate - This Valentine’s Day Bar Promotion Sets Guests’ Hearts Aflutter

Tunnel of Love was teased on social media the end of January, at which time the new menu was photographed to showcase it online and give guests a little sneak peek. Every guest at the bar or in the restaurant receives the menu, and even if they aren’t seated at the decorated bar they can still enjoy the sips and apps on it.

Read this: Cuddle Up with These Valentine's Day Vodka Cocktails

Speaking of which, even the food gets into the act, with squid ink gnocchetti and a blackout cake that are just desserts for those feeling dead inside. Most fun are a bison and beet tartare served in the shape of a heart, and a crispy chicken leg with Virginia ham, burrata and pomodoro. The latter is served whole with the claw (read: talon) attached, on a platter painted with what the raven quoth: “Nevermore.” Eddy would be proud.

Stop and Smell the Cocktails drink by Nick Farrell at Iron Gate in Washington, D.C. - This Valentine’s Day Bar Promotion Sets Guests’ Hearts Aflutter

Stop and Smell the Cocktails

Recipe courtesy of Nick Farrell, Spirits Director, Iron Gate

This cocktail beats a bouquet of flowers any day. Malfy Gin hails from Italy’s Amalfi Coast region and has a limoncello-like flavor. It’s joined by a bergamot-scented liqueur, white vermouth and a spritz of rosewater and bergamot on top.

Add the first three ingredients to a cocktail glass, add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a coupe, spray with rose bergamot mist, and garnish with the rose petals.

For the rose bergamot mist:

Combine 4 parts Italicus Rosolio di Bergamotto Liqueur, 1 part pure food grade bergamot extract and 1 part rose water in a food grade mister or atomizer.

DC Tinder Negroni cocktail by Nick Farrell at Iron Gate in Washington, D.C. - This Valentine’s Day Bar Promotion Sets Guests’ Hearts Aflutter

DC Tinder Negroni

Recipe courtesy of Nick Farrell, Spirits Director, Iron Gate

Farrell’s deconstructed Negroni uses all local ingredients, and swaps out the usual Campari for an amaro that’s served as a gelatin heart on the side, rather than a liqueur that’s stirred into the cocktail. He suggests taking a sip of the drink, then a bite of the heart.

Add the first two ingredients to a cocktail glass, add ice and stir until well chilled. Strain into a coupe and serve with a gelatin shot on an appetizer spoon.

For the Don Ciccio & Figli Luna Amaro Heart gelatin shot:

Using bloomed gelatin sheets, follow the instructions on the box, using twice as much gelatin as the recipe on the box calls for (the alcohol makes the gelatin thinner and you want to make sure it sets). Combine it with equal parts Luna Amaro and simple syrup in a bowl. Pour into heart shaped molds, and let them set in the refrigerator.

Cask of Amontillado cocktail by Nick Farrell at Iron Gate in Washington, D.C. - This Valentine’s Day Bar Promotion Sets Guests’ Hearts Aflutter

Cask of Amontillado

Recipe courtesy of Nick Farrell, Spirits Director, Iron Gate

This boozy stirred drink is a reference to Edgar Allan Poe’s story about revenge and a rare cask of sherry. It gets its dark color from a small amount of activated charcoal, but if you are concerned about using this ingredient in cocktails, feel free to omit it.

Rub the outside of a rocks glass with the lemon wedge, coat in the hibiscus sugar, then set aside. Add the other ingredients to a cocktail glass, add ice, and stir until well chilled. Strain into the prepared glass over one large cube.

For the hibiscus sugar:

Blend equal parts (by weight) sugar and dried hibiscus flowers in a food processor.

You Complete Me cocktail by Nick Farrell at Iron Gate in Washington, D.C. - This Valentine’s Day Bar Promotion Sets Guests’ Hearts Aflutter

You Complete Me

Recipe courtesy of Nick Farrell, Spirits Director, Iron Gate

Jerry Maguire’s famous declaration of love to Dorothy Boyd in the 1996 film is the inspiration for the name of this floral, fizzy elixir. Farrell uses a cherry aperitivo from D.C. distiller Don Ciccio & Figli; if you can’t find it, you can substitute another brand like Luxardo Sangue Morlacco.

Add the first four ingredients to a cocktail glass, add ice, and stir until well chilled. Strain into a Collins glass over fresh ice, top with soda water, stir, and garnish with the orchid.

For the hibiscus soda base:

Combine 2 cups sugar, 2 ¼ cups hot water, 1 oz. citric acid and 25 dried hibiscus flowers over medium heat until simmering. Remove it from the heat and cool, then strain out solids. Store the base in the refrigerator for up to a week.

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.