Winter is Coming at Game of Thrones Pop-up Bar
Drink Company sends their regards at this limited edition D.C. bar
There are pop-ups. And then there are pop-ups. Washington, D.C.'s Drink Company is an expert in the latter.
Following another stellar holiday-themed pop-up last winter, and a cherry blossom (and Super Mario and all things Japan) pop-up that was the city's must-visit spring destination, the people at Drink Company somehow have managed to top themselves.
The weirwood tree at the Drink Company's pop-up bar. (Photo: Drink Company)
Imagine this. You walk into a multi-room space, which formerly comprised the separate bar trio of Eat the Rich, Mockingbird Hill, and Southern Efficiency ... and you find yourself immersed in the Seven Kingdoms. There's a massive weirwood tree replete with its red leaves and white bark. There's a smoke-billowing dragon's head. There's a wall of faces from the House of Black and White, with the actual bartenders and team members having their faces plastered and represented. There are banners hanging in a mock Red Keep, and there are puns aplenty on the drinks menu.
The sheer scope of this pop-up would win over anybody, and for the Game of Thrones geeks among us, it's a fantastical setting nearly too good to be true. So how in the world do these mad bar scientists make it happen?
“Dreaming is the best part,” says Adriana Salame-Aspiazu, special projects manager for the Drink Company. “Before we decide what we're going to do, the possibilities are literally endless. With the Game of Thrones pop-up bar [PUB] in particular, our ideas were born from being true and deeply devoted fans, and developing the bar conceptually was a shared experience.”
Banners fly over the bar at the Game of Thrones-themed pop-up bar in Washington D.C. (Photo: Drink Company)
While the design components are sensational, the show stopper just may be the Instagram-ready, full-size Iron Throne. “We knew immediately what our most important piece needed to be: the Iron Throne,” Salame-Aspiazu says. “We wanted everyone who sat in it to feel the 'First of his or her name, King or Queen of the Andals and the First Men' for a moment in the flesh — and eternity on Instagram.”
Even in a D.C. dining and bar scene which is deservedly destination-worthy, hours-long lines just to enter these PUBs are the norm. “We always hope that people enjoy experiencing these settings as much as we enjoy making them, but it's definitely humbling to see the response we've gotten, especially for Game of Thrones PUB,” says special projects director Matt Fox. “While all the attention is great, if we can bring in people to experience something fun, escape the real world for a few hours, and hopefully try some ridiculously fantastic drinks, that's even better.”
Going from idea — "Hey, let's do a Game of Thrones pop-up!" — to pinpoint execution is a journey, but one that the Drink Company crew has honed in on via their multiple pop-up tours de force thus far. “Each pop up has been different in this regard, so speaking only of the Game of Thrones PUB, the credit is mainly due to [special projects director] Matt,” says Salame-Aspiazu. “He identified which projects had to be outsourced, which we would do in-house, and how to execute them. For the projects we built with our hands, the first step is identifying material. The largest projects were the weirwood tree and the Hall of Faces, which required a giant order of polystyrene, cut in specific sizes as our building blocks.”
The Hall of Faces has plaster masks of bartenders and other team members. (Photo: Drink Company)
The effort has garnered national attention and even gained uber-geek status thanks to a mention from "A Song of Ice and Fire" series author George R.R. Martin. It's hard to describe just how massive of a sensation it has become.
“There is a big power in community,” Salame-Aspiazu says. “Our friends, families, regulars, and neighbors all helped us with the build-out and they deserve a lot of credit. They were just as excited as we were to become part of this crazy pursuit and followed our vision for the love of building something great.”
While the Drink Company PUBs have taken on a life of their own, it all goes back to the initial holiday pop-ups. “Being a part of the Miracle franchise of Christmas-themed bars conceived by Greg Boehm and the Mace team was transformative for us,” says Angie Fetherston, CEO of Drink Company. “Having people walk in the door and experience pure joy, like a kid in a candy store, reminded us why we do this job — so we can transport people away from the stresses of their daily lives into a world where they can be whoever they want to be in that moment and have a shared experience, in this case, with fellow fans like us.”
The Lannisters Send Their Regards is made with vodka and Fino Sherry. (Photo: Drink Company)
Of course, this isn't a Disney World exhibition. This is a bar, put forward by a group of cocktail experts. In other words — if the drinks were bad, this would all be for naught despite the IG prowess. “In past pop-ups we have bought out entire stocks of products from distributors, whether it's booze, exotic fruit, or garnishes,” Fetherston says. “There are definite parameters that come with creating drinks that will be sold thousands of times over in just a month or two. The pop-ups draw drinkers from all walks of life; we have to cater to people who may be experiencing craft cocktails for the first time as well as to our beloved cocktail nerds who expect the standards that Drink Company is known for.
“Paul Taylor, who leads the recipe development, has gone above and beyond with his creations and included a few common highball variations that appeal to both ends of the spectrum so our bartenders can suggest a menu option that relates to a drink everyone knows,” Fetherston continues. “For instance, the Imp’s Delight is a delightful rum and coke-like cocktail that is made with Amaro, Chinotto Vermouth, house-made cola syrup, and a local walnut liquor.”
And for the bar owner looking to concoct his or her own wild pop-up destination, Fox has a takeaway for you to remember.
“One of the things we try to keep in mind for the pop-ups is to take the entire audience into consideration,” Fox says. “We know that we will have guests that will come in for the Instagram or Snapchat moments, but we also bring in the savvy cocktail aficionado who wants to see what Drink Company has come up with next. Often that person who's coming in for the scenery will be introduced to a new drink or ingredient that they hadn't tried before simply because they asked, 'Can I have the drink that comes in the horn mug?' so they can get on that Iron Throne and show it off like a king.”
It's a great idea, making it all the way until last call, then honoring your three-sheets-to-the-wind friend with a rousing toast: “And now his watch is ended.”
Dragons come with the territory. (Photo: Drink Company)