Just ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics, there’s a silly new spectator sport in town that entails hurling an empty, icy shot glass at an easy target: a big brass bell just a few feet away.
Find the random rooftop drinking game at Salazar, Logan Circle’s anticipated Tex-Mex bar opening this weekend in the three-story former home of trendy taqueria El Centro D.F. (1819 14th Street NW). To start, hours are 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. on Friday, January 14, and Saturday, January 15. The following weekend, Salazar opens at 4 p.m. on Thursday, January 20, to Saturday, January 22. Weekday hours and bottomless brunch will join the mix in February.
Salazar, which means “old hall,” is the latest member of Mission Group’s millennial-driven D.C. empire that includes Mission (Navy Yard and Dupont); Hawthorne on U Street NW; The Admiral in Dupont; and Royal Sands Social Club, opening in May in Navy Yard. Planting a bar on 14th Street NW’s hot nightlife corridor was always in the cards, but lack of availability held up that plan, co-founder Reed Landry tells Eater.
So when Richard Sandoval Hospitality’s rowdy, Mexican mainstay closed during the pandemic after a 10-year run, Mission Group quickly called dibs on the prime piece of real estate with a year-round rooftop. Like El Centro, tequila remains the spirit of choice across Salazar’s four updated bars. A new neon sign with subliminal undertones reads: “Drink Tequila Daily.”
There’s 50 types of tequila to choose from, but just four are officially part of the opening ice luge-like “bell challenge”: Sauza Hacienda, Milagro, Don Julio, and Casamigos ($10-$15), with a $2 upcharge for anything else. Because no one likes a warm tequila shot, a frozen drinking vessel is pretty smart (not to mention eco-friendly). The idea already exists at touristy places like Minus5 Ice Bar in Vegas, where everything — down to the bar and chairs — is frozen, but swapping glass for ice is a rare bar feature for D.C.
“We’ve talked about doing it for a while, but you have to have the right space to pull something like that off,” Landry says. “We found a perfect little nook in the back of the bar. We’ll let people take it and run with it.”
Tacos and bells also collide at Salazar. The opening food menu tops tortillas with proteins like steak chimichurri, chipotle chicken, mango shrimp, and crispy pork belly. Quirky pulled pork nachos sub in pork rinds for tortilla chips, and starters also include bacon corn fritters and black bean sopes featuring a fried masa base. There’s also quesadillas, a Cubano sandwich, and Mexican hot dog dressed with bacon jam, pico, homemade pickles, smashed avocado, cotija, and crema.
Happy hour (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily; 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on weekends) includes $1 chips and salsa, half-off quesadillas, $4 Coronas, and $24 pitchers of margaritas.
Mission Group’s busy bottomless brunches stand out, says Landry, because the deal includes margaritas and not just mimosas. In addition to Mission’s familiar margaritas on tap, Salazar cocktails include a “smoky skinny” option with mezcal and a dark ’n’ stormy.
El Centro’s iconic basement bar, which flipped into a sweaty salsa club on weekends, will also live on at Salazar. This time around, the refreshed drinking den will host rotating DJs on Fridays and Saturdays and offer overflow seating at brunch.
El Centro regulars should feel right at home, he says. Mission Group’s largely cosmetic makeover included fresh paint, updated lighting, and greenery.
“El Centro had a great run but it was an older building — our main interest was sprucing it up,” he says.
In 2017, El Centro came under fire for denying a Black man entrance at the door for wearing Converse sneakers on a Saturday night. In response, El Centro fired the bouncer who denied the patron entry — and did away with the no-sneaker policy.
At Salazar, “there’s no dress code, no cover,” Landry assures.
The multi-level setup can seat 75 and has a 260-person capacity. He says the large outdoor component up top should be a big selling point.
“We only open places with big rooftops and big patios,” he says. Mission will next bring Navy Yard a massive new beachy bar called Royal Sands Social Club, which just started construction. An opening is scheduled for May, he says.
Salazar’s opening weekend coincides with D.C.’s new proof of vaccination requirement in order to enter bars and restaurants.
“People are definitely ready to go out,” he says. “We’ve rolled with the punches on the various policies and changes. The vast majority of our customers are understanding.”