After the owners of Doi Moi announced the closing of award-winning basement cocktail bar 2 Birds 1 Stone in August, Washington cocktail lovers were curious what, if anything, could replace it. We got our answer late last month: Destination Wedding, where every alcove and nook is “themed” to resemble popular wedding destinations, including Las Vegas and Paris. It sure sounds like a pop-up bar, but it's actually not.
Rather than a straightforward review, we decided a his-and-hers approach was the best way to judge this new 14th Street destination.
Fritz Hahn: Why am I ordering cocktails in a wedding photo booth?
Megan McDonough: Ever wonder what a real-life wedding board on Pinterest looks like? Well, I imagine this is the closest thing to it.
A robin’s-egg-blue bar draped in fluffy white taffeta? Check. Cutesy wedding toppers? Check. Wedding invitations with romantic, loopy calligraphy? Check. This place has all the fun perks of attending a wedding reception — good drinks, dance-y music and quality bites — without the cost of a registry present. Only thing missing is “Sweet Caroline” on repeat and your drunk uncle trying to floss dance on the disco-ball-adorned dance floor.
FH: The first thing you see when you descend the stairs is an arch of flowers, perfect for a #weddingselfie — an appropriate introduction for this designed-to-be-photographed experience. Most of the “destination” rooms themselves were fine, outside of the chintzy take on Paris. I liked that the explanatory invitations next to each alcove poked fun at each theme: “Their love is as original as their ripped-from-Etsy perfect aesthetic,” outside wedding-barn-chic Jackson Hole. That room, with its mounted deer head and grassy walls, was one of the only ones I'd choose to spend time in, after the lush Moroccan suite.
MM: I was half expecting the bar to be stuffed with recent college grads trying to stage the perfect selfie with the inherently Instagrammable decor, but the lighthearted, love-centric bar was chill and not too crowded. (Then again, I went on a Tuesday.) People were relaxed and mingling over drinks, not rushing to the different stations for their photo ops. Yes, smartphones flashed, but far less often than I anticipated.
FH: New beverage director Lukas B. Smith, who has run bar programs at Dram and Grain and Daikaya, is one of the city's most inventive bartenders. But even I wasn't expecting to see a trio of cocktails for only $9 apiece, and another for $10. On pricey 14th Street, this qualifies as a steal — especially because they're quite good. The J Rickey — a cross between a rickey and a mojito, resulting in a lightly fizzy, not-too-sweet sipper — is a standout; for a relative splurge at the still-low price of $12, there's the Coco Marg, with coconut-washed tequila, that's served on a nitro tap for a creamier consistency.
But more than the prices, what surprised me was that the cocktails didn't tie into the specific destinations. I figured there would be a champagne cocktail appropriate for a bachelorette happy hour in the Paris nook, a tea-based cocktail for the Morocco room, or some sort of whiskey drink served in a Mason jar. Nope.
MM: Signature cocktails are nothing new at weddings or at pop-up bars. But I was pleasantly surprised by the creative, reasonably priced offerings. Skip the bubbles and say yes to the rickey-mojito hybrid (J Rickey) and the specially formulated gin and tonic (New Spanish Boyfriend). Added bonus: The draft station is gilded and shaped like a vintage-style suitcase.
FH: It's the same food that you'd get upstairs at Doi Moi. The wok-fried cashews are a good, salty-and-spicy bar snack, and the Thai-style marinated beef is good for sharing.
MM: With guidance from the bartender, we tried the fluffy, fried chicken bao buns. The pillowy, warm buns, steamed to perfection and paired with colorful, flavorful veggies, hit the spot. They were so good that as soon as we finished our dish, we ordered a second.
FH: The Moroccan one, which has curtains you can pull closed for some privacy and being able to chat with the people you brought, and either Vegas or Jackson Hole for the selfie opportunities. I liked the leis set on the seats in the Hawaii room — I just wonder how many will be ripped off the walls once some Honolulu-loving bachelorettes have a couple of tiki-style drinks.
MM: For me, it’s a tie between the Vegas nook and the “Moroccan fantasy.” The Moroccan alcove is definitely the coziest (plush pillows and velvet cushions) and has the curtain, but the Vegas booth has Elvis and miniature slot machines. The cheesiest attempt, by far, was Paris, located at the end of the bar. The gold, spray-painted Eiffel towers, paired with the fake pearl strands, reminded me of a 14-year-old’s French-themed birthday party.
Who would you bring here?
FH: I honestly don't know. While I enjoyed the cocktails, I don't feel like I'm the target audience for this bar. That would be bachelorettes, posses of (married or unmarried) women in their 20s and 30s, and a guy I saw who was inquiring about hosting an engagement party. Maybe a friend who cringes at the sight of tulle and bouquets of white flowers, just to mess with them?
Or, probably, the friend whose social media is most in need of new profile images.
MM: 2 Birds 1 Stone (RIP) used to be my go-to first- or second-date location, with its reliable drinks, cozy booths and dimly lit, moody ambiance. (Plus, the raunchy bathroom wallpaper was always an easy conversation starter.) Destination Wedding appears geared toward a different audience: Yes, bachelorette groups and engagement parties would probably fit in best (who needs wall murals when you have colorful backdrops at your disposal?).
I would definitely take recently engaged friends and out-of-town guests here. First dates are another story, but then again, how funny would it be to show up in a white dress and meet them underneath the floral wedding arch? (No? Just me?) Who knows, it might make for a funny meet-cute down the line.
Destination Wedding, 1800 14th St. NW. (Entrance on S Street.)