More than two years after mixologist David Strauss closed the Sheppard, a Dupont Circle speakeasy known for its handwritten cocktail menus and no-reservations policy, the bartender has resurfaced in Mount Pleasant with another second-story bar built inside a century-old space above a dentist’s office.
The new bar, which goes by the acronym O.K.P.B., officially opened Monday, June 28, at 3165 Mt. Pleasant Street NW. Instead of riding a rickety elevator like they had to at the Sheppard, customers ring a bell at the bottom of a set of stairs and wait for a host to escort them up. The 900-square-foot bar pours six days a week (closed Sundays), starting at 5 p.m.
When the Sheppard opened in 2014, the hideaway became a word-of-mouth place to drink in a setting that felt pulled from a bygone era, thanks to a jazzy soundtrack, flickering candles, and worn-in wallpaper, all of which added to a dark bordello vibe. Many original elements remain unchanged at O.K.P.B. Five nightly cocktails and a “bartender’s choice” ($14) are handwritten on a yellow memo sheet attached to a clipboard, finished with a rubber stamp of its logo. A first-come, first-served policy is back in effect with no time limit for tables. A popular weekday happy hour returns with martinis, Manhattans, and Moscow mules priced at $7 from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. There’s no food menu, at least for now. Even the walls are slathered in the same color: Van Dyke brown. A playlist of over 3,000 songs also airs at O.K.P.B.
The glaring difference at O.K.P.B. is the new name. After Strauss split with sibling spot Morris American Bar, he retained the rights to the Sheppard. But as its reopening drew closer, he decided to drop a name that nods to Morris Sheppard, a Democratic senator from Texas who is credited as “the father of Prohibition.” Historians describe Sheppard as an advocate for women’s suffrage and a champion of military spending. He was part of a Southern Democrat bloc credited with upholding white supremacy. Strauss says Morris’s support of segregation influenced the decision to rename the second iteration of his popular bar. “After a year of self reflection with everyone stuck at home, and especially with the BLM movement, we learned some things about the namesake of the bar we don’t stand behind,” he says.
The new name, Strauss says with a laugh, is essentially “meaningless.” The initial idea was to call it APB as a retro reference to a radio tower signal, but plugging that into search engines led to lots of police-related links. The altered acronym came out of jocular baby talk bartenders would throw around during busy shifts: “OK BB.” The logo captures its a mid-century vibe by advertising “air conditioned” as a nod to the modern convenience that made Strauss’s dad frequent movie theaters during summer in the 1970s, because he didn’t have AC at home.
The bar team performed a few upgrades at its new location. They’re chilling all glassware below zero degrees and will pull it out of the freezer at the last moment. Made-to-order elements include juicing fruit behind the bar, a first for the brand. The bar is also making ice for the first time using a Clinebell machine. Each day, they’ll process 100 pounds of block ice in the back behind a black curtain.
Every inch of the knick knack-filled bar shows lots of thought behind the decor. A reclaimed Pennsylvania church pew painted a slick black sits behind a group of two-top tables. A medley of antique handheld mirrors hovers above a silver wash station. A skylight in the center of the room gets dressed up with leafy plants.
Elements of Philly’s Ranstead Room, a dim-lit speakeasy where Strauss used to work, also made their way over, including old-school motion lamps and a framed photo of Ron Jeremy. Encyclopedias from bartender John Lodato’s personal collection are stuck to shelves, joined by metal peacocks, beakers, and other oddities.
Old menus from the Sheppard have been repurposed as a ceiling collage in bathrooms. Look around and laugh at wallpaper of koalas rolling and smoking joints. A cast iron radiator from the original building is bolted down between the bathrooms.
Unlike the Sheppard, which was known for turning away patrons looking to score a seat, there’s some relaxed standing room at O.K.P.B., which has 23 seats but capacity for 30.
“I still love the formality of the cocktail bar, but after being locked in our homes for a year, we have to be a little less stuffy,” Strauss says. “We’ll find a spot for you.” Bartenders will still be all dressed up in a suit and tie, however. “It sets the expectation of what is going to come,” he says.