I've never had a Stormtrooper check my ID before I could enter a bar — and, unless you've hung out in Mos Eisley, you probably haven't either. But that was the case on opening night at Dark Side Bar, a new Star Wars-inspired pop-up in the District that also opened locations in Lower Manhattan and inside Hollywood's historic Chinese Theatre this week.
The bar on H Street NE has a long, dark and moody room, lighted by red neon, strings of red lights and orb-shaped lamps that look like a fully operational battle station. One wall displays an array of blasters, mounted between glowing red-lined panels. “It's supposed to be that you're in a bar inside the Death Star, or a bar where a Stormtrooper would go after work and complain about how mean the Emperor was to him that day,” says Dark Side Bar creator Zach Neil.
Although the space isn't as lavishly decorated as the “Game of Thrones” pop-up bar in Shaw, its opening night drew customers in Jedi robes and an Imperial dress uniform. The staff wore a variety of outfits: At one point, Darth Vader came moonwalking through the room, then posed for selfies with people by the bar. Neil has booked several large groups of 50 to 75 cosplayers who have plans to party in costume.
Expect the Dark Side Bar to live up to Neil's description of “a total space-nerd hangout.” Entertainment will include trivia nights and “alien speed dating,” where participants will be required to wear a costume or face paint while trying to forge a connection over icebreaker questions like, “Who shot first: Han or Greedo?” (If that question makes no sense, this probably isn't the right bar for you.)
On Fridays and Saturdays from 9 p.m. to midnight, there's a burlesque show with “sexy aliens” —think dancers with green skin, wearing costumes or masks. “That would totally be in a Sith bar,” Neil says. “If the Jedis are off drinking milk and hanging out with ewoks, the Sith are going to be drinking whiskey and watching alien strippers.”
Getting in might not be easy or cheap. The Dark Side Bar uses the Tock reservation system so customers can reserve entry for a two-hour block of time. A ticket costs $33 and includes two drinks, but not tax or a mandatory 18 percent service charge, which takes the total to $40.84. If you walk up without reservations, it's $40 plus tax and gratuity — if there's room.
The perk to using Tock? No waiting in line for hours to get in, as is the case at other pop-up bars.
Once you're in, the house cocktails are not the cocktails you are looking for. The Red Force and Blue Force are college-party sugar bombs — the latter is Hendricks Gin, blue curacao and a sugar rim — with glow-in-your-glass ice cubes. The Imperial sounds promising, with spiced rum, maple syrup, lemon and a dash of cayenne pepper, but it was as balanced as the Force at the end of “Revenge of the Sith.” You're better off ordering a regular cocktail or a can of DC Brau.
This isn't a Lucasfilm-endorsed concept — hence the lack of T-shirts for sale, or cocktails called the Skywalker or the Battle of Yavin. Instead, Neil says, it's an homage to the cultlike fandom that surrounds the Star Wars saga, especially with “The Last Jedi” set to open on Dec. 15. “We do this stuff because we love to do it,” he says.
I'm sure there are quite a few Washingtonians ready to dress up and join them.
The Dark Side Bar, 816 H St. NE. Open at 6 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday. $33-$40.