At the Wells, a new, reservations-only gin bar stowed away between two sister restaurants near Eastern Market, the soft lighting, gleaming surfaces, and snug seating are all designed to block out everyday distractions. Drawn blinds, plush forest green sofas, and leather cushions lining the brown banquettes, lounge seats, and barstools are all intended to direct customers to look away away from their phones and strike up conversations with the people pouring their drinks.
“I definitely wanted it to be that when you stepped in, you stepped out of D.C.,” says owner Hollis Silverman, a longtime executive for José Andrés’s ThinkFoodGroup who opened adjoining family-friendly restaurants the Duck and the Peach (New American) and La Collina (Italian) at the same complex. For the Wells (727 C Street SE), Silverman imagined a place that felt like the gin bars she visited in European cities like Barcelona, Madrid, and London. Architecture firm HapstakDemetriou+ added a Bocci light fixture full of glass spheres strung together with copper wire that might make some visitors stop and stare.
“I wanted it to feel elegant, but not too pretentious or stuffy,” Silverman says of the room.
A menu that does not spell out the brand of gin that goes into each drink helps cultivate that feel, encouraging drinkers to chat up the experts on-site. Bar managers Philip Keath and Ashley Havens, both alums of Rose’s Luxury, want the staff to talk people through why certain gins work well for specific cocktails.
The Wells celebrates the spirit in many shades, from juniper-forward, London dry styles to Japanese labels bright with citrus and American distillers that lean into floral notes. The back bar, made up of bright white cubes that spotlight each grouping of bottles, focuses attention on small producers; Keath says stocking gins from women-owned and BIPOC-owned companies is a priority.
Cocktails ($14 to $18) reflect the season, with warm weather recipes ranging from light refreshers to booze-forward sippers. The Wells takes on a gin and tonic with the Like Riding A Bike cocktail, which incorporates lemon verbena, lemon, and lime. Tiki enthusiasts will enjoy the Vacation, a smooth and not-too-sweet mix of tepache (fermented pineapple), Banane du Bresil liqueur, and lemon. The Night Cap is a negroni riff stirred with decaf coffee-infused Campari, sweet vermouth, and creme de cacao.
The menu also lists “Collaboration” on the drink menu, letting customers know that off-menu orders are in play from a fully stocked bar. For now, there are only two food options listed at the Wells: potato chips ($5) or caviar and chips ($115). Executive Chef Kat Petonito, who also oversees La Collina and the Duck and the Peach, plans to develop a menu of bar snacks as the kitchen adds more workers.
In August, the Wells opens only Wednesday and Thursday nights from 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m. The majority of reservations are already filled, but there are a handful of late-night slots still available through Tock. September reservations will open August 27 at noon. For $98 per month, the Wells also offers memberships in its “Gin Society,” which comes with cocktail kits, bar tools, priority reservations, and an option to buy bottles of monthly picks like McClintock Forager Gin from Frederick, Maryland.