Ever since his 2008 arrival in D.C., bartender Lukas B. Smith has wanted to start a project like Secret Monkey Social Club. The monthly pop-up pairing punch with cabaret launches tonight at Dolcezza‘s gelato factory near Union Market.
The evening will feature a choice of five original and classic punches ($8 a pop) prepared by Smith, who currently tends bar at reservations-only Dram & Grain. Singer and dancer Shayna Blass will perform cabaret jazz.
Smith, who played afro-latin jazz in college, sees punch as an opportunity to provide a high-quality drink for a party-sized crowd. “It’s impossible for me to make cocktails for 80 people within an hour, but I can have delicious punch for them made ahead of time,” he says. “And having those limited number of options like we’re doing, it reduces the stress on the person making the drinks.”
Aside from the logistical perks of punch, drinkers don’t realize how loud cocktail-making is, Smith says. “If we’re having music playing, and I’m shaking ice and everything, there’s no way you can hear that music properly, and it takes the attention off of it,” he says.
Secret Monkey’s name is inspired by a “possibly apocryphal” drought remedy involving a monkey relayed to Smith by fellow D.C. bartender Dan Searing. According to the story, tribesmen (of an unspecified place or time) placed cooked beans in the recessed cavity of a tree during drought and drilled a hole that was wide enough for a monkey’s arm to fit in but not wide enough for it to come out with a closed fist. “So desirous is he to know the taste of the beans, our monkey doesn’t let go. He is trapped by his own curiosity,” Smith explains. The monkey is then presented with a salt lick, which it laps to the point of dehydration. At that point, the monkey drops the beans and heads in search of a drink, leading tribesmen to the secret monkey water stash.
“The leading light of Secret Monkey Social Club is the notion that curiosity, pleasure, and even vice are as much a part of who we are as is virtue or a life-saving drought of water,” Smith says by email. “In our eyes, this worldview guided the Rolling [sic] Twenties, and we welcome back this open-hearted ethos.”
Make of that what you will.
Smith and Blass expect Secret Monkey Social Club to return to the gelato factory the third Monday of every month. The party starts at 9 p.m., and there’s no cover charge.
Here are three punches that will be offered:
Major Thomas Bird’s Punch: Rémy Martin 1738 Accord Royal Cognac, Cointreau, Earl Grey, lemon, coriander
Thom Soyer’s Gin Punch: Boomsma Oude Genever, Maraschino Liqueur, Scratch Tamari Almond Orgeat, lemon, mineral water
The Song That Doesn’t End: Leblon Cachaça, Scratch Amber Vermouth, fermented piña, lime, molasses, carbon dioxide
Dolcezza Gelato Factory, 550 Penn St. NE.
Photo by Farrah Skeiky