Veteran D.C. bartender Lukas B. Smith has a big new gig: beverage director at &pizza. His first big order of business will be taking over the bar program at the chain’s year-old Broccoli Bar this month, bringing a taste of the Caribbean to Shaw with help from Cotton & Reed, the rum distillery he oversees in the Union Market district.
Starting Tuesday, September 24, Smith will pair rum cocktails from Cotton & Reed with the menu of pies from &pizza at the bar, which will go by the name, Rumbo Italiano.
”Cotton & Reed takes Seventh Street, is the idea,” Smith says.
Smith is the latest heavy hitter to join the ranks of the fast-growing, homegrown pizza chain, which has opened dozens of East Coast locations in seven years. Earlier this summer, Erik Bruner-Yang, the chef and restaurateur behind Maketto, Brothers and Sisters and Rammy-winning Spoken English at the Line hotel, and Navy Yard’s soon-to-open ABC Pony, took a job as executive chef.
Last fall, &pizza teamed up with the team behind music festival Broccoli City to open Broccoli Bar in Shaw (1817 Seventh Street NW). Now Smith is coming on to inject new life into its cocktail program. Cotton & Reed will sell its cocktails at the bar for at least a month — and maybe permanently. The food side will continue to follow &pizza’s lead.
The bar will also get a new look, complete with a new paint job full of coastal blue tones that emulate the look of Cotton & Reed. Bruner-Yang will have a hand in the redesign, too.
“It’ll generally be a lot lighter and brighter — the blue will jump out,” Smith says. “The idea is to make the interior more like a bar space and less of a quick-service restaurant.”
Cocktails swimming over from Cotton & Reed’s Northeast menu will likely include Cocomotion slushie (white and gold rums, lacto-fermented coconut, piña); Rumba Palumba (white rum, Ilegal mezcal, grapefruit, lemon); and Liquid Nostalgia (white rum, Rujero Singani, blood orange soda).
By law, all of its cocktails sold at the distillery have to have its rum in it, so expanding to the Broccoli Bar provides more flexibility. A gin and tonic and a margarita will likely be on the menu, Smith says.
Smith was named Eater D.C.’s Bartender of the Year in 2015, when he stirred drinks at Jack Rose’s Dram & Grain. More recently, he led the program at 14th Street NW’s subterranean Destination Wedding. Cotton & Reed hired a full-time beverage manager late last year, freeing up more of Smith’s time for cocktail experimentation.
At Rumbo, Smith will also introduce the line of Redbeard products he’s been creating for years in D.C., named after his iconic red-tinged beard. He uses fermentation and all-natural flavors to make syrups, sodas, and other items to lower sugar counts for cocktails. A delivery service provides Redbeard’s wares to a flurry of local bars in town.
For example, Redbeard makes a fermented coconut yogurt for the breakfast program at Bird’s Eye. Smith is also providing a prickly pear slush mix to Christen Irabien, the Mexican native and Oyamel alum who’s getting ready to open his seafood-focused Amparo Fondita inside the La Cosecha market near Union Market. Irabien hosted a ceviche pop-up at Cotton & Reed this summer.
Redbeard holds a catering license and operates out of Union Kitchen with three full-time employees. Staples include ginger beers, sodas, and tonics. Hopped sodas, black fruit slushes, and no-added-sugar options will also join the mix at Rumbo. Redbeard products and Cotton & Reed rums started appearing this spring at &pizza’s other bar in town, the Hive.
Smith envisions canning Redbeard sodas to be served at &pizza locations.
“We make 80,000 cans at a time — a couple times a year,” Smith says, of &pizza’s current production volume. “To get to that level we have to have a lot of ducks in a row.”
Smith is targeting next summer to start integrating Redbeard into &pizza’s soda line. For now Redbeard is operating on word-of-mouth referrals, with full branding and a website in the works.
Cotton & Reed, D.C.’s first rum distillery, comes from former NASA engineers Jordan Cotton and Reed Walker. It was a trendsetter in the Union Market district when it first started slinging white and spiced rum drinks there three years ago. Recent arrivals like Coconut Club and St. Anselm helped increase the neighborhood’s foot traffic appeal.
- Worth the Wait — Peer Inside New D.C. Distillery Cotton & Reed [EDC]
- Eater Awards 2015: Announcing the D.C. Winners [EDC]
- Erik Bruner-Yang Joins &pizza as Executive Chef [EDC]
- &pizza’s New Broccoli Bar Will Run Happy Hour Every Day Until 10 p.m. [EDC]
- Inside Lukas B. Smith’s Growing Cocktail Empire in D.C. [EDC]