2 Birds 1 Stone is one of the city's best cocktail bars. On its whimsical cartoon menus, drawn by proprietor Adam Bernbach, you'll find concoctions like the Salty Ginny Limey Thing, made with the juice of key limes that have been cured with salt for four to five months; and the Savory Boulevardier, whose key ingredient is bourbon infused with oregano.
Over the weekend, though, the bar unveiled a second "Recommended Classics" menu that couldn't be more different. It's tucked on the rear of the main hand-drawn menu, and rendered in plain text. It's full of drinks most bargoers have heard of, such as a gimlet, a daiquiri and an Americano. The kicker: Every single one of them is $9 or $10. Compare that to the main menu, which hasn't featured a drink under $14 in weeks, except for the rotating "Punch de Jour."
While the prices are lower, 2 Birds isn't skimping on quality. For $10, choices include a refreshing gimlet that pairs the outstanding Ford's Gin from London with a balanced, house-made lime cordial and fresh lime juice. The sweet, full-bodied Brown Derby uses Four Roses yellow-label bourbon, a house-made honey syrup and fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice. Bernbach's explanation of the costs: "They're not quite as intense to make as that salt-lime soda, or the house ginger beer," he says, "and we have [those spirits and juices in the lower-priced cocktails] in-house already."
To hear Bernbach tell it, 2 Birds 1 Stone has always had affordable cocktails, but that was lost in the hype about drinks using those fancy ingredients. "As we got more intensive in the preparation for the drinks, the menu became almost exclusively $14 drinks. I don't think we did an amazing job of telling patrons that we could make them a great Americano for $9 or a Brown Derby for $10."
That's the problem for bars that only have a few pricey drinks on the menu: People come in on a busy Thursday or Friday night, look at a list of $14 cocktails and think, "Boy, they must charge that much for everything." And when other bars are charging $8 or $9 for rail cocktails made with bottom-shelf liquor, there's no way to tell customers that they could be getting a much better drink for only $1 or so more.
"I get the impression that we came across as more expensive than we are," Bernbach says. "Having a list of drinks for $9 and $10 will give people a better impression." He does add that the current "$10 or less" pricing isn't set in stone, and could eventually include a drink for $11 or $12, but he'd like to keep it on the lower side.
While the main menu will continue to rotate new drinks every week, the list of lower-priced options probably won't change much. "It's kind of like a shorthand" to let people know that they aren't limited to the six or seven drinks on the front, Bernbach says.
I'm curious about this last point: My experience sitting at bars has taught me that many people still order one of the drinks on the paper or chalkboard in front of them, unless they're ordering the cocktail of the moment (Old Fashioned, Negroni, etc.) or they've heard that the bartenders at a particular bar are good at coming up with drinks on the fly. In either case, the idea of a leading bar positioning itself as a place with quality cocktails for $10 or less is a trend we can all get behind.
2 Birds 1 Stone, 1800 14th St. NW (entrance on S Street). www.2birds1stonedc.com.
The Recommended Classics Menu
Americano Sweet Vermouth, Campari, Sparkling Water $9
Gimlet Gin, House Lime Cordial, Lime Juice $10
Adonis Dry Oloroso Sherry, Sweet Vermouth, Orange Bitters $10
Daiquiri Rum, Simple Syrup, Lime Juice $10
Tom Collins Old Tom Gin, Simple Syrup, Lemon Juice, Sparkling Water $10
Brown Derby Bourbon, Grapefruit Juice, Honey Syrup $10