Editors' pick

Napoleon

Bistro, French
$$$$ ($15-$24)
'

Editorial Review

Metropolitain's Bubbly Personality
By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 13, 2007

Whether your taste and budget call for a glass of sparkling Australian wine or an expensive vintage from a legendary French producer, champagne bars draw the hip and well-heeled from New York to Paris and beyond. Washington hasn't had a champagne bar since Flutes closed its doors in Georgetown in the mid-'90s, so I was curious to check out the new Napoleon, which opened in February in Adams Morgan, replacing the Asian lounge Mantis.

Skip the upstairs restaurant and bar, where black walls with red and gold stripes, ornate chandeliers, black leather booths and gold accents seem more French bordello than French chic. The basement lounge, called Metropolitain, mixes a younger, urban vibe with a menu of bubbly-based cocktails, champagnes and sparkling wines by the glass and a short list of appetizers. (Metropolitain shares its name with Paris's subway system -- a play on the bar's below-ground location.) Lights are low, with flickering candles showing off exposed brick and silver-and-white damask wallpaper covered with the bistro's faux-regal coat of arms. A disco ball hangs overhead, and five leather couches and small, cube-shaped leather stools line the back wall. The bar is short, and the metal stools are slightly uncomfortable, but there's plenty of room to hang out or dance when DJs spin funky house and international grooves Thursday through Saturday nights.

I've visited several times recently with friends, and no one has said a bad word about the place yet -- well, other than opining that the house cocktail, Le Metropolitain, a combination of cognac, bitters and champagne, was a bit boring, and we all expected more from the most expensive cocktail on the menu.

Prices vary from $5 for a pink can of Sofia, a sparkling wine made by Francis Ford Coppola's California vineyards, to $20 for a glass of Gosset, a wonderfully toasty French champagne from (where else?) Champagne. That sounds like a lot, but a bottle will set you back as much as $150. Also on the list are many familiar names, including Louis Roederer, Piper Heidsieck and Taittinger. (There are also more than a dozen non-sparkling red and white wines.) One tip: Even if something is listed as only by-the-bottle, it doesn't hurt to ask for a sample; the staff seems pretty generous when it comes to offering tastes.

More intriguing is the long list of champagne cocktails. All are made with different champagnes or sparkling wines, depending on the drink. L'Amour, a bold mix of Courvoisier cognac and bitters, takes St. Germain, a French sparkling wine. The Femme Fatale, in which bitter Campari adds body to the otherwise pleasant Mimosa mix of champagne and a splash of orange juice, and A Good Night Kiss, which gets its more robust flavor by ditching the orange juice in favor of bitters, use Marquis de la Tour, a sparkling wine from France's Loire Valley.

Sometimes the simplest drinks are the most pleasant: La Tropicale adds a delicate sparkling wine over mango nectar. Fans of classic cocktails can order the French 75, an herbal blend of Bombay Sapphire gin and a twist of lemon, topped with champagne. Even better is that none of the cocktails tops $12, and most are $9 or $10.

Metropolitain's night life has been slow to catch up with the bar, and crowds have been frustratingly hit-or-miss. Two Fridays ago, my friends and I were the only souls in the bar at 12:30 a.m. We settled into our leather couch and ordered another round. Before long, though, even the DJ was packing up.

Last Saturday, though, the dance floor was packed, and every couch was occupied. The difference? Owner Omar Popal brought in DJ Aou (Thaneeya A. Pakdee), a veteran of Mantis, Red and Eighteenth Street Lounge, to spin on Saturdays and to help book DJs, a role Aou handled at Mantis. Tom B., another ESL veteran, can be found in Metropolitain's booth most Thursdays.

More good things are on the horizon: Next weekend, DJ Chris Burns, who keeps crowds moving to house and disco at the Rock and Roll Hotel and Selam, begins a regular Friday night gig. If you're curious, stop by Wednesday through Saturday from 7 to 10, when champagne cocktails are two-for-one. Order off what Popal calls the "French tapas" menu, maybe a mini-order of steak frites or a cheese platter, and relax.