Now, Brown and Fetherston have decided to make the pop-ups permanent, in a way. Starting Wednesday, the Southern Efficiency and Mockingbird Hill spaces will be home to an ongoing series of pop-up bars, with themes, decorations and drink menus changing every few months. The first installment is the Cherry Blossom Pub, in honor of the flowering cherry trees that make Washington such a tourist destination every spring. Half of the cocktail menu and decor draws inspiration from Japanese culture — paper cranes, maneki-neko cats, Japanese whiskey — while the remainder is a goofy, immersive tribute to one of Japan's most notable exports: Mario the plumber of Nintendo fame.
The Cherry Blossom Pub is scheduled to run through April 15, but Brown says he's flexible about it. “We tend to just do things we love. If this one's successful, we'll keep it open,” he says. “We're getting so excited about it. We have a string of ideas we'd like to do.” While many bars and restaurants change their menus seasonally, what Brown and Fetherston are planning is even more ambitious; Brown likens it to “opening a new bar every couple of months.” Here's what you can expect from the new arrival.
The biggest change is structural: Two doorways have been cut out of the wall between Mockingbird Hill and Southern Efficiency, effectively turning the two establishments into one large bar with multiple seating and service areas. But while the two are combined, each room has its own theme, and they're just as attractive and Instagrammable as the holiday decorations were. Southern Efficiency is the prettier and classier of the two, celebrating the Cherry Blossom Festival. Fake trees line the wall across from the bar, with colorful paper blossoms hanging from “branches” overhead. Twelve hundred paper cranes dangle from a chandelier, while 1,000 paper cranes — a number thought to bring good fortune to the person who creates them — are featured throughout the space. Much of the back wall is filled with a huge print of “Flynn's Jefferson Memorial,” a painting by local artist Maggie O'Neill showing cherry blossoms framing the Tidal Basin.
Next door is a world designed to enthrall anyone who ever owned a Nintendo console. Question Mark blocks are placed on the ceiling, some of which contain animatronic Piranha Plants. A relief map of the entire first level of “Super Mario Brothers” stretches along the wall, detailing every pipe, block and hill. Mushrooms, Starmen and a Golden Mario all make appearances. The backroom has been turned into King Koopa's Castle, with graffiti stenciled on the darkened walls. A Mario Kart tournament has been proposed, but details haven't been finalized. “It's nice to have a bar covered in flowers, but it's not going to appeal to all people,” Brown says. “We wanted the other bar to be something fun and whimsical.”
Senior Bar Manager Paul Taylor, who crafted the cocktails for Miracle on Seventh Street, also created the dozen beverages on the Cherry Blossom Pub menu. The list is permeated with a sense of playfulness, while showing some serious cocktail chops. The Neko Colada, a pina colada-style drink made with miso-infused rhum agricole to impart nutty, salty flavors, is served in a maneki-neko tiki mug, with a straw protruding from the cat's waving paw. It's a Me, Amario is a play on both the character's stereotypical Italian accent and the popularity of amaro liqueurs: the combination of sweet vermouth, the local Don Ciccio & Figli Carciofo artichoke-based amaro and a house-made spicy ginger ale, with plenty of bright orange and ginger flavors, plus a lingering bitterness. (Taylor refers to it as a cross between an Americano and a Moscow Mule.)
I Call Yoshi is a tribute to everyone's favorite Mario Kart character, and takes on his bright green hue, thanks to a base of Midori, the green-colored, melon-flavored Japanese spirit. Combined with Tozai's honeydew-flavored Snow Maiden unfiltered sake, cucumber melon and Green Chartreuse, and garnished with a green tea-filled Hello Kitty Matcha Marshmallow, this is a sweet drink that comes across like an adult version of a Melon Ball Shot — with just a touch of herbacity from the Green Chartreuse.
Perhaps the most intriguing drink is the “As We Say in Brooklyn, Banzai!" (a quote from the “The Super Mario Bros. Super Show!” cartoon series) which Taylor based on the Japanese Cocktail, from Jerry Thomas's landmark 1862 bartending guide. The rich, sweet Armagnac cocktail's key ingredient is a sesame orgeat, made with sesame and satsuma, which provides an interesting nuttiness and citrus, while banana liqueur contributes a slight fruity funk. All cocktails are $13, except for the Flower Power, which serves four people and costs $40.
For non-cocktail drinkers, there's a menu of beer (Kirin Ichiban, Dominion Cherry Blossom Lager), sake and Japanese whiskey. The kitchen has a short menu of Japanese and Italian-inspired food, ranging from gyoza and seaweed salad to caprese grilled cheese and a spaghetti with chunky “New Jersey-style” Bolognese.
Cherry Blossom Pub, 1843 Seventh St. NW.