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Adams Morgan’s Racy New Cocktail Lair Opens Tonight With Flower-Filled Elixirs

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Death Punch is the boozy pinnacle of a new three-story Japanese complex 

Death Punch debuts tonight with Japanese cocktails and street foods.
Katie Browne Photography/Death Punch
Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

Adams Morgan’s three-level Japanese dining complex continues to come to life with tonight’s arrival of Death Punch (2321 18th Street NW), a dimly lit drinking den that highlights ingredients like peach oolong tea, red shiso, yuzu, and sake.

Left Door alum Jeremy Wetmore leads the bar’s beverage program, pairing his cocktails with Japanese street foods parading up the stairs from Shibuya Eatery, the complex’s basement-level piece that started slinging soba noodles alongside meat and vegetable skewers a few weeks ago. Next month’s opening of Shabu Plus, a fine-dining destination for small plates and sake on the middle floor, will round out the tri-level project; Death Punch occupies the top floor.

Longtime D.C. chef Darren Norris and his wife Candice Wise are behind the project, which transforms the space that once housed Bourbon (2321 18th Street NW).

“Isn’t Shiso Lovely?” at Death Punch.
Jeremy Wetmore/Death Punch
“I want drinks to be just as beautiful looking as they are delicious tasting,” says Wetmore. Above, the Oaxacan & Talkin’ at Death Punch.
Jeremy Wetmore/Death Punch

Death Punch — open daily from 5 p.m. to midnight — operates on a first come, first serve basis for now, and cocktails are priced $10 to $13. Wetmore says the elevated-yet-approachable program is a “mishmash” of three lauded NYC institutions: Amor Y Amargo, NoMad, and Death and Co. Death Punch will borrow Death and Co.’s nightly tradition, which calls for all bartenders to take a ceremonial shot at 9:30 p.m.

The top floor also pays homage to Black Whiskey, the beloved Logan Circle watering hole Norris opened in 2013 (he still owns half). A new pool table — a familiar, free fixture at Black Whiskey — will stay a stagnant showpiece for the time being due to social distancing guidelines, joined by a handful of neighboring seats. Along with five five-tops, there’s spaced-out seating at the bar, for a total capacity of about 40 to start under D.C.’s Phase 2 reopening guidelines.

Death Punch will grow this weekend with the addition of 15 al fresco seats across its spacious back patio, formerly the site of Bourbon’s packed Mint Julep-driven derby parties.

The top-level overhaul included flipping the bar to the other side, comprised of a dramatic 25-foot slab of live edge sequoia. A spiraling wrought iron staircase leads to a mezzanine where DJs will spin. Etchings of motorcycles in the bathroom add to Death Punch’s overall Japanese biker bar vibe — “dark and dingy and sexy as can be,” says Wetmore.

“The name comes from a bit of an ominous warning about drinking,” Norris told Eater last year. “Kids drink fruit punch, adults drink death punch — if you’re not too careful it can catch up with you.”

The three-part project comes from vet D.C. chef Darren Norris (right) and his wife Candice Wise.
Havar Espedal/Shabu Plus

Boozy punches are naturally a thing at Death Punch, with a trio served on draft (and available to-go). To start, there’s a “Sesame Says” (Don Q Crystal Rum, toasted coconut and sesame, Beniotome sesame shochu, and lime) and the “Fallen Angel” (Angel’s Envy bourbon, yuzu cordial, Becherovka, and lemon).

Urban farm Little Wild Things supplies colorful flowers that help cocktails aesthetically pop inside the matte black-painted room.

Patrons will be able to play pool and dance to live music once D.C.’s reopening guidelines permit.
Katie Browne Photography/Death Punch
The dramatic first-floor entrance to Death Punch.
Katie Browne Photography/Death Punch
Death Punch is filled with glowing metal lanterns and pops of red.
Katie Browne Photography/Death Punch