By Kelly Carter
Being that José Andrés is my favorite celebrity chef, I had to check out his new barmini, a culinary cocktail lab where D.C.’s hippest gather to enjoy creative drink concoctions and out-of-this-world tapas, during my recent trip to the nation’s capital. You don’t just walk in. Reservations for one of the 23 seats are essential and don’t forget to ring the doorbell five times upon arrival.
I expected a dimly-lit lounge but instead found a bright white space in this extension of the uber-popular restaurant minibar by José Andrés. I forgot, barmini is a cocktail lab. With 100 cocktails on the seasonally rotating menu, organized by spirit, barmini is a barfly’s dream. Barmini pays homage to the classics, such as the rusty nail, mai tai, whiskey sour and margarita, and has fun using contemporary approaches and techniques such as “airs,” which capture aromas and flavors in their bubbles. Emulsifiers, such as whey, add texture. The rum swizzle uses an authentic swizzle stick from Eastern Europe, a technique for aerating and cooling drinks made popular in the 1700’s at a rum plantation in the Caribbean.
“Cocktails can be just as powerful as food when it comes to creating memories,” says the James Beard-award winning chef. “At barmini, I want to excite your senses and taste in ways you haven’t experienced before. We want to honor and celebrate cocktail classics while still pushing the boundaries of what we think is possible.”
It’s not just about the cocktails but what they are served in at barmini. Antique glassware, most dating back to the 1930s, is used and on display at the cocktail lab. I’m told that even one coupe glass was supposedly molded from the left breast of Marie Antoinette.
Being that Andrés is a chef first and foremost (the wildly popular eateries The Bazaar by José Andrés at the SLS hotels in Los Angeles and South Beach are celeb magnets), food isn’t an afterthought at barmini, My faves include the grilled cheese (three types of cheese and black truffles) and ibérico ham on toasted bread.
I sat at one of white pod counters, the better to watch my bartender Devin do his thing. Others lounged on the whimsical and colorful furniture, like a cactus sofa and fruit ottoman. Around the corner a darkened window allows a glimpse into minibar. Although barmini comes off as serious upon entry, you quickly find out that it’s equally playful. Even the bathroom has a fun surprise.