Stepping into barmini, the first thing I notice is their rabbit chair. Posed opposite a hanging egg seat, it’s grey and furry, with an oval-sized white pouch for a belly and long ears extending above the backrest. “It’s part of a limited set,” says Maria Guerrero, barmini’s marketing manager. The chair fits in slyly with the rest of barmini’s décor, a balance of demure elegance and silly fun; delicate, long-stemmed fluted glasses sit next to stacks of Pokémon cards and towers of Legos. The current cocktail flight is titled “Nostalgia” and draws inspiration from childhood toys and the feeling of innocent wonder. There’s a drink served alongside a paper rabbit pulled from a hat, which then disappears in a flash of fire; another creation is topped with a giant smoke-filled bubble as ode to the Pokémon Squirtle’s water-based powers.
The impressive length of the full menu—some 200 or so beverages—gives the barmini mixologists a solid foundation to continuously mix, match and tweak their revolving cocktail flights. As head mixologist Al Thompson says, “No cocktail is ever really finished.” His latest foray has been testing guests’ appetites for virtual reality with a longstanding menu favorite, the Apollo, a vodka-based cocktail with ginger, lemon, St-Germain, imbue (a bittersweet vermouth from Oregon) and mint. While the rocket-themed cocktail has been on the menu since day one, its presentation has changed dramatically since then. It’s now housed in a sleek, silver rocket ship, perched atop a bowl of dry ice that is dissolved dramatically upon serving, sending out billowing tendrils. “We kept thinking, how can we replicate the fumes and fire of an actual rocket taking off?” Thompson says. “Our goal is always to put customers in that moment so they truly connect with the cocktail.”
It’s time for me to experience the new 360-degree video addition first hand, so I scoot into the round corner booth. Thompson hands me a pair of ludicrously large, gold VR goggles to strap on. Inside, I find myself at the base of a rocket launch at NASA. The countdown is on, and when it hits zero, I’m hurtling into space. Moments later, I’m viewing the Earth from afar. Orbiting satellites pass through my periphery, and as I shift my head to follow them I sense Thompson motioning that, “It’s time.” Once the cocktail arrives, its thick plume of smoke draws my attention back into the stratosphere, and I take off my goggles in time to see drink be uncapped.
Timing is the most complicated part of the experience, something Al says the team is still working on perfecting. Some guests may not give a consistent cue—turning noticeably to the left—that tells barmini’s mixologists it’s time to dissolve the dry ice. Right now the Apollo cocktail with the full 360 experience is available by request only, but it is expected to be on the menu in its entirety soon. The barmini team is also finalizing which custom production studio to work with, so future VR cocktails are certainly in motion. “Our rooftop is in the perfect location to see almost all the sights of D.C.—except for all the buildings in the way,” Maria says. “What if guests could take a virtual tour of the city, seeing all the sights around us, learning more of the history of each place while enjoying cocktails?” If that cocktail flight is as fun as the current menu, it may just become the best way to explore our nation’s capital.