When Electric Cool-Aid opens today, and the new outdoor bar’s 5-foot-tall frozen drink machines begin churning out whipped cocktails in pink and orange colors in Shaw, customers will finally get to see the full scope of the transformation of the gravel lot off Rhode Island Avenue and Sixth Street NW that was formerly a parking space for the Mr. P’s Ribs and Fish bus.
What once was a spare, monotone plot is now filled with 19 spaced-out picnic tables, trippy murals splashed with hot pink, and a new business that will focus on icy, blended drinks and a democratic sampling of canned beers, wines, and seltzers.
Electric Cool-Aid comes from a trio of longtime bartenders and managers who have leveraged their relationships with big brands to open their ideal neighborhood hangout; the murals were sponsored by a Pabst Blue Ribbon program funding street art in exchange for creative advertising space, and Good Humor ice cream bars help satisfy D.C.’s requirement for a food item to accompany all drinks while businesses reopen amid the COVID-19 crisis.
Angela DelBrocco, who has poured drinks at Ghibbelina, Nellie’s, and Drink Company’s notoriously wacky Pop-Up Bar, is running the project with Ben Schwartz — an alum of Ivy & Coney and Espita — and Jesse Schwartz, Ben’s brother who also put in time with Drink Company and Destination Wedding. DelBrocco, who hails from Memphis, says a Southern penchant for consuming cold drinks outdoors helped set the identity of the project.
She cautions, though, that Electric Cool-Aid will not bear a resemblance to a Wet Willie’s franchise. She says the drink machines at the new bar are capable of crafting a range of textures that will separate the cocktails from cheap daiquiris available at tourist traps.
“We can get them pretty creamy or a different consistency that would be more like a sorbet or more like a milkshake,” DelBrocco says.
Flavors on the opening menu include a frozen Irish coffee, a frose that can be upgraded to “sparkling” status with a can of Anew Bubbly, and a whipped orange base that gets mixed with overproof banana schnapps (Orange Ya Glad I Didn’t Say Banana). There’s a Dole whip pina colada that can be blended with the orange flavor for a frozen painkiller. There will eventually be a range of frozen mules, and a frozen Red Bull and vodka for people who need a caffeine boost.
In addition to Choco Tacos, King Cones, and Spiderman shaped ice cream bars, Electric Cool-Aid is partnering with an impressive batch of local food trucks. Astro Doughnuts & Fried Chicken will be set up for contactless ordering tonight and will have a regular presence on Thursdays and Fridays. Swizzler’s hot dogs and burgers will be available on Tuesdays and Saturdays. DelBrocco says the bar also plans to work with trucks from Pie Shop and Timber Pizza Co.
The owners drew inspiration from Ivy & Coney, the dive-y neighborhood spot that pays homage to Chicago and Detroit, and the Dacha beer garden nearby by designing Electric Cool-Aid to feel like an extension of their backyard.
“We watched the birth of Dacha from basically those guys pulling up a truck on a lot and calling it a bar,” DelBrocco says.
DelBrocco and Schwartz first met at Ivy & Coney and have lived and worked in Shaw for the past decade. Their romance began in a bar, and they were enjoying drinks when they met the PBR rep who hooked them up with muralists from New York, Portland, and Mexico City.
“Hanging out at the bar can kind of be quite productive sometimes,” DelBrocco says.
Electric Cool-Aid (512 Rhode Island Avenue NW) open from 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 3 p.m. to midnight Friday, noon to midnight Saturday, and noon to 10:30 p.m. Sunday.