What place does ramen have in a Charlie Chaplin-themed bar? Micah Wilder, one half of the Wilder Cocktail Brothers who own the Chaplin, the new Shaw cocktail bar moving into the space once inhabited by Burmese restaurant Mandalay, explains it thus:
"Because it was silent film, you could go any direction. I mean, we could serve haggis to you tomorrow, or a Japanese-themed ramen bar. There is no language barrier."
Talking to chef Jeremy Cooke, another explanation emerged.
"If you see the kitchen downstairs, you'll know why I decided to go with the Asian ramen concept," said Cooke. "A lot of the [Mandalay] kitchen was left completely untouched."
When the Chaplin opens July 9 at 1501 Ninth St. NW, the former Siroc and Toki Underground chef will begin cooking a menu of ramen, dumplings, and cold dishes perfect for hot, muggy D.C. summers to accompany a list of creative cocktails inspired by the mustachioed actor's films.
Unfortunately, two of the bar's most buzzed-about menu items won't be available immediately upon opening. Those would be the drunken dumplings, which will come in a sauce so boozy that guests will be carded, and the "Laughing Gas," a gin cocktail that incorporates carbonated helium to change the imbiber's voice and induce laughing. The drink is named after Chaplin's film of the same name, in which the actor plays a dental assistant. More broadly, says Wilder, it refers to Chaplin's ability to keep people in good spirits during difficult times.
"I felt it was really important for us to play off of it," said Wilder. "You come out to a cocktail bar named Chaplin and you drown your sorrows and you laugh."
You can expect those selections to be added to the menu a week or two after opening. But in the meantime, there are plenty of other choices. Cooke's menu features a pickled pineapple and watermelon salad, and a cold soba noodle salad with smoked lobster. Dumplings, $8, are a selection of beef, pork, spicy vegetable, shrimp, and chicken. And there are seven choices of ramen, a nod to Cooke's days at Toki. They include PEI mussels, coconut chicken and duck breast.
Chaplin will also be featuring dumpling shooters, a pairing of three dumplings served in a rocks glass with a perfectly-paired whiskey or gin shot. "It's like an oyster shooter," said Cooke. Other drinks include the Gold Rush, a champagne cocktail with gold leaf, and the Vagabond, a drink with Old Tom gin. All cocktails will be $10.
Designed by Swatchroom, the Chaplin features a large movie poster-style mural of Charlie Chaplin, and predominant elements include dark wood and gold leaf. A red staircase leads the way to an upstairs area, which will open in a week or two, and a large will will function as a screen for projected old movies. Downstairs, where an old piano awaits tuning, there are plans to bring in jazz musicians for happy hour, and host special Chaplin screening nights. The bar seats 83, and an outdoor patio can accommodate up to 80.
As for Wilder, he couldn't be happier to be surrounded by a space inspired by one of his favorite actors.
"I've seen literally all of [Chaplin's films], probably 15 times per movie," said Wilder. "I love 'The Vagabond,' 'The Tramp,' and 'Laughing Gas.'"
As for Cooke?
"I'm still more of a Marx Brothers fan, myself."
The Chaplin, 1501 9th Street, NW. 202-644-8806. (Metro: Shaw-Howard Univ.)