In any other establishment, a man balancing on the edge of a bar sink wielding a blowtorch would be cause for alarm. At Bonfire, it just means Chad Spangler is about to make a cocktail.
If you’ve walked around Downtown DC in the last month or two, you may have noticed that Bonfire is the newest kid on the 19th Street block. On Monday, their team hosted an eager group of foodies to give them a taste of campfire-themed desserts, smoky libations and savory comfort food with an elaborate twist. Beverage Director Chad Spangler waved guests in and started the evening off with samples of the Snowbunny Cocktail.
Bonfire may be just a month old, but Chad has been molding the DC food scene for quite some time. While he was studying finance at George Washington University, he joined the Founding Farmers team behind the bar, getting a taste for craft cocktails and ultimately leading them to open their sister restaurants in Georgetown and Montgomery County. Fast forward a few years and he’s also got the openings of Red Light, Prospect, and Provision No. 14 under his belt. Bonfire opened its doors two months ago in the location of the former Famous Luigi’s, which closed its doors in 2013 after an astounding 70+ years.
The real estate is a true DC gem. The famous glass atrium still stands proudly at the front of the restaurant where diners can have both an intimate and airy experience. Inside the first floor bar, you’ll find warm lighting, rustic hardwood and high ceilings that keep it feeling spacious.
Bonfire boasts another bar upstairs on the second floor. Upon arrival, we also spied a third staircase; Chad confirmed that plans are in place to eventually open up the rooftop. Yes, PLEASE.
Anyway, back to the food. As its name implies, Bonfire specializes in smokiness. Passed hors d’ouevres included piping hot bone marrow tater tots with Irish cheddar and pork belly sliders that melted in your mouth. Heads especially turned when the server brought out a smoking platter of truffle mac n’ cheese. We were even given a sneak peek of the Duck Waffle entree, which I fully intend to devour on my next visit.
The “Sweet Selections” dessert menu offers an expansive list of delicacies, including six types of s’mores (such as strawberry shortcake and toasted coconut), campfire skillets, seasonal gelato and rice Krispies treats. As delicious as the s’mores were on Monday, I can only imagine how amazing they will taste during the chilly winter months!
Aside from sneaking an inappropriate number of s’mores into my mouth, my favorite part of the evening was the cocktail-making demonstration. Chad previewed “You’re Killin’ Me Smalls,” which is chocolate-infused mezcal and tequila, sugar cane, bitters, roasted marshmallows and maplewood smoke. You’ll notice that Bonfire keeps actual logs lined up along the bar, precisely for the purpose of creating smoke for several of their cocktails. After torching the log, the glass is clamped down over the billowing smoke, which gives the drink a gentle smokiness and doesn’t overtake the palate. In addition to “You’re Killin’ Me Smalls,” the menu also offers whiskey-based and rum-based smoked cocktails.
Bonfire brings a refreshing and starkly unique vibe to the 19th Street family. I have a feeling I’ll be spending many a’ summer night here, and many more in the fall and winter months.