Restaurants have gotten pretty creative with their outdoor spaces: igloos, Swiss ski chalets, Viking huts. At the globally inspired small plates restaurant Compass Rose, just off 14th Street, the team realized their streatery looked kind of like a train. So, they recently recruited the duo behind some of DC’s most elaborate pop-up bars to transform it into a Trans-Siberian Railway car, where diners can enjoy a Russian-inspired menu along with infused vodkas.
The elaborate setup, dubbed “Karenina’s Carriage”, is a major upgrade from the the tented parking spot patio the restaurant started with last fall. “It was fine. It just still felt really sterile,” says owner Rose Previte. “We had tents blowing away.”
The restaurant upgraded to a sturdier structure, which was just the right size for a train car. The idea for Compass Rose was actually born on the Trans-Siberia Railway, which Rose’s husband, David Greene (formerly a host of NPR’s Morning Edition), was reporting on while the two were living Moscow. Greene wrote a book, Midnight in Siberia, based on that three-and-a-half-week train trip.
“The train is a huge part of my life—and Compass Rose,” Previte says. If she was going to bring one to Compass Rose, she had to go all out. So, she called Matt Fox and Adriana Salame-Aspiazu, who previously designed Drink Company’s over-the-top themed pop-up bars, including the Christmas wonderland, the Game of Throne‘s Seven Kingdoms, and the cherry blossom garden with an animatronic Godzilla (among many others).
The outside of the streatery is covered in a train-like wrap, which was donated by liquor brand sponsors. The heated interior fits six tables separated by partitions inspired by old railway cars. Star-shaped lights hang from an arched ceiling, and windows are outfitted with red curtains. A bookcase houses matryoshka dolls and Russian political, history, and guide books, plus copies of Anna Karenina and Midnight in Siberia.
“All Russian homes—it’s a very post-Soviet, Eastern European thing—have these beautiful bookshelves full of books,” says Previte. “There’s roots in that: so much was censored for so long, and books were so valuable for education.”
Director of Business Development Jess Weinstein conceptualized a “Russian Zakuski” menu, where hearty bites are chased with vodka. The $55 prix-fixe feast includes borscht, blini, kebabs, and the restaurant’s famed khachapuri (cheese-filled bread)—plus a carafe of dill-infused vodka for the table. There is also a series of Russian-inspired cocktails, including martinis and warm drinks.
The Trans-Siberian Railway car will stick around through March, but Rose says the idea is to keep the “train” and change the decorations throughout the year to reflect different travel destinations. Next up: a European backpacker theme.
“What would people normally be doing in late spring, early summer? They would be backpacking, right? Europass, remember that?,” Previte says. “The whole idea is to travel you through this last year, hopefully, of Covid and keep everybody just thinking about the trips they’re going to take when they can.”