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Actor and comedian Charlie Chaplin is the inspiration for the latest bar heading to Shaw.
Bartender brothers Ari and Micah Wilder, along with their partners Armin Amin and Adrian Williams, will open the 1920s-themed Chaplin Cocktail Bar this July in the building previously occupied by Burmese restaurant Mandalay. The Wilder brothers are also part owners of Adams Morgan’s Fed Restaurant, and their consulting company is behind several cocktail menus around town, most recently Red Light.
So why Chaplin? “He’s the most quirky, interesting actor, in my opinion, that ever lived,” Micah Wilder says. “He captures comedic happiness, sorrow, every human emotion that’s inspirational.”
Like Chaplin, the menu’s got some humor. One of the craziest concoctions will be a “laughing gas” cocktail. Wilder says they’ve figured out a way to compress carbon dioxide with helium (which is nontoxic) to carbonate a drink. They’ll use this method to create a blackberry-lemon soda, which will be combined with gin and blackberry liqueur. “When you’re imbibing, you’re going to sound really funny and everyone’s going to be laughing at you,” Wilder explains. “It works very well.”
The ever-changing list of cocktails—all influenced and named after Chaplin’s comedic films—will include eight to 10 options on draft, or as Wilder prefers to call them “drafty spirits.” There will also be a large sparkling wine collection and beer cocktails.
Despite previous chatter about dim sum, Wilder says they’ve not yet decided on the culinary direction or hired a chef.
SwatchRoom, which also designed Red Light, is behind the look of the place. The front of the building will have a Broadway-esque marquee with the letters of “Chaplin” spelled out in lightbulbs. Chaplin films will flicker on screens inside and will be announced on the marquee as well.
SwatchRoom co-owner Warren Weixler says the goal is to make the predominantly black and white space feel like you’re stepping into the 1920s, but in a refined, not kitschy, way. “It’s not going to be like Joe’s Crab Shack with stuff all over the walls,” Weixler says.
Rather than photos of Chaplin plastered everywhere, Weixler says they’re aiming to evoke the actor through subtler means—whether it’s a piano or claw-foot bathtubs that often appear in his films. “It’s not hats and canes everywhere you look,” Wilder says. Whatever artifacts they use, Weixler says they want them to be from the 1920s era, not replicas.
Upstairs, the room will be partitioned off by a red sliding door. Behind it will be the “Opium Den”—a space lit up in a red glow that will be used exclusively for private events. The den will have a separate drink menu with cocktails dubbed “opiates” and hookahs custom made in black and white with dragons. (Hookah will also be available on a section of the 80-seat outdoor patio as well.)
“It’s going to be very mysterious and interesting,” Wilder says of the Opium Den. “You’ll be dining upstairs and you’ll wonder what’s going on behind the red doors.”
Chaplin Cocktail Bar, 1501 9th St. NW; (202) 644-8806; chaplinrestaurantdc.com
Photo by Jessica Sidman