For four years, the Miracle on Seventh Street has been Washington’s go-to holiday bar, filling the city’s Instagram and Snapchat feeds with its over-the-top decor: Dinosaur Nativity scenes! Dreidel chandeliers! A Victorian sleigh parked in front of a Beyoncé mural!
But the Miracle on Seventh Street, from the team behind the “Game of Thrones” and springtime cherry blossom pop-up bars, has been facing increasing competition for millennials' seasonal drinking dollars. On Black Friday, U Street tiki destination Archipelago started a month-long holiday vacation in the tropics, turning into Sippin' Santa’s Surf Shack. It’s one of 11 bars across the country to adopt this concept, created by famed tiki historian Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.
How does the newcomer compare with the seasonal titan? I visited them both on opening night to see.
Miracle on Seventh Street: By now, everyone should know what to expect from the Drink Company pop-up bars: Five rooms packed full of things to gawk at and take pictures of (or in front of). You may be so captivated by stuffed pandas stacked behind the bar or jingling bells overhead that you overlook murals of Frosty or the Abominable Snowman — and that’s just in the first room. Other highlights include life-size statues of pandas in the small, North Pole-inspired room; murals of pandas eating sufganiyot in the Manischewitz-wallpapered Hanukkah room; and one space decorated to look like the inside of the Times Square disco ball, in case you’ve ever wanted to be trapped in there. Crowds circulate around the space, singing along to “Christmas Wrapping” and “Jingle Bell Rock,” looking for places to perch or the next spot for the perfect selfie. (Pro tip: It was easiest to get a drink in the North Pole.)
Sippin' Santa’s Surf Shack: Decorative paper balls hang from the ceiling, colored lights are woven into thatched panels and the tiki totems sport Santa hats. Other than that, the bar didn’t go too far over the top with decorations. “A tiki bar comes with its own vibe already,” explains co-owner Owen Thomson. With a Christmas theme, “you’re just layering more stuff on top of that.” Spirits are raised by the glassware and on the soundtrack, which mixes reverb-drenched surf versions of holiday songs and the Rat Pack crooning carols. The most ostentatious display is on the patio: an inflatable Kris Kringle, sporting a tank top and flip-flops, hanging out under a palm tree with a hula-skirt-wearing penguin.
Miracle on Seventh Street: The most popular drink on opening night, judging by the number of people walking around carrying panda-shaped ceramic mugs and sipping from bamboo-colored straws, was the Santa Bei Bei, a sweet-and-citrusy mix of tequila, lime and vanilla-agave soda. You have to think the glass was most of the appeal, especially when so many visitors were wearing matching panda-ear headbands, provided at the door by the National Zoo. (Reminder: Drinks served in the most festive glasses require guests to leave an ID with the bartender to prevent theft.)
The drinks are, as usual, on the sweeter side. Those who’ve been standing in line for too long should start with Santa’s S#!t List, a Nutella-based hot chocolate spiked with Scotch, or the solid Hebrew Hammer, which is essentially a Bramble with Sipsmith gin and a housemade Manischewitz cassis, topped with a mini jelly doughnut. The standout is the Mortimer Duke, named after the “Trading Places” villain. This high-end take on an Orange Crush includes gin, Aperol and a frothy housemade orange cream soda.
Sippin' Santa’s Surf Shack: If you love tiki drinks, you’re going to find something on this menu. The Kris Kringle Colada is a rich, yet spicy piña colada. The Blue Christmas is a creamy, sky-blue Blue Hawaiian with an extra punch of tropical fruit. Most popular of all was the Sippin' Santa, probably because the mug depicts St. Nick wearing sunglasses and flip-flops and carrying a ukulele. (Each drink comes in a particular mug.) For me, this was the quintessential Christmas tiki drink, with a surprising depth of flavor and spice that it was hard to put my finger on. The menu says it contains “aged demerara rum” and “Gingerbread mix,” but there were more layers than that. And while all 11 Sippin' Santa’s Surf Shack pop-ups have a similar menu, Thomson says bartenders have license to modify the recipes to show off their creativity.
It’s worth noting here that Archipelago is not serving its regular drink menu through Dec. 23, though the kitchen still sends out dan dan noodles and wontons in red oil.
Santa appears on the front of the menu at both bars, but Miracle on Seventh Street and Sippin' Santa’s Surf Shack are completely different experiences. If you’re looking for a place to meet friends for some casual and potent drinks without (so far) the hassle of waiting in a block-long line to get in, Sippin' Santa’s Surf Shack is the way to go. But if you’re getting together with a group for an immersive holiday experience singing along with “All I Want For Christmas is You,” drinking cocktails named after “Home Alone” and “Die Hard” quotes and posing for photos in front of giant nutcrackers or pandas, the Miracle on Seventh Street is your destination.
Miracle on Seventh Street: 1843 Seventh St. NW. Open daily at 5 p.m. through Dec. 31.
Sippin' Santa’s Surf Shack: 1201 U St. NW. Open daily at 5 p.m. through Dec. 23.