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New Shaw Cocktail Den Focuses on Drink Flights and Boozy Doughnuts

Expect gourmet snacks, but no full dinners, at Nocturne

Nocturne bartenders Julian Garcia (left), Chris Jakubowski (center) and head bartender Young Yu (right) at the forthcoming Shaw cocktail den.
Photo: Nocturne

Now that the first Sugar Shack inside the District has taken hold, the chefs and bartenders at the budding restaurant group’s original speakeasy are raring to unveil a companion cocktail haven specifically designed as a pre- and post-dinner destination for discerning drinkers.

Once it comes online beneath the new doughnut shop in Shaw, Nocturne is projected to mix drinks for around 50 customers a night at its subterranean bar. The tightly knit space, housing just 17 seats, is inspired by “The Abandoned Apartment in Paris,” a cocktail featured on the opening menu at sibling Captain Gregory’s in Alexandria, Virginia.

Unlike its predecessor, which has grown to include intricate tasting menus, Nocturne plans to mainly focus on liquid refreshments.

“From the beginning this was intended as a bartender show,” Brandon McDermott, executive chef at Captain Gregory’s and soon-to-open Nocturne, tells Eater about the latest venture. While he and chef de cuisine Kyle Knox have composed a handful of small plates (more on that in a moment) to complement beverage orders, McDermott envisions Nocturne as being a launchpad for an evening or the place to enjoy a nightcap rather than the main event. “A place to get away,” is how he describes it.

The bar will offer three- or five-drink flights — think: Light to heavy; Bitter to sweet; Multiple expressions of the same drink (Old Fashioned, Gin and Tonic, etc.) showcasing different spirits — which can be constructed from the three dozen (or so) specialty cocktails the bar crew is working up for Nocturne. Tasting menu drinks are projected to feature three-quarter pours (versus a whole ounce) so as not to overwhelm those opting for an extended journey.

Sugar Shack founder Rob Krupicka says a la carte drinks will become available for post-flight customers; He is also working on prix fixe packages bundling together cocktails, wine, beer, and food (stay tuned for more about the “all-inclusive” offerings).

McDermott says there should be three bartenders on hand at all times; maintaining a 6-to-1 ratio is essential to fostering personal interaction between staff and the clientele. He compares it to the the expert guidance he’s received from wine pro Brent Kroll’s all-sommelier team at newcomer Maxwell Park.

In fact, Nocturne bartenders Julian Garcia, Chris Jakubowski, and Young Yu workshopped some tentative drink offerings this past weekend at Captain Gregory’s.

According to Krupicka, attention to detail and quality ingredients are crucial elements of Nocturne. Over-the-top presentations: not so much.

“We don’t do a lot of showy, magic trick drinks,” he tells Eater.

Certain snacks, however, do involve some degree of showmanship.

Smoked salmon belly rillette, duck liver pate, single-bite Chartreuse marshmallows, and root beer-flavored pudding with smoked whipped cream, malted milk crumble and crunchy peanut butter bits will be delivered to patrons via custom jewel boxes and miniature Mason jars. Then there’s the “after dark” doughnuts supplied by the bakery up above. One idea McDermott floated was for a chocolate stout-glazed selection crafted from the Kick-Kick-Snare made by Right Proper Brewing Company. “It has a very floral kind of tartness to it,” McDermott says of the dry hopped wheat ale. Another potential offering is a seasonally inspired apple cider doughnut.

Krupicka is still ironing out what, exactly, Nocturne visitors will have to do to gain access to the secret elevator leading down to the bar — no doubt, social media will be involved, so keep an eye on Nocturne’s Facebook and Twitter feeds — but reservations will be handled by Open Table. As of now, two-hour seatings will be available between 5:30 p.m. and 6 p.m., 7:30 p.m. to 8 p.m., and 9:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, with an additional slot sliding into place from 11:30 p.m. to midnight on Friday and Saturday. A spokeswoman says walk-ins will be welcome, space permitting, from 5:30 p.m. to 10:30 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday, and from 5:30 p.m. to 12:30 am., Friday and Saturday.