First Look: barmini by José Andrés in Washington DC
Note: First Looks give previews of new drinks and menus we're curious about. Since they are arranged photo shoots and interviews with bars and restaurants, we do not make critical evaluations.
2013 marks the 20th anniversary of Jaleo and the start of José Andrés' meteoric rise. It is also the year in which Andrés introduces barmini, the cocktail counterpart to his esteemed food lab, minibar. The palindromic duo of minibar and barmini represent Andrés' experimentation center, where his chefs and bartenders can pilot and explore concepts that may eventually make their way onto menus at one of ThinkFoodGroup's many restaurants.
barmini's cocktail program is headed by Juan Coronado who holds the lofty title of Cocktail Innovator. barmini's menu of 100+ cocktails (which range from $14 to $20) represents a 'journey through the history of cocktails' from classics to the avant garde. The menu ranges from traditional libations like a Manhattan to inventive interpretations like the Cotton Candy Old Fashioned. But each experience is dictated by the conversation one has with the bartenders at barmini. Personal tastes are taken into account to determine what the best cocktail would be for each individual. It's part of a ritual that Coronado describes as vital to the relationship between imbiber and bartender. This ritual begins with a small complimentary cocktail the moment you walk in the door: an amuse to open your palate in preparation for more complex flavors.
On the cold, rainy day I visited, Coronado offered the aforementioned Cotton Candy Old Fashioned. Already a curious combination, the cotton candy is flavored with mezcal. The mezcal's smoke and the rye's warmth were selected to combat the wet chill of late winter.
As an extension of the theme of representing both the historic and contemporary, barmini's space and glassware program evoke entirely different eras. The space is thoroughly modern, featuring touches like a cactus couch and a wall dotted with disembodied, fruit clutching hands. Step behind the bar and you'll face a wall of antique glassware. For months Coronado has been collecting heritage pieces from Virginia to Rhode Island, most of which originate from the 1930s to 1950s.
In additional to the extensive and, at times, experimental cocktail program, barmini also shares a kitchen with the adjacent minibar. While they're careful to make the distinction that the bar snacks ($5-$16) available at barmini are not necessarily minibar food, they are designed by the minibar team for barmini. The menu focuses on familiar dishes with gourmet twists: barmini's grilled cheese, for example, is laced with truffles.
barmini is open from Tuesdays through Saturdays and reservations are required. Check out the slideshow for a peek at a few of the cocktails and bar snacks they're serving.