In what was once a classic Capitol Hill oyster hall, the new gay bar Orchid (520 8th St., S.E.) has opened its doors, a glamorous homage to ‘20s glitz — with a wink, nod and sashay to contemporary gay culture.
“I wanted to whip out the magic wand just for the needs of the LGBTQ community,” says Timur Tugberk, who opened the bar last month with business partner Diego Gonzalez-Zuniga (both are gay).
Tugberk and his team managed to pull no punches when it came to crafting each aspect of the bar with its audience squarely in mind. Every detail — seating style, menu names, bathroom doorknobs — has both flair and practicality. For the millennials attached to their phones, there’s a charging station. The patio out front is not a beer garden, but a Champagne garden. Rosé is splashed all over the drink menu. The gazpacho is green from millennial-friendly avocado, but arrives sans toast.
Orchid has designs on distinguishing itself from other gay bars, as a complement to the scene that already exists. The mood lighting, soft but not too dark, still allows for well-composed Instagram shots. The 60-foot-long marble bar offers tantalizing views of patrons ordering craft cocktails (changing seasonally, of course) from muscle-bound bartenders. The warm walnut interior is brightened by vintage pink and purple glass lamps in floral patterns as an ode the name of the bar.
“We want Orchid to be a place when people can go before, during and after a date or to meet a future date,” Tugberk says. It’s a place for people to both order a personal mini-bottle of bubbly, drink through a straw or sit down to share a meal.
“Our most distinguishing features are that we wanted to be more of a dining destination versus nightclub or standard gay bar,” Tugberk says.
The menu showcases this as a food-forward destination, created by Executive Chef Brian Guy, who also oversees the other kitchens of Hill Restaurant Group’s establishments. Guy, in coordination with Tugberk and Gonzalez-Zuniga, positioned the menu to be more upscale, to reflect the décor, culture and atmosphere, but to also to get away from the typical bar food that saturates the neighborhood and other bars.
The dishes fit well into a cocktail bar setting. The small plates are made for sharing and casual eating. Dishes will change per the season and are “engineered to be health-positive, natively sourced and uniquely flavored,” Tugberk says.
The menu offers a fairly straightforward, yet higher-end set of dishes. Starters include a fine French cheese platter and avocado and quinoa salad, veggie options like a gorgeously plated purple-and-orange beet carpaccio, and a jumbo shrimp cocktail that feels more 1980s than 1920s, but is just as fun. The menu here is not dissimilar to other cocktail bars in D.C. that have full kitchens, but it strays from carb-heavy and fried dishes, unlike even other gay destinations that sling burgers and mac ‘n’ cheese. Here, cocktails served up are best paired with a fennel and frisee salad (touched up with champagne vinaigrette, of course), not French fries.
There’s also (of course) a brunch party, but it’s a step up. Titled “Post Brunch,” it runs from 1-7 p.m., styled as a sort of afternoon disco party with champagne and oysters.
As for the rest of the drinks, they’re the definition of a craft cocktail menu. Each has a distinct name and flavor profile, with subtle nods to the LGBT community and the Great Gatsby. The signature is the just-sweet-enough Blue Orchid, with whiskey and blueberry syrup; others include a drink straight from 2016 called the Daisy Buchanan that has both rosé and sparkling rosé, in case just one kind wasn’t enough, and an option with a touch of millennial nostalgia called the Samantha (vodka, Cointreau, cranberry juice, sour).
Tugberk and Gonzalez-Zuniga found upscale-yet-attainable concepts in other cities and wanted to replicate that here, ensuring that they created a space that spoke directly to the LGBT spectrum — otherwise known as “a unicorn rainbow version of a bar,” Tugberk says with a smile.