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Archipelago has an entire freezer devoted to pineapples. The cored fruits are filled with rum and “secrets” and garnished with a flaming lime and two super long straws at the just-opened U Street NW tiki bar.
Bartenders and owners Owen Thomson, Joe Ambrose, Ben Wiley, and Noah Broaddus aren’t shying away from a bit of kitsch in their new venture, whether it’s palm trees on the walls or a Tom Selleck shrine.
The fact that the building used to house The Islander helped to guide the tiki theme, but Thomson says tiki was also a good match for their style of service. Never mind that he and Ambrose operate a company that sells crystal clear cubes of artisanal cocktail ice; they’re not interested in any pomp and circumstance at Archipelago.
“While I think it’s cool to watch a guy carve an ice diamond or something like that, that’s certainly not what I want to do. I want people to just hang out, drink,” Thomson says. “And you know what? There’s nothing better that exemplifies that than sitting on your ass and drinking out of a frozen pineapple.”
The cocktail menu has about a dozen options including, yes, mai tais and pina coladas served in tiki mugs (which are available for sale to discourage thieves). The team hopes to eventually be able to make pretty much any old-school tiki drink, the same way any decent bar should be able to make an old fashioned or negroni even if it’s not listed on the menu.
Expect a serious ever-changing garnish game, whether it’s a banana fashioned into octopus, flowers, or dolphin straws. The cheekiest “beach-themed” garnish, though, is a miniature black plastic oil canister that sits atop the Oil Can Boyd. The drink is a riff on a blackstrap rum and falernum cocktail called Corn N’ Oil, but at Archipelago, the rum is infused with olive oil. The team bottles the drink in a 4-ounce container, and from there decided “it might as well also be the garnish,” Thomson says.
The cocktails range in price from $12 to $14, which has already caused some faux outrage in online comment sections. “Man, there are like three ounces of rum in there,” Thomson says. “And fresh juices,” adds Wiley. “Don’t worry, you’re getting your value,” Thomson assures, “but have fun in your $2,400-a-month studio apartment while you search out your $7 quality beverages.”
A handful of local beers plus Miller Lite are also available, along with red, white, or sparkling wine.
The four friends are currently the only four employees of the bar, with Thomson manning a kitchen for the first time in his life. “It’s the same thing [as bartending]. It’s just got to be hot instead of cold,” Thomson says. “I’ve spent years working for chefs telling me how to make drinks, so I figured I can just make the food.”
The small menu is made up of bar snacks with Chinese and Polynesian flare like Chinese BBQ nachos and ham and cheese sliders on King’s Hawaiian rolls.
The guys have also done pretty much all the handiwork themselves, from upholstering the chairs in tropical print to pasting flowery wallpaper in the restrooms. The two-story bar is outfitted with a palm tree mural, bamboo thatching, chairs made out of barrels, and a hula girl lamp. But for all the umbrella drinks and tropical decor, the team just wants the place to be a regular bar where people come to hang out.
“Solly’s operates on the same formula that we hope to operate,” Thomson says, “except that we’re doing these drinks.”
Take a look at the menu and more photos below.
Archipelago, 1201 U St. NW; (202) 627-0794; archipelagobardc.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman