In March, Drink Company announced that its summer pop-up bar, “Levels Unlocked PUB,” would be esports themed. Sure, that sounds cool (if not totally geeky). But how exactly will the virtual gaming world come to life in a way that appeals to the bar-hopping crowds of Shaw?
According to Drink Company’s Matt Fox and Adriana Salame-Aspiazu—the design team that brought us the Game of Thrones and Royal Wedding-themed bars—the latest space will feel like “stepping through the television” and into the gaming world. Open from July 18 through Sept. 29, the pop-up will focus on three games: Overwatch, Super Smash Bros Ultimate, and NBA2K. Each game will have a dedicated room featuring themed cocktails, live gameplay, and art of the main characters.
“This pop-up bar scratches two itches for me,” says Drink Company president Derek Brown. “I’m excited to see the characters and environments come to life off the screen. But I never reached the level of ‘gamer,’ and I want to see that too. It feels like a way to see what esports is all about over a drink—win, win. Also, dragons. I’ve become a fan of drinking alongside dragons.”
Drink Company is partnering with Events DC (the city’s convention and sports authority) for the pop-up and plans to host game watches and meet-and-greets with players from NB2K’s Wizards District Gaming, NRG’s Smash player Nairo, and the local Overwatch League team, Washington Justice. Events DC CEO Greg O’Dell says the bar will have nightly open play for each game and scheduled tournaments throughout the summer as well as performances from popular DJs in the esports community.
The Overwatch room will focus on the design team’s favorite characters, Genji and Hanzo. It’s decorated like the Hanamura map known for its quiet village streets, temple grounds, and cherry blossoms. (Sounds familiar, no?)
“We thought Hanamura was a beautiful location and very recognizable in the game,” Fox says. “We really loved the spirit dragons that are Genji and Hanzo’s ultimate weapons. So we’ll have some really cool versions of their spirit dragons at the bar. It’s gonna be trippy.”
In addition, three 15-foot-long dragons made of corrugated plastic and electroluminescent wire will hang from the ceiling and curl around the room.
Gamers can sip on drinks like the “Winston,” a whiskey cocktail with clarified milk, peanut butter, and banana. The drink is an ode to the Overwatch hero whose favorite snack is a banana dipped in peanut butter. Tracer, a British character, gets her own cocktail made with Pimm’s, sherry, ginger, and lemon Perrier.
Salame-Aspiazu, who grew up playing Nintendo’s multiplayer fighting game Super Smash Bros, says the team spent hours playing the games and watching videos about the characters’ backstories to draw inspiration.
“I could make like ten more Super Smash Bros bars,” Salame-Aspiazu says. She “basically made a shrine to Kirby,” her favorite player, and created a design based on the “World of Light” story mode maps. Fans of characters Peach and Pikachu will enjoy the Princess Peach cocktail, a variation of a Pisco sour (but with peach, of course) and the Pikachu-Hi, a take on the chu-hi, Japan’s popular session cocktail.
Fox says the NBA 2K19 room will be outfitted with about 700 basketballs that will hang from the ceiling “like a basketball cave.” The balls, 600 of which are regulation size and 100 are miniature, were shipped directly from a company in China. The walls and ceiling will mirror NBA 2K19’s graffiti-scrawled cover art, but with sketches of easily recognizable DC monuments and players from DC esports teams.
To drink, there will be a GOATorade cocktail (a riff on the Greatest Of All Time tag given to the best players) that mimics the look and taste of blue Gatorade without using the sports drink as an ingredient. Instead, the gin cocktail incorporates blue curacao, coconut water, Himalayan pink salt, and lemon.
Levels Unlocked PUB, 1839 7th St., NW. July 18 through September 29.