First, they gave us “Miracle on 7th” this past Winter, and then they introduced us to Spring with “Cherry Blossoms”. But who exactly is the mastermind behind these carefully designed and well executed pop-up bars that have sent social media users into a picture sharing frenzy? Well, we know… and they are called Drink Company.
If you have never heard of Drink Company, then maybe you have heard of, or even visited, one of their popular pop-up bars (PUBs) that operate out of their privately owned bars in the Shaw neighborhood of DC, located on 7th Street NW (Mockingbird Hill, Southern Efficiency, Eat the Rich). Just in these past six months alone, Drink Company has garnered local, national and international press offering nothing but positive feedback about the PUB experience!
Last week, URBANSCRAWL got the opportunity to catch up with and interview Paul Taylor, who is many ways a jack-of-all-trades. Paul is the Bar Manager for all three bars located in Shaw and has recently taken a role as Partner for Drink Company. In this interview, Paul explained his role, his vision, and overall goal Drink Company has for continuing their mission of “better drinking”. Paul explains,
“[There] are places for all types of bars, but our thing here is better drinking. From our beers to our cocktails, we do all that we can to make sure our guests have an enjoyable drinking experience.”
Back in November, Drink Company hosted the “Miracle at 7th”, which was a wintry holiday-themed PUB that lasted through late December. They infused elements from various wintry holidays such as Hanukah, Kwanza, and Christmas to capture the season’s most precious feelings of fun, family, and of course… alcohol.
Most recently, beginning in March and lasting through April 15th, they hosted a spring-oriented theme branded to as “Cherry Blossoms”. The inspiration behind this theme was to celebrate DC’s Cherry Blossom Festival and perform as an ode to Japanese imports; that being Cherry Blossom Trees and Nintendo!
This inspiration was realized through the constructing a life-like cherry blossom tree extending throughout the entire room of Southern Efficiency, accompanied by thousands of origami paper cranes, and Meneko Cat cocktails. While this section of the PUB was intended to attract and maintain the elegant and serene vibes associated with Japanese culture, Mockingbird Hill housed a more quirky and nostalgic theme. In this bar, patrons could enter a reanimated 8-Bit tribute to Super Mario Bros. One of this bar’s most popular drinks was the “Yoshi”, which was an emerald-green cocktail named after the dinosaur and companion of Mario. Behind the bar, you would have found a Super Mario World backdrop that extends throughout the entire bar… and it was completely made from L E G Os!
Here are some excerpts from our conversation with Paul Taylor:
Q: Where are you from, and how did you come to a Bar Manager/ Partner of Drink Company?
A: “I was born and raised in Arlington, VA. I started working in bars when I was 18. Growing up, I had gotten into some situations where I had been drinking a little too much and wound up having to wash dishes at nearby restaurants. It’s funny saying it now, but I actually liked washing dishes and from there I just liked the idea of being in a restaurant. I went from prep cook to line cook to sous chef, then I started waiting tables. I transitioned into barbacking and eventually bartending which set things up for bar managing. At one point, I was managing four bars in Virginia–I was in charge of “WilliamJefferiess”, “Ragtime”,”Dogwood”, and “Roadside Grille”. As I was doing well there, a friend of mine introduced me to Derek, our President and I started out managing Southern Efficiency. As time went on and I took on more responsibility, I have come to manage all three of these bars. I am also a recent Partner of Drink Company and Brand Representative for LuxardoLiqueurr”.
Q: You seem to wear quite of few different hats throughout the week, managing bars, people, etc. Could you sort of walk me through your day-to-day routine?
A: “As a manager, you have to be able to do anything at any time. So my duties include ordering and monitoring inventory, cocktail development, pricing, sourcing ingredients, performing financial projections, stacking, staffing, curating menus, and the list goes on… but I love every moment of it. As you move higher and higher up in your career, you gain more responsibility which means if something goes wrong, you are more likely to be blamed. If things don’t get done, it’s like ‘oh no you didn’t show up’ it is more like ‘ I did not show up’ and I take that seriously. I usually get in around 10 am, answer emails, set up events, and start my day with dedication. There is a lot dedication and sacrifice that goes into it but that’s what it takes to be the best–luckily I have a fiance who understands that! She even bartends here from time-to-time”.
“I love my job and I love what I do. Most days, I am in here at 10 am and I do not leave until after midnight–not because I have to, but because I love everything that has to do with being a bar manager.”
Q: What was your first drink?
A: “My nana (Grandmother) had a full bar at her house in upstate New York. We used to go up there as kids and that’s when I made my first attempt at bartending. Of course, we were not allowed to drink any of the alcohol so we would sneak and mix as many spirits as needed to make sure it did not look like we took anything!”
“I learned a lot from them– my appreciation, the cadence, pageantry, and respect for drinking came from spending a lot of time [at my nana’s]. My grandparents were old-school martini drinkers, which also had a big influence on me. To be completely honest, I can’t fully remember [my first drink], but it was probably a martini or Jack Daniels and Budweiser with my dad in the basement”
“Now, I love drinking 50/50 martinis! I drink 1/2 of my martinis with Vermouth. I love it!
Q: What is your all-time favorite alcoholic drink?
A: “If I had to pick an all-time favorite drink, and it wasn’t just a beer and shot, or whiskey neat, it would probably have to be a ‘Sazerac’. For sure.”
(The Sazerac is a ceremonial drink and the official drink of New Orleans. There are only two places in the U.S. where there is an official drink. Those places are New Orleans and Washington, DC.)
Q: What was the inspiration for Pop-Up Bars?
A: ” A couple of winters ago, Angie Featherstone and Greg Bogey from the Cocktail Kingdom approached Derek, our president, with the idea of hosting a wintry pop-up bar at Mockingbird Hill as an ode to Christmas time, holiday movies, and the all else that is wrapped up in this season. Angie is the CEO of Drink Company. Although this was small in comparison to what came later down the pipeline, its overwhelming success became the inspiration for Miracle on 7th Street.
“Once we got all the positive feedback from that PUB, we asked ourselves, ‘why not try and do something else?’ That is when we had the idea for Cherry Blossoms. We, the staff and partners are mostly from DC and we love it here, so why not honor one of its most beautiful pastimes, we could do something for the Cherry Blossom Festival. And just like those flowers, our PUB would be temporary too, so it seemed like a good fit!”
Q: What are some of the highs and lows of running a Pop-Up, especially as yours continue to grow?
A: “The thing about this business is you have to find a balance of pride and money, and we do that by making sure our guests are happy as often as possible”
“One of our most recent highs was last week when eight Nintendo exectives from all over the country just came in to check out the space after hearing so much buzz about it. They really enjoyed it and that was rewarding for us. It is also really cool to be getting so much support on social media.”
“When you’re at a place like this, there are not many downs but things were a little challenging a few weeks back when our Point-of-Sale system went down. At first, we struggled but we adapted and were able to run things without major concern. But, ya know we learned from that experience. Now we have new policies in places to help in the future if such a thing were to happen again!”
Q: What can we expect in the near future from these PUBs and Drink Company?
A: “Well, we are still in the planning phase but something big will be coming in the Summer, most likely in June. We have been getting all kinds of requests and ideas too so we will have to just wait and see”.
Q: Last question, Paul. What do you do in your spare time?
A: “Well, there is not a whole of spare time. But when I am not working I love spending time with my fiance and cooking! Traveling is pretty awesome too, but again, that is usually for work so it works out!”
[ For more information about Cherry Blossoms PUB, Click here.]
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