May 28, 2014 at 11:00 am EDT | by Jonathan Howard
Red Light makeover
Red Light Cocktail and Dessert Bar, gay news, Washington Blade

Red Light Cocktail and Desert Bar (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Red Light Cocktail and Dessert Bar

1401 R St., N.W.

Mon-Fri., 4 p.m. (no closing time specified)

Sat-Sun, noon (no closing time specified)


Red Light Cocktail and Dessert Bar (1401 R St. N.W.) opened in April in the space previously occupied by Bar di Bari, a wine bar concept that failed over the winter. The same group that created Bar di Bari created the new concept: partners Aaron Gordon, Robert Underwood and brothers Ari and Micah Wilder.

The name, an homage to 14th Street’s less-than-pure past, is a bold choice, as is the concept of serving mainly desserts and adult beverages. Boozy desserts, handcrafted cocktails, champagne and chocolate will be the majority of the menu which will be served Monday-Friday starting at 4 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday starting at noon with a happy hour every day from 4-7 p.m.

My first trip to Red Light was for the sole purpose of enjoying a couple happy hour drinks with a friend, a simple night consisting of beverages and light banter. While I appreciate happy hour service that is somewhat laid back, a great way to relax, I do also like to be served my first drink within the first 15 minutes of sitting down. My subsequent visits were intended to explore the menu as well as see if the inadequate service would improve. While the wait staff seemed informed and energetic, they also seemed overwhelmed and the overall service was lackluster on all occasions.

Once your waiter arrives and you have your menu, you notice that there are plenty of specialty drinks to choose from with rare or creative ingredients shaken and stirred into most concoctions. Aperol, Winter Fruit, Old Overholt Rye, Rose Bitters, Darjeeling black tea, Absinthe, Star Anise, Peychauld’s Bitters, Mole Cacao Bitters, Stone Fruit Nectar, Cotton Candy and much more all appear on the cocktail menu.

I tried a drink called the Street Corner Girl since I was sitting on a street corner at an establishment called Red Light. This fresh concoction was my favorite there with the rum, coconut liqueur, pineapple and champagne created a nice summer spritzer. Another well thought-out and tasty drink was the Cobblestone, which consisted of bourbon, apricot liqueur, mint and peach served in a copper mug. The Mexican Standoff, under the slushy section of the drink menu, was a poorly balanced drink with the cayenne pepper not only overpowering the mango nectar, but the entire drink entirely masking all other flavors. The Mad Men was also a one-dimensional drink that despite gin, grapefruit, honey nectar and being lit on fire when it is served, still lacked excitement. On one occasion my white wine arrived to the table warm and champagne arrived flat.

There are a few bar bites on the menu as well as a cheese plate, which I indulged in on my first visit. It’s hard to upset me when there is cheese, so I was pleased with the offerings there. The centerpiece of the menu is still the dessert, from milk chocolate crumb cake, to goat cheese custard, donuts and cookies are all available in one form or another. The dessert special was a rhubarb brown betty with a cardamom crème fraiche gelato. We also split the Mexican Chocolate tart with cajeta, house made marshmallow fluff and cacao nib Chantilly. The tart was rich and flavorful but dry; but the Chantilly almost made up for it. The brown betty was a tasty pile of crumb topping and not much more, but the gelato also made up for a multitude of sins with this dish.

Overall, the partners behind Red Light have a solid idea in place that could develop into a successful concept restaurant. After all, as owner Aaron Gordon says, “Who doesn’t love delicious chocolate and champagne?” We all love delicious chocolate and champagne when the anticipated products are delivered flawlessly. A little more finessing of the desserts and drinks and some more attentive service at Red Light will help them rise above mediocre, a level that will not survive on 14th Street.

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