Behind the shelves of the Radical Library at Eaton DC, an innovative Washington, DC hotel designed for thoughtful activist-minded travelers, is 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 opened in 2018. And during his tenure, he brought exploratory urgency to the art of cocktail making. Born in Wyoming, Dunne has been a bartender since the age of 21. He also stepped away from a nine-year political career to prioritize hospitality. And seeing him jostle behind the bar while explaining why he loves what he does is a perfect (and genuine) match for his elaborate concoctions.
“Art informs cocktails,” says Dunne of the murals by Erik Thor Sandberg. These works bring the moody bar to life. “The goal is to create an installation as opposed to a cocktail menu. It’s a full production. There is a theatrical element. This space calls for it. I had already thought about making thematic menus, but I had never been in a space where the themes made sense. Dunne intends to reinvent the cocktail menu every six months in conjunction with new artistic additions.
“I’m very excited for the next menu,” says Dunne. “We partnered up with Erik Thor Sandberg, the artist on the mural, and he gave us eight original works of art that look like a children’s book, a dark and disturbing children’s book. He’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 standpoint. We are going to make new cocktails with it, which explore the idea of a coat rack, where we crush two ideas together. Whether the coat rack is the mix of two cocktails, two cultures, I really left it up to the bartenders to go wild with the idea.
The three cocktails from the current menu that we highlight below, we tried them out at Allegory at the end of November. Although they are complex to build, their inclusion here shows the pure magic that goes on behind the bar. Recipes are measured in grams, not ounces – and batch measurements can be found in parentheses for two of the three, as the Allegory team makes some drinks ahead of time. From curious components to very specific brand choices, Dunne demonstrates that he is a sensory artist who creates with nuance, and through these drinks (or any of the others served at the bar) it is more than obvious what he does is extraordinary.
They can’t kill us
Fans of milk punch will be delighted with They Can’t Kill Us. Despite all the miscellaneous components, from amontillado to yuzu, whiskey and rum, the end product is a consistent silky experience. It offers a creamy mouthfeel without any milky character. This is in part thanks to the inclusion of Ube Gomme, a derivative of Filipino yam, which also gives the drink its purple color.
They can’t kill us
35gr (2100gr) Equiano Original Aged Afro-Caribbean rum
13gr (780gr) Starward Twofold Whiskey
8gr (480gr) Banana Giffards
8gr (480gr) Amontillado
17gr (960gr) Yuzu juice
.18gr (10.8gr) Salt
58gr (2280gr) of kefir
58gr (2280 gr) Milk
16gr (960gr) Ube Gum
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 stand for at least 30 minutes. The longer you let it sit, the better. The proteins in milk and kefir react with the acid in yuzu and sherry, causing it to curdle. When you are ready to strain, set up four cambros all with Chinese strainers. Empty the batch in a single, through a Chinese colander, until almost full. Once the liquid that comes out becomes clear, transfer the colander to a clean cambro. Rinse the cambro you just used and repeat the process. Eventually, you will have four full Chinese strainers from the set, all filtering a clear liquid. If at any point one of the cambros becomes cloudy, empty the contents into one of the other strainers and restart the filtration process. The filtering process will take all day or night. Once the draining is done, combine all the cambros into one. Add the Ube Gomme syrup and mix. Taste for balance. Pour four ounces of batch onto a stone and serve on a light coaster, if you have one.
The Queen’s Gambit
Queen’s Gambit, named after the famous chess move, is an elegant experimental game on an Old Fashioned that uses Japanese whiskey – and more – to modify the experience. Notes of Calvados, Mr Black noodle water and Soba Cha as well as a fiery (and alcoholic) finish continue to underline the unexpected.
The Queen’s Gambit
21,2gr (1272gr) Japanese whiskey Mars Iwai
17.3gr (1038gr) Blend of fortified wines (cream, Amontillado, Porto Tawny)
14gr (840gr) Calvados
3.3gr (198gr) Banana Giffards
3.3gr (198gr) Scotch Laphroaig 10 Years
0.9gr (54gr) Mr Black coffee liqueur
6.5gr (390gr) Sake lees syrup
35.43gr (2125.8gr) Soba Cha noodle water
Combine the ingredients in a cambro and stir. Measure 4 oz of the cocktail and pour into a double highball glass with a clear ice cube. Flambé a mixture of Wray & Nephew Overproof / Laphroaig 10 white rum on top and serve on a chessboard-shaped trivet.
Looking at the list of ingredients for the Jabberwocky cocktail, one can think of Lewis Carroll’s absurd poem 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 adds up to an unprecedented experience. The fermented chili brine (which, yes, is aged) imparts a flavorful sensitivity that pairs well with the last minute introduction of pineapple and lime juice. All in all it’s another world and unlike anything we have ever tried.
21gr El Silencio Mezcal Espadín
28gr Rum / Cachaca mix
7gr Don Ciccio and Figle Ambrosia
28gr Ras El Hanout Syrup
5gr Aged fermented pepper brine
.3gr Bogart Bitters
21.26gr Freshly squeezed pineapple juice
21.26gr Freshly squeezed lime juice
Combine the ingredients, except for the pineapple and lime juices, in a cambro to create a Jabberwocky batch. Once you are done, measure three ounces of your batch of Jabberwocky into a cocktail shaker. Add 0.75 ounces of fresh lime juice and 0.75 ounces of freshly squeezed pineapple juice. Add a small scoop of crushed ice and whisk, shaking the ingredients until the ice is melted. This will give you a frothy and delicious head on your cocktail. Pour into a glass, cover with crushed ice and flambé a little Ras El Hanout spices on top.
Images courtesy of Allégorie