Behind the bookshelves of the Radical Library at the Eaton DC—an innovative hotel in Washington, DC that’s been designed for thoughtful travelers with a concern for activism—one finds Allegory, an immersive cocktail bar of exceptional quality adorned with Alice in Wonderland-inspired murals. Deke Dunne, Allegory’s head bartender and beverage director, has been there since the venue’s opening in 2018. And during his tenure, he’s brought an exploratory urgency to the craft of cocktail-making. Wyoming-born Dunne has been bartending since he was 21. He also stepped away from a nine-year political career to place hospitality first. And seeing him hustle behind the bar while explaining why he loves what he’s doing is a perfect (and authentic) pairing for his elaborate concoctions.
“The art informs the cocktails,” Dunne says of the murals by Erik Thor Sandberg. These works breathe life into the moody bar. “The goal is to create an installation as opposed to a cocktail menu. It’s a full production. There’s a theatrical element. This space calls for it. I had thought about doing thematic menus before but had never been in a space where themes made sense.” Dunne intends to reimagine the cocktail menu every six months on conjunction with new artistic additions.
“I’m very excited about the next menu,” Dunne says. “We partnered with Erik Thor Sandberg, the artist of the mural, and he gave us eight pieces of original art that read similar to a children’s book—a dark, disturbing children’s book at that. It’s going to tell the story of Alice/Ruby slaying the Jabberwocky. It kind of fills in the gaps in the mural from a narrative perspective. We are going to be doing all new cocktails along with it, that explore the idea of a portmanteau, where we mash two ideas together. Whether the portmanteau is the mash-up of two cocktails, two cultures, I really left it up to the bartenders to run wild with the idea.”
The three cocktails from the current menu that we highlight below, we experienced at Allegory in late November. Though they’re complex to construct, their inclusion here showcases the sheer magic happening behind the bar. The recipes are measured in grams not ounces—and batch measurements can be found in parenthesis for two of the three, as the Allegory team batch-makes certain beverages in advance. From the curious components to the very specific brand choices, Dunne demonstrates that he is a sensory artist crafting with nuance, and through these drinks (or any of the others served at the bar) it’s beyond evident that what he’s doing is extraordinary.
They Can’t Kill Us
Milk punch fans will delight over They Can’t Kill Us. Despite all of the diverse components—from amontillado to yuzu, whiskey and rum—the final product is one uniform silken experience. It offers a creamy mouthfeel without any milkiness. This is thanks partially to the inclusion of Ube Gomme, derived from the Filipino yam, which lends the drink its purple color, too.
They Can’t Kill Us
35gr (2100gr) Equiano Original Aged Afro-Caribbean Rum
13gr (780gr) Starward Twofold Whiskey
8gr (480gr) Giffards Banana
8gr (480gr) Amontillado
17gr (960gr) Yuzu juice
.18gr (10.8gr) Salt
58gr (2280gr) kefir
58gr (2280 gr) Milk
16gr (960gr) Ube Gomme
Build the ingredients in a cambro, but leave out the kefir and milk at first. Once everything is combined in the cambro, add the kefir and milk and let sit for at least 30 minutes. The longer you let it sit, the better. The protein in the milk and kefir reacts with the acid in the yuzu and sherry, causing it to curdle. When you are ready to strain, set up four cambros all with chinois strainers. Dump the batch into one, through a chinois strainer, until it is almost full. Once the liquid coming out turns clear, transfer the strainer to a clean cambro. Rinse the cambro you just used and repeat the process. Eventually, you will have four chinois strainers full of the batch all straining a clear liquid. If at any point one of the cambros becomes cloudy, dump the contents into one of the other strainers and restart the straining process. The straining process will take all day or night. Once the straining is done, combine all the cambros into one. Add the Ube Gomme syrup and stir. Taste for balance. Pour four ounces of batch over a rock and serve on a light-up coaster—if you have one.
The Queen’s Gambit
The Queen’s Gambit, named for the famous chess move, is an elegant, experimental play on an Old Fashioned that uses Japanese whisky—and so much more—to modify the experience. Unfurling notes from Calvados, Mr Black and Soba Cha noodle water, as well as a fiery (and boozy) finish, continue to emphasize the unexpected.
The Queen’s Gambit
21.2gr (1272gr) Mars Iwai Japanese Whisky
17.3gr (1038gr) Fortified wine blend (cream, Amontillado, Tawny Port)
14gr (840gr) Calvados
3.3gr (198gr) Giffards Banana
3.3gr (198gr) Laphroaig 10 Year Scotch
0.9gr (54gr) Mr Black coffee liqueur
6.5gr (390gr) Sake lees syrup
35.43gr (2125.8gr) Soba Cha noodle water
Combine ingredients into a cambro and stir. Measure out 4 oz of cocktail and pour into a double rocks glass with a clear ice cube. Flame a Wray & Nephew White Overproof Rum/Laphroaig 10 mixture over the top and serve on a chess board coaster.
Looking at the ingredient list of the Jabberwocky cocktail might call to mind the nonsensical poem by Lewis Carroll with which it shares a name. There’s mezacal, of course, but paired with rum, amaro, aged and fermented chili brine and more. As with the poem, however, everything works in together for an unprecedented experience. The fermented chili brine (which, yes, is aged) lends a savory sensibility that pairs nicely with the last-minute introduction of pineapple and lime juice. Altogether, it’s otherworldly and unlike anything else we’ve ever tried.
21gr El Silencio Mezcal Espadín
28gr Rum/Cachaca blend
7gr Don Ciccio and Figle Ambrosia
28gr Ras El Hanout syrup
5gr Aged fermented chili brine
.3gr Bogart Bitters
21.26gr Fresh-squeezed pineapple juice
21.26gr Fresh-squeezed lime juice
Mix ingredients—except pineapple and lime juices—in a cambro to create a Jabberwocky batch. Once you’re done, measure out three ounces of your Jabberwocky batch to a shaker tin. Add .75 ounce of fresh lime juice and .75 ounce of fresh-squeezed pineapple juice. Add a small scoop of crushed ice and whip shake the ingredients until the ice has melted. This will give you a frothy, delicious head on your cocktail. Dump into a glass, top with crushed ice and flame some Ras El Hanout spice over the top.
Images courtesy of Allegory