D.C. is now home to a water bar — a drinking establishment that serves water instead of alcohol. This concept seems to have originated in parts of California that have high concentrations of people with too much money and not enough resistance to flaky wellness claims. Clearly, I approach the subject with some East Coast skepticism, but I did my best to have an open mind when I visited Water Bar DC (2822 Georgia Ave. NW) last week.
Actually, I visited Water Bar DC four times over the past four weeks, but I managed to get in only twice. On my first visit, a few weeks after Groupon and Eventbrite listings for the place started popping up, no one answered the locked door. My knocking eventually attracted the attention of an employee of the adjacent business — The History of Cannabis Museum — who said Water Bar DC’s opening had been delayed, and suggested I come back in a week.
When I returned two weeks later — last Tuesday — it felt like I was trying to engage in behavior far more illicit than hydration. Call me a yuppie, but I was getting a sketchy vibe from the establishment’s sagging porch and blacked-out glass door. So I was surprised when a friendly, sharply dressed woman emerged and introduced herself as Kim, the general manager. In her hands were two jars of water.
“I know we’re supposed to be open but we’re having trouble getting staffed up,” she said, handing me the water. “So here are some free samples.”
Kim instructed me to refrigerate the water overnight so that the floating ingredients — cucumber and mint in one, apples and cinnamon in the other — could infuse the water with flavor.
“How’d you like them?” Kim asked when I darkened her doorstep the next day.
“They were delicious,” I said, and I wasn’t just being polite. The mint-cucumber water had a lovely lime tang, and the apple-cinnamon water had an interesting, complex flavor, perhaps due to the surprising addition of tarragon. “But I’m not sure they are worth $6,” I added.
Kim seemed unfazed by my criticism. “We aren’t selling water. We’re selling true hydration,” she said.
Kim then launched into a well-rehearsed speech on the health benefits of water infusions. Cucumber suppresses your appetite, so cucumber water is ideal for dieters, she said. Tarragon intensifies the effects of caffeine, so the apple-cinnamon water is good for brewing coffee in the morning, she added. (I later researched these claims and didn’t find support for the tarragon one. As for cucumbers, they can suppress appetite, but that effect is due to their water and fiber content, so it would seem that eating them directly would work better than floating a few slices in water.)
This was my third visit to Water Bar DC, and I wondered if Kim realized that I was a reviewer, or if she just thought I was a major water enthusiast. In any case, she finally let me into the bar.
Now, I’m no decorator — the unifying theme in my apartment might best be described as “cat hair” — but even I can tell Water Bar DC needs a design overhaul. From the black pleather couches to the shiny red chairs, the overall feel is that of a 1990s bachelor pad. Silver bric-a-brac dominates the remaining floor space, and framed photos of water bottles clutter the walls.
“Can I see the Beverly Hills 9OH2O?” I asked. I didn’t have the $100,000 to buy the limited-edition release of this water, which comes in a diamond-studded bottle, but I wanted to get a picture of it.
“We don’t have that stocked, but we can certainly order one for you,” Kim said.
She then laid out a flight of smoothies for me to try, all of which I would describe as chalky. (They aren’t on the menu yet, but smoothies will be on offer, Kim said.) When I tried to order an imported water from the menu, Kim said they weren’t set up to accept credit cards yet. So, last Thursday, I returned with cash and two friends.
Kim recommended we try the Aqua Carpatica from Romania. “It’s $25 because it’s the liter,” she said.
“That’s OK. We can all share it,” I replied.
Kim produced a tall, rectangular bottle and a stack of yellow Solo cups. She also gave us some unfiltered D.C. tap water, which I requested so that we could pit it against the Romanian water in a blind taste test.
“How do you cleanse your palate for a water tasting?” my friend Neill asked.
No one knew, but we proceeded anyway. The result? Of the three of us, only Neill correctly identified the bottled water. “This tastes like German tap water, sort of chlorinated,” he said. He slightly preferred the Romanian bottled water to the D.C. tap water, while my friend Sara and I thought the tap water tasted better. We all agreed that the Romanian water was not worth $25 — or even $13, which is what it costs to order a bottle online (shipping included).
Of course, ridiculous markups are common at regular bars too, but what people are really buying is atmosphere — and the opportunity to hang out somewhere other than one’s underwear-strewn apartment. So, I think Water Bar DC could succeed, but they’ll need to hire an interior designer first. They may also want to relocate to California.
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