The alcohol-optional bar in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood has a namesake Virgin Mary statue covered in reflective tiles and boasts a menu of “apothecary cocktails” that list herbalist ingredients like hemp oil, adaptogenic mushrooms, and damiana and frankinsense smoke. If that sounds too kooky for the general public, Maria Bastasch and Derek Brown don’t appear to be concerned. The couple thinks Disco Mary is the future.
That’s the name of Bastasch’s new project, an open-ended pop-up that opens Friday, October 22, from two of the main gathering places at Columbia Room, the most decorated place to drink in D.C. after a 2017 Spirited Award for “Best American Cocktail Bar” from the Tales of the Cocktail Foundation. With the new project, Bastasch envisions a place where bar fans and service industry peers can retain an atmosphere of camaraderie and relaxation “but not have to do that with 17 mezcal shots.”
“Maria’s a genius,” says Brown, the Columbia Room owner who wrote a book on cocktail history and has another one — about low- and no-alcohol drinks — set for release early next year. “The ideas that she’s bringing to the fore are things you haven’t seen before.”
The Tasting Room to the side of the bar will remain open, so Disco Mary isn’t totally replacing Columbia Room, where customers can still reserve an $80 seat for a three-drink prix fixe complete with food and high-minded ingredients; this rotation’s theme is Insects, Algae, and Mushrooms, and offers a choice of a low-alcohol or no-alcohol menu.
All of the cocktails at Disco Mary, developed with help from bartender Yaki Udoumoh, cost $12 to $16 and are listed with the option of adding a spirit in parenthesis. For example, a Dope Kaleidoscope riffs on a flip with a mix of hemp oil, pumpkin-spiced syrup, coconut milk aquafaba, a hemp leaf, and an optional portion of spiced rum. A Mushpresso & Tonic includes a coffee cordial infused with mushroom and cacao, coffee concentrate, and tonic, with an optional addition of vodka.
Nonalcoholic shots will contain mixtures like ginger, turmeric, lime, agave, and cayenne pepper. Beer, seltzer, wine, and kombucha will be available, including a new wave of n/a suds from Athletic Brewing company and n/a wine from Jörg Geiger. Kava, a root-based tea with sedative properties that’s traditionally used by Pacific Islanders, will also be on the menu.
“This is not a sober bar,” Brown says. “This is a bar where you can have choices.”
A meat-free menu of Latin food from Mexican chef Elena Venegas will play with a recipe for black miso beans from Bastasch’s Colombian mom. There will be ceviche made from hearts of palm and rainbow nachos topped with a nondairy, nut-free cheese sauce, along with cabbage, roasted Anaheim peppers, cilantro, avocado, and pickled jalapeno. Christian Irabién, the chef and immigrant-assisting “cook-tivist” at essential Chevy Chase Mexican restaurant Muchas Gracias, is lending a hand as a consultant.
Bastasch, a former wine director and manager at Maydan and Compass Rose, can be credited in part for helping D.C. develop a taste for Georgian and Lebanese grapes. She’s been convincing her partner for years to work with the medicinal plants, a passion that her hippy surfer parents passed down to the seven kids they raised as Catholics in Southern California. Over the past three weeks, the Spirits Library and Punch Garden at the front of Columbia Room (124 Blagden Alley NW) have been getting a Disco Mary makeover, complete with a coat of pink paint, a retro tricolor rainbow stripe, and the aforementioned art piece that represents Bastasch’s approach to seeing selective beauty in the religion of her childhood.
Bastasch also sees Disco Mary as an advocate for reforming drug policy and an ally for the Plant Medicine Coalition led by Melissa Lavasani, who sponsored a ballot initiative in D.C. that decriminalized natural psychedelics such as mushrooms, ayahuasca, and mescaline. “I’m a big fan of microdosing,” Bastasch says.
Bastasch says she’s had moments of doubt where she wonders if people will accuse her of “ruining” the Columbia Room. But she counters with the idea that “we’re not taking anything away. We’re just bringing new things to the table.”
Here’s a sample cocktail menu Brown provided to Eater.
Can’t Remember (to Forget)
Lyre’s Italian Orange, Hawthorne & Rosehip Honey Syrup, Sparkling Water, Orange Peel, Rosemary (Aperol Optional)
Influencers in the Wild
Pitaya, Strawberry, Lime Lemon Balm, Shishandra Berry, Salt (Mezcal Optional)
Jugo Verde/Shochu Verde
Pineapple, Aloe, Celery, Parsley, Cilantro (Shochu Optional)
Mushpresso & Tonic
Mushroom-Cacao Infused Coffee Cordial, Coffee Concentrate, Tonic (Kahlua Optional)
Pu-erh Tea, Ginger Honey Syrup, Vanilla, Orange Oil, Aromatic Bitters, Damiana & Frankincense Smoke (Irish Whiskey Optional)
Wild Lettuce Tea, Chinotto Syrup, Lemon Juice, Agave Syrup, Nasturtium Leaf (Cynar Amaro Optional)
Hemp Oil, Pumpkin Spiced Syrup, Coconut Milk Aquafaba, Hemp Leaf (Dark Rum Optional)
Updated Wednesday, October 20, 2:48 p.m. This story has been updated to reflect Disco Mary changed the name of its hemp oil cocktail to Dope Kaleidoscope