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Peek Inside Sugar Shack’s Trippy New Cocktail Den

Sip boozy ramen at tasting menu-themed Nocturne

The light up bar at Nocturne.

After weeks of secretly serving customers gourmet marshmallows and beet soda-spiked drinks, the crew at new Shaw cocktail lab Nocturne is ready to have everyone join in the boozy fun beginning Thursday, October 26.

The District counterpart (1932 Ninth Street NW) to Alexandria speakeasy Captain Gregory’s resides an elevator ride down from the new Sugar Shack shop that opened in D.C. this summer. Though they share similar tastes in funky beverages, fancy food, and out-there decor, Nocturne adds a new dimension to Sugar Shack’s late night entertaining.

The bar, which is designed to look like an abandoned apartment — a nod to one of the first cocktails whipped up at Captain Gregory’s — can accommodate under two dozen people at a time. Three bartenders, including head drink maker Chris Jakubowski, work their respective magic on the featured beverages, while executive chef Brandon McDermott and chef de cuisine Kyle Knox take care of complementary offerings for those looking to snack on something special.

The entrance to Nocturne.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC
Nocturne head bartender Chris Jakubowski (left) and executive chef Brandon McDermott (right).
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

Once inside, visitors may plot out a drinking agenda based on the bar’s tasting menu format.

The opening menu at Nocturne.
Image by Nocturne.

The preset options include a three-drink journey ($35 per person), five-drink experience ($50), or multicourse package dubbed “spectrum” ($75 for drinks with food pairings). The opening menu is split into six main categories — think: seasonal, savory, and rich, to name a few — each of which consists of five specialty cocktails. He pointed out that customers are welcome to substitute any of the featured beers, wines, or spirits on hand for one of the cocktail “courses,” or prolong their stay by adding on another drink ($10 each).

A cocktail at Nocturne.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

The recommendations, however, are just that. “It’s about having a continuous conversation with your bartender,” Jakubowski tells Eater of the importance of interacting with staff so that they can, in turn, cater to the natural flow of the evening.

Bar staff have gone to great lengths to create beverages unlike anything else around. Some of the more inventive selections include a riff on truck stop dining that combines butter pecan-washed whiskey with orange-vanilla curd, heavy cream, salted black walnuts, and maple gel.

”That’s definitely our most popular dessert drink at this point,” McDermott says of the Waffle House Index.

Another deploys a spicy tomato foam atop what Jakubowski describes as “like a creamy mascarpone mezcal-corn-fennel margarita” (the Vasco de Gama). Then there’s the one customers seem to pass around forever.

“It’s actually a bowl of ramen but there’s booze in the ramen broth,” Jakubowski says of the Scotch-laced creation.

Owls figure prominently at Nocturne.
Rey Lopez/Eater DC

Sound too crazy? Jakubowski insists staff can make industry standards too — if only somebody asked.

“No one has ordered a classic in the three weeks we’ve been open,” Jakubowski says. Sure, some people have mentioned martinis, cosmos, and other well-known drinks. But, at least to date, Team Nocturne has found a way to put its own spin on things. Case in point: when someone asked Jakubowksi about Manhattans, he mixed one up, carbonated it, and served it in a champagne flute.

“It kinda tasted like cherry Coke,” he says of the effervescent update.

McDermott, meanwhile, has focused on making his own fun.

A savory snack at Nocturne.
Photo by Rey Lopez for Eater DC

So far he’s come up with: oysters bolstered by caramel foam and ground espresso; duck liver pate with grape jelly and peanut butter powder; and, beef heart jerky seasoned with fennel and clove.

The thing that seems to be blowing most people’s minds: a marshmallow made with guanabana liqueur and bitters, that is then topped with finger limes. “It’s almost like an adult Jello shot, in marshmallow form,” McDermott says.

Getting to try all this wild stuff requires securing a reservation through Open Table. There are currently three seatings per night from Tuesday through Thursday, and four seating per evening on Fridays and Saturdays.

That may change in the future, assuming McDermott and Jakubowski are able to pull together the theme nights — Jakubowski suggested “carbonated classics,” and “wild interpretations of blood marys,” while McDermott stuck with the idea of rolling out “experimental” food and drinks — they’d like to work into the rotation for late night on Tuesday and Wednesday (stay tuned).

Sugar Shack - Alexandria

804 N Henry St, Alexandria, VA 22314 Visit Website

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