By law, D.C. bars have to serve at least one prepared food item with to-go alcohol during the COVID-19 crisis. Instead of trying to partner with a hot shot chef, Logan Circle gay bar Trade is winking at the absurdity of the situation by offering a “three-course meal” full of admittedly stale popcorn, a still-wrapped slice of American cheese presented on white bread, and Little Debbie Zebra Cakes. The package costs $4.99 and comes in a paper bag.
“You have to make best of the situation and laugh,” marketing manager Aaron Riggins says. “We basically came up with items that are affordable for us and our customers.”
The 5-year-old bar, known for its supersized cocktails and live drag shows, started selling the snack bags for its own “Restaurant Weak” while other businesses around town adapted their traditional prix fixe discounts for takeout and delivery. The deal is still active, Riggins confirms.
The dirt cheap meal deal includes popcorn that may be one or two days old and “deconstructed cheese toast,” an ode to the infamous “sandwich” served at the epic Fyre Festival flop of 2017. Trade’s version translates to a still-wrapped slice of American cheese atop the most “budget conscious” white bread Trade could find. Cheeky descriptions on the menu include a description of “mmmm, corn syrup,” attached to the snack cakes.
“It’s like your lunch from elementary school in a brown paper bag,” Riggins says, adding the special could be discounted by a buck some nights.
Trade’s tiny kitchen did tinker with a few items, like pizza rolls and tater tots, before the pandemic. But the bread and butter of its operation is strong cocktails suitable for sipping on a rowdy dance floor.
“We were just serving drinks and were mostly just a bar before,” Riggins says.
The manager reports there’s now enough business to operate daily for dine-in drinks and walk-up carryout from its bar-turned-takeout counter. An “XL” happy hour runs nightly (5 p.m. to 8 p.m.), with extra large cocktails, $5 beer and wine, and $15 pitchers of beer and bottled wine.
Trade has helped support its regular performers by streaming a virtual Pride party and other fundraising events. “We raised about $10,000 we distributed to artists who weren’t able to work on physical stages,” Riggins says.
The bar reopened for carryout in mid-May and jumpstarted limited dine-in service — inside and across its 25-seat patio — in June. Customers can book 90-minute seatings online.
Another gay bar nearby, the Dirty Goose on U Street NW, is having a good time with just one dressed-down food option: chocolate chip cookies from Restaurant Depot.
To accommodate more takeout orders, Trade has upped its batched cocktails list. To make sure cocktails make it home, they’re nestled in drink holders inside a paper bag.
“We’re learning from what our friends in the business are doing. It’s trial and error,” Riggins says. “Everyone has been so supportive. We have the absolute best patrons.”
The bar has also captured a new customer base. Some of the regulars at Black Whiskey, which is still closed for now on the floor above Trade, are now frequent guests.