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To veteran barman Lukas B. Smith, destination weddings are the perfect party: equal parts extravagance, self-indulgence and celebration all wrapped up in tulle. But asking friends and family to burn PTO days and vacation budgets to witness your I-dos in a far-flung locale is a tall order. One D.C. bar packs in all of the revelry with none of the pesky travel logistics or expense.
Destination Wedding, Smith’s 45-seat nook of nuptial bliss in the District’s 14th Street corridor, is an escapist fantasy for cocktail nerds, where the fuzzy dice and Elvis portraits of the Las Vegas Strip meet the distressed wood and mounted taxidermy of a Jackson Hole lodge.
“It’s like a tongue-in-cheek Disneyland for grown-ups,” says Smith. “If that doesn’t sound at least a little fun to you, then it probably sounds fun to someone you know, and that person is more likely to be in charge of where your group congregates on Thursday night.”
The concept was quite a departure for Smith, known for his work at more austere drinking establishments like Jack Rose Dining Saloon’s hidden basement lounge, Dram & Grain, and speakeasy The Gibson. Rather than open another dark and moody bar, which would have been expected, Smith believed the current fatalistic climate in D.C. necessitated something a bit more fun and unapologetically silly. When more than a few haters crawled out of the woodwork, he knew he was onto something.
Destination Wedding was designed by Smith, Jason Kuller (who runs hospitality group Fat Baby Inc.) and Jordan Cotton, the co-owner of bar and distillery Cotton & Reed. They drew on their own experiences and also gleaned inspiration from Instagram and Pinterest, researching such hashtags as #beachwedding, #mountainwedding and #parisianwedding.
The cocktail menu, created by Smith and bar manager Robin Miller, is accessible but interesting. “I wanted this menu to be full of jokes that everyone is in on,” says Smith. Options include four drinks that are carbonated, two that are nitrogenated and one that’s frozen. All nonalcoholic components are made by Redbeard at Union Kitchen, a beverage advisory run by Smith that designs and executes cocktail menus.
Each cocktail is served via keg to ensure consistency and quality in execution. The J. Rickey, a low-sugar mashup of the Mojito and Rickey, is made with Cotton & Reed Mellow Gold rum and seasoned with birch and evergreen, which makes it taste sweeter yet keeps it light. The New Spanish Boyfriend tops Spring 44 gin and fino sherry with a custom Valencia coriander tonic. And the Fairy Vodmother is a Vodka Soda made with Redbeard lemon soda water and Portuguese rosé.
Most popular is the Call Me, Definitely, a cross between a Mule and a Madras with Spring 44 vodka, cranberry, clarified orange and Redbeard ginger beer, listed as NTS (“not too sweet”). Other core offerings include a nitro Negroni made with olive oil-washed Plymouth gin, Cocchi Rosa aperitivo, Campari and “science.”
Smith recalls the shenanigans that took place during his older brother’s destination wedding in Las Vegas, where he watched his dad win and lose $30,000 in 20 minutes at the roulette table, partook in “dumb bachelor stuff” and enjoyed an over-the-top dinner at Bouchon. All were oodles more enjoyable than the decorous but ho-hum church and country club scene more familiar to him growing up.
Destination Wedding ushers in some of the uninhibited feeling we get when we hit the dance floor for “Cupid Shuffle” after a few G&Ts. “Weddings have always been showy and performative, which is what makes them great when they’re great,” says Smith. “Sometimes, they’re less great, of course, but that’s what the booze is for.”