Is there a difference between smoke from camp firewood, rum barrels, and bourbon barrels in your cocktail? Such are the questions to ponder at Bonfire, opening today at 1132 19th St. NW from the group behind Provision No. 14 and The Prospect.
Blowtorch-toting bartenders blast slabs of wood with fire then use an upside-down glass to capture the smoke before pouring the drink inside. Smoke from different types of wood is supposed to highlight different nuances in the concoctions from bartenders Glendon Hartley and Chad Spangler.
A chocolate-infused mezcal and tequila mix called You're Killin' Me Smalls (a reference to the s'mores scene in The Sandlot) is among several cocktails that get the smoked treatment. On top? A torched marshmallow.
Smoke (or fire) permeates pretty much every aspect of the restaurant, from the menu to decor. The theme was inspired by a beach bonfire in Jamaica the night before the wedding of co-owner Mike Bramson and his wife Christal Bramson. "It basically brought everyone together... They were best friends the next day," Mike Bramson says. That's the same kind of atmosphere they want to create at the restaurant.
Chef R.L. Boyd, who previously worked at Ten 01, and the design team, Swatchroom, have all taken up their own interpretations of bonfire. The look of the place, after all, has more of a woodsy vibe than a beachy one. The first-floor decor includes stacks of firewood, a patchwork quilt, and a faux fireplace (plus a more contemporary fireplace with actual flames). A piece of artwork upstairs is made up of matchsticks.
Other parts of the decor seem to have more to do with firefighting. Light fixtures are made out of vintage fire extinguishers, and the text painted on the wall alongside the staircase says, "In case of fire, do not use elevator." (There is no elevator.) The men's restroom has a sign reading "bros before hose" next to actual fire hoses, and the women's room has a "where my hose at?" sign made out of multicolored hose faucet knobs. (See below.)
On the menu, chef Boyd incorporates smoky flavors into dishes like wild mushroom pierogies and short rib mac and cheese with 3 Stars beer cheese and smoked gouda. Other snacks include hush puppies, bone marrow tots, and... tuna poke? Apparently, Boyd was inspired by Hawaiian beach bonfires. OK.
Boyd plays up the campfire theme with skillet desserts and s'mores made of homemade graham crackers and marshmallows in different flavors. For example, a strawberry shortcake s'more contains a strawberry marshmallow between shortbread cookies with Tahitian vanilla ganache.
Later this summer, the owners are hoping to open a rooftop where they'd ideally like to have—you guessed it—a fire pit. They're even playing around with the idea of complimentary marshmallows for roasting on the roof, if permits and regulations allow it.
If the whole restaurant seems highly flammable, not to worry.
"There are fire extinguishers everywhere," Christal Bramson says.
Take a look at the dinner menu below. The restaurant is also now open for lunch.
Bonfire, 1132 19th St. NW, (202) 833-1860, bonfiredc.com
Photos by Jessica Sidman