Adam Bernbach’s new cocktail bar, 2 Birds 1 Stone, is hidden in the basement under sister restaurant Doi Moi. It doesn’t have a sign (look for a staircase on the north side of S Street, a little west of 14th), but you won’t have to look hard to find the trail cocktail fans will be beating to the door.
Except, Bernbach says, he doesn’t want 2 Birds 1 Stone to just be known as a cocktail bar. There are six drinks and a “punch du jour” on the hand-drawn menu, and Bernbach expects to change two-thirds of the menu every week. The drink he’s most proud of is a gimlet, a simple $9 mix of the new Ford Gin from England and house-made lime cordial. “That’s the first time I’ve ever had a lime cordial on the menu. I’ve been working on it since [Bar] Pilar [in 2008], and this is the first one I’ve ever been happy with. I couldn’t get it to where it was vibrant enough. … I think there’s a tendency to have cordials be too tart – a kind of bartender braggadocio.”
The gimlet is exactly the back-to-basic approach Bernbach wants to take at 2 Birds, after years designing cocktails at sister restaurants Proof and Estadio. “I’ve been getting cute with ingredients — whatever the bartender equivalent of crate digging is,” he says. And so yes, 2 Birds 1 Stone has drinks that are unmistakably Bernbach — the Darkside, a wonderfully herbal gin-and-chinato drink, has been a standard since the Bar Pilar days – but most are simple concoctions with only three or four ingredients. The King Cole, which combines the spiciness of rye whiskey and the minty flavor of Fernet Branca and a sweetener from house simple syrup, is a perfect example.
More important than the cocktails, Bernbach says, will be the vibe in the room. 2 Birds is a light, welcoming place with whitewashed walls and stylish, minimal dark leather benches and booths. It’s bright, decorated with bird sculptures and a graffiti-esque mural of two birds getting knocked out by a bouncing stone.
Booths are confined to one end of the room, so there’s more space at the bar for groups to mingle. (The capacity is about 60.) One wall is lined with a series of little alcoves perfect for tete-a-tetes, or for groups of four to take over for a few hours. “I really wanted a place where you and your boys can come hang out, and you can bring your girlfriend the next night,” Bernbach explains. “It’s more informal.”
This studied informality is why Bernbach deliberately is keeping the menu short and sweet, stocking bottled craft beers — the lone tap will be Stillwater Cellar Door — and offering “approachable” wines by the glass. “I don’t want the cocktails to be off-putting,” he says. He thinks that the “neo-classical” offerings at Proof, carefully built around rare exotic liqueurs, wouldn’t fly at 2 Birds. “It’s not off-putting [for a customer] to order a daiquiri or a Manhattan or what have you. I don’t want us to be afraid of offering an approachable cocktail.”
So you can ask the bartender for a Sazerac, or you can ask for them to whip up something based around your favorite rye. What’s important is that the vibe is more “bar” than “cocktail bar,” from the couples in booths to the soundtrack of indie rock and old-school hip-hop.
Just make sure you take a look at Bernbach’s hand-drawn menus before you order. He spends time creating them with a mix of pencils, markers and a flashpen, so that your first introduction to the space is a little work of art. Having to add four new drinks every week “creates a kind of discipline,” Bernbach says. “The good thing is that my confidence is a little more heightened … [these days,] my preferred tool is more of an X-Acto knife than a broadsword. I want to make excellent drinks. That’s my ambition at this point. I don’t want anyone to think I’m clever.”
-- Fritz Hahn (Aug. 27, 2013)