Words By Joseph Franco, Photos By Clarissa Villondo
One of my good friends has tried for months, unsuccessfully, to get me down to Soundcheck, his company’s club on 14th and K. What this should tell you, besides me being a poor human being to those I care about, is that our downtown caters to a rare breed, while simultaneously dissuading others from ever venturing within a 5 block radius. A bastion for bottle service nightlife and white collar indentured servitude, if you don’t work there or enjoy 1,000% markups on liquor, chances are you ain’t usually venturing down there.
Vieux Carre’s creative director Seth McClelland obviously knows this. It’s not so much that he’s trying to change the status quo, just trying to find a particular niche situated between post-work and pre-club. In that respect, he may end up doing quite well.
Situated at 1413 K Street and taking the place of the short-lived and ill-fated Odessa, Vieux Carre is a cocktail bar with an old world mystique illuminated by candlelight. Drawing inspiration, thematically and gastronomically, from New Orleans’ French Quarter, the narrow entrance way with a running bar is meant to evoke a walk down a Louisiana alley as patrons make their way to the “old square.”
Past two giant castle doors and into the main bar, the space is small but evocative. A wrought-iron mezzanine sports several two-tops that overlook the semi-circular bar and banquette seating. It looks old. It looks smoky. It looks like a place where 100 years ago, you’d see a gloved woman with a lengthy, slender cigarette holder taking a puff at the bar.
When McClelland and I spoke, he dove into the lore of the Big Easy, as the third and oft forgotten major city for cocktail creation, behind Paris and New York. Blending the city’s French heritage, with the rye and bourbon of the American south, and the island influences pouring in Caribbean rum, it makes sense that it would be a mixologist mecca. Vieux Carre’s beverage director, Jeff Coles, who grew up in NoLa, is hoping to channel that into some creatively themed drinks.
Cocktails will be their calling card, but Vieux Carre will also exclusively offer Louisiana brewed Abita beer in bottles. No food until September, at which point they’re throwing po’ boys and cajun fries into the mix. Their alcoholic artisanal snowballs sound super intriguing. You’ll be hearing southern hip-hop on the speakers, which seems an interesting juxtaposition given the ritzy aesthetic.
With so much fine dining in the area but a dearth of inviting bars, McClelland envisions Vieux Carre as a perfect spot for an after-dinner drink or nightcap. It fits the bill. I envision it as a spot where suits from the surrounding office buildings will loosen their ties and hunch over stools, grumbling and probably still responding to emails. On the weekends, they want to tap the neighboring club market and provide its constituents with a space to have a good drink before the headliner goes on late in the evening and they switch back to rail liquor and Bud Light. That could be a challenge, as downtown on the weekend can be a dark and desolate place. At least Vieux Carre has the ambience to match.