Looking for a way to reengage with regulars and provide some positive representation for Asian cultures at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has inflamed racist rhetoric, Burmese standout Thamee is partnering on a series of five virtual happy hours that include classes demonstrating how to incorporate ingredients like salted plums, green tea, and pineapple juice into their mixed drinks.
“If you love these Asian ingredients, and you think about where they come from and the people who prepare them, it connects you to those people,” says Simone Jacobson, who co-owns Thamee with her mother, chef Jocelyn Law-Yone, and partner Eric Wang. “We’re kind of referring to it as ‘cocktail diplomacy.’”
The H Street NE spot, Eater D.C.’s 2019 Restaurant of the Year, is organizing the classes with Happied, a local start-up whose app organizes and rates happy hours. Happied founder and CEO April Johnson has also been a server at Thamee, which has been fully closed since March 16 to prioritize the health of its employees. The series will run every Friday in May, Asian Pacific American Heritage month, and a portion of the ticket sales from each of the five classes will go toward an organization serving the APA community.
For each happy hour, Thamee bar manager Richard Sterling will team up with a guest mixologist from D.C. or Chicago. Registration for each class comes with an ingredient list for two cocktails: one a classic recipe and the other a riff featuring Asian ingredients.
The collaboration also supports a couple other small businesses. Each Peach Market is selling $40 “everything but the alcohol” kits that can be picked up at its Pear Plumb Cafe in Northwest (3068 Mount Pleasant Street NW) or, closer to Thamee, at Shopkeepers (1231 Florida Avenue NE). While Happied and the bartenders will get some revenue out of the series, Thamee is not taking a cut.
On Friday, before the first happy hour, Law-Yone will also host a virtual cooking class for the D.C. Hospitality Coalition. Register here.
Sterling and Thamee already collaborated on one of Happied’s virtual events; when Jacobson saw it had sold out, she was brought to tears. Watching the event on her screen, she saw Thamee regulars and participants from other cities representing a wide age range.
“I was verklempt,” Jacobson says. “It was just an incredibly diverse mix of people. I was expecting it was going to be all millennials, and it was exactly the opposite.”
Jacobson is a longtime advocate for the APA community: She’s worked as a development manager for the Asian & Pacific Islander American Scholarship Fund, served on the D.C. Commission for APIA Affairs, and co-founded a showcase for APIA artists called Sulu D.C.
“The thing about being Asian in America is the concept of being perpetually foreign never leaves you,” Jacobson says.
Jacobson’s mother is Burmese, and her father is white. She says even as a mixed-race person with ambiguous features, she’s still exhausted by people asking her where she’s from, sometimes before asking her name. Her mother, Law-Yone, encounters microaggressions even in her own restaurant.
“Still to this day, people in the restaurant speak slowly to my mother or commend her for English,” says Jacobson, noting that English is Law-Yone’s first language.
Jacobson says she sees America “backsliding” into racism right now, and she wants to counteract that with hospitality.
“We try to be the bridge,” she says. “We’ve always tried to do that.”
Tickets for the APA series cost $15. Three-class packs cost $36, and buying all five costs $50. Here’s the full schedule:
- May 1: Guest bartender Jef Tate (Chicago speakeasy Janitor’s Closet); benefiting the Asian/Pacific Domestic Violence Resource Project
- May 8: Guest bartender Geoffrey Chang (Thamee); benefiting the Undocu Workers Fund and featuring Sahra Nguyen from Brooklyn roastery Nguyen Coffee Supply
- May 15: Guest bartender Hung Nguyen (Prather’s on the Alley); benefiting Asian Americans Advancing Justice |
- May 22: Guest bartender Monica Lee (Elle); benefiting Many Languages One Voice
- May 29: Guest bartender Chantal Tseng (The Gibson); benefiting the Asian Pacific American Legal Resource Center