Authentically Creative Cocktails from D.C.'s 2 Birds 1 Stone
All photos by Jake Emen.
Tucked away in the basement underneath Doi Moi along 14th Street in Washington, D.C. is 2 birds 1 stone, from bar director Adam Bernbach. The bar is driven by Bernbach's artistry, which applies not only to the cocktails he serves, but also to the colorful hand-drawn menus on which they appear.
Bernbach releases a new seven-cocktail menu each week, literally hand crafting both all the drinks and all the menus. He also keeps a menu archive available online, where visitors can go back week by week into the bar's nearly two and a half year history.
"We really took off after the 2nd year, but it was amazing and more than we could have imagined from the start," says Bernbach on the bar's popularity.
His descriptions of his cocktails seem to match the menus colored with what looks like Crayola markers. Some cocktails, he says, are elegant and refined. Others, not so much. "We do some drinks on the 'cartoony' side," he explains, gesticulating a cartoon fight with arms and legs flailing and flying around to describe the big, bold and sometimes contrasting flavors he serves up.
He estimates that approximately 300 different cocktails have been proffered on those menus since they opened. During one week, menus may be changed on a wholesale basis, and during another, certain cocktails may reappear unchanged for another stint or emerge only slightly tweaked.
In addition to the weekly menu, the bar also offers a list of house favorites. These are often retained on an ongoing basis, seasonally changing or reappearing after a break. "Less of the coarse change, more of the fine change," says Bernbach, in his approach to keeping one of his house go-tos fresh.
The menu also offers a list of classic cocktails. Or guests could opt to simply place themselves into their bartender's caring hands to enjoy something tailored to their own tastes.
Certain drink components have even have become staples for the bar to such a degree that they're essentially obligated to continue offering them. That's the case for their house-made ginger beer, which they churn through at a rate of at least 30 to 50 quarts per week.
"If it's not on the menu, it's mutiny," says Bernbach, apparently half-joking and half-fearful for his wellbeing. "People get really upset." On a recent visit, the ginger beer appeared in the Winter Pimm's Cup, made with the house ginger beer and cinnamon-infused Pimm's.
Gearing up for Mardi Gras during the same visit, Bernbach showcased several of his Mardi Gras week cocktails, a list which included a Cocktail a la Louisiane, Hurricane, Milk Punch and French 75. Classics though they may be, Bernbach's influence is always felt.
His Hurricane, with light and dark El Dorado rum, passion fruit syrup, Angostura bitters, and orange and lime juices, keeps the essence of the drink intact while delivering a wholly different, smooth-sipping, adult rendition. It's dangerously smooth, as you could pound it back in just a few sips. His Cocktail a la Louisiane, with Rittenhouse, Cocchi, Benedictine, Pernod and Peychaud's bitters is ethereal grace, as far away from "cartoony" as you can get.
Bernbach's objectives at 2 birds are simple enough, difficult though they may be in execution. He wants to deliver drinks which people enjoy drinking, drinks that are well made, and drinks that he also takes pride in creating and serving. He enjoys showcasing new ingredients and spirits, and trying well known ones in new ways -- Ancho Reyes slushies, anyone?
One of the most challenging and rewarding aspects for Bernbach is walking a fine line between two often opposite extremes. "Finding that middle ground to introduce new things and turn them into what people will enjoy," he says.
"That's one thing we're particularly grateful and proud of," he says, referring to a successful track record of accomplishing that feat. It's not easy converting customers into fans of flavors and ingredients they never knew they'd like, or perhaps never even had heard of. Bernbach doesn't want to force the issue, either. He won't serve up a "trendy" new spirit just to offer the latest thing if it's not truly a good match, and he won't roll his eyes at ingredients which others are saying have become "passé."
Good, honest, well-made drinks.
"It's important to have your own motive," says Bernbach. "And I can't even describe what our own motive is... just to be authentic."
Unquestionably authentic. And with some of the best, most creative -- and occasionally, most cartoony -- cocktails in town.
Find 2 birds 1 stone
1800 14th St. NW
Washington, D.C. 20009