Too broke to go on vacation, but still want to grab those sweet tropical ‘grams to highlight your new summer aesthetic? Instead of going into credit card debt to fly to the Caribbean, hop on the Orange / Blue / Silver Line (which will cost you more than enough money and dignity anyway) and step into PoliTiki, AKA Barrel’s basement bar, where the slushee machines are always running and the jerk chicken flows like water.
Modeled (and named) after PoliTiki, a classic Capitol Hill bar that used to stand where Stanton and Greene is today, Barrel has transformed their dark basement bar into a tropical paradise complete with a beach-y mural, a host of Tiki totems and a giant foam Lincoln head that used to sit outside the old bar. Straight from the original PoliTiki playbook (where you could sip drinks out of glasses shaped like Reagan, Lincoln and more), Barrel has commissioned the original artist Lee Wheeler to design a series of new glasses for them featuring the faces of Obama, Trump and Steve Bannon (remember him?). In a Rosemary’s Baby type situation, the glasses took 8-9 months to make their way to Barrel, but now that they’re here, they’re flying off the shelves (you can buy all three of them for $79.99). On the night BYT visited, someone bought an Obama glass only to find a Trump glass in the box. It was swiftly switched out.
Those aren’t the only things Barrel has changed. They’ve thrown out their whiskey selection (I’m kidding) and brought in a ton of rum for both sipping and mixing. Options like Zaya 12, Gosling’s Family and Rhum J.M. 2003 rule the sipping list, while classic tiki cocktails like Daiquiris and Zombies make up the cocktail menu. Most people are going to bypass those options immediately (at least at first) because further down the menu you’ll find the three special cocktails that go with those custom made glasses.
Our favorite of the three was the Regal Hawaiian. A play on the Royal Hawaiian (which is made of gin, orgeat and pineapple juice), Barrel’s version adds white rum, lemon and passionfruit, giving the cocktail a little more tropical depth (and making it a little bit boozier). We could easily sip this all day. It goes down smooth without tasting cloyingly sweet.
If you really want to go full island style, the Suffering Bannon (a play off the Suffering Bastard) and Traitor Don’s Mai Tai (I don’t have to tell you what this is based of, right?) should scratch that itch. The Mai Tai has all the sweet and dangerous flavors you’re looking for in a tiki drink, while the Suffering Bannon gets a little sharper and spicier with its bourbon base and strong ginger kick. Just make sure to turn your glass around before you’re done. There might just be a little surprise on the back.
The real winner here though, is the Painkiller. For the low low price of $6 (for now, at least) you can take a sip, close your eyes and actually feel like you’re on the beach. This drink is a dreamy combination of rum, orange, pineapple, coconut and nutmeg and I want to drink one every morning for the rest of the summer. If you go to Politiki at Barrel and don’t have a Painkiller, you’ve made a grave mistake.
Foodwise, you can’t go wrong with the crispy jerk chicken, it’s got just enough salt and crunch to cut through the sweet and fatty drinks you’ve been pounding. The crab rangoons (which were already on the menu) are also a good option if you want to split something. But PoliTiki isn’t about getting a balanced and healthy meal, it’s about getting drunk as hell off of five Painkillers in a basement. If that isn’t a vacation, I don’t know what is.
PoliTiki will be open in the basement of Barrel throughout the summer.