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Iron Gate debuted its “Tunnel of Love” Valentine’s Day pop-up last year and quickly learned the Hallmark holiday isn’t all roses. “The first lady who came in the first night we did it sits down at the bar and says, ‘Oh no, I’m going to break up with my boyfriend tonight,’” bartender Sam Ward recounts. “She had no idea we were doing a Valentine’s Day pop-up.”
That’s why this year’s rendition of the pop-up that runs from Feb.1 through Feb. 14 has a spooky side inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. It’s dark but less creepy than The Following, a TV series in which Kevin Bacon played a former FBI agent trying to catch a serial killer who takes his inspiration from the macabre poet.
Instead, the food and cocktail menus are divided into “heart” and “heartbreak” sections and many dishes and drinks draw inspiration from Poe’s most famous works (see the full menus below).
The Cask of Amontillado, for example, combines Chapman’s apple brandy, mezcal, amontillado sherry, Cocchi Americano, and activated charcoal ($13). Spirits manager Nick Farrell isn’t trying to perform a medical miracle and just uses the activated charcoal for color.
“Activated charcoal is a funny thing,” he says. “We’re using a very little bit, but it can alter the absorption of certain medications. I did a bunch of research on it because you don’t want to mess with people. So we’re probably going to have an asterisk on there explaining.”
Though it’s not Poe-related, don’t miss the DC Tinder Negroni, which combines equal parts Green Hat gin and Capitoline vermouth with a heart-shaped jello shot made from Don Ciccio Figli’s Luna bitter aperitivo.
The food menu is filled with familiar aphrodisiacs like grilled Tangier Island oysters dressed with goat’s milk butter, Calabrian chilies, and pickled shallots ($15). But Chef Anthony Chittum had some fun too. The Quoth The Chicken Nevermore entree comes with a crispy chicken leg stuffed with Virginia ham and buratta swimming in blood-red pomodoro sauce ($24). “We arranged with a local Virginia farm to get it with the talons still on,” Chittum says.
Only the restaurant’s tunnel-shaped bar will be transformed with decorations including paper flowers and feathers, but the pop-up food and drink menus will be available throughout the restaurant. The regular tasting menu and a la carte menu will also be available throughout the duration of the pop-up.
“The pop-up works here because we’re already one of the most romantic spots in D.C.” Farrel says. “The cocktails are meant to be good cocktails, they’re not sugar bombs.”
You Complete Me, $13Civic Vodka, St. Germain, Don Ciccio Figli Cherry Blossom AperItivo, Lime, Hibiscus Soda, garnished with a flower, cherry and children’s cardboard Valentine
Stop and Smell the Cocktails, $13Malfy Gin, Italicus, Dolin Blanc, Rose/Bergamot Mist with rose petal garnish
DC Tinder Negroni, $13Green Hat Gin, Capitoline Vermouth, garnished with Don Ciccio Figli Luna jello hearts in a canapé spoon
Galentine’s Day, $20 per personA tray of rye, amaro truffles, and sparkling wine for two or more
Telltale Heart, $13Tequila, Blood Orange Cello, Habanero Shrub, Club Soda, black heart ice cubes
Mysterious Death by Chocolate (served warm), $13Borough Bourbon, Chocolate, Spices, Strega
Cask of Amontillado, $13Chapman’s Apple Brandy, Mezcal, Amontillado Sherry, Cocchi Americano, Activated Charcoal
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fungus, $13Scotch, Winter Truffle-Infused Iron and Rust Chinato, Bitters
Grilled tangier island oysters, goat’s milk butter, Calabrian chili, pickled shallot, $15
New Frontier bison tartare, beet variations, dill, shaved foie gras torchon, $17
“Bone-in” Seven Hills Farm beef short rib, citrus chili glaze, torn mint, shaved fennel salad, $46 (for two)
Caramelized white chocolate mousse, folius sabayon, citrus, shortbread cookie, $9
Charred avocado, blood orange, winter radish, vin cotto, $11
Squid ink gnocchetti sardi, yellow fin tuna crudo, bird chilies, garlic breadcrumbs, $15
“Quoth the chicken nevermore,” crispy chicken leg, Virginia ham, buratta, pomodoro, $24
Blackout cake, bourbon caramel, meringue chards, carbon gelato, $9