In the basement of Barrel, a whiskey joint just east of the Capitol in Washington, DC, there’s a speakeasy. It’s normally named the Elixir Bar; it sometimes features more explicit themes—tiki, for example—just for the fun of it. For the past couple of weeks, though, Elixir has taken on a pop-up theme that is both especially timely and especially appropriate for the bar’s Pennsylvania Avenue address: the 2016 GOP presidential nominee. Theme: Make Cocktails Great Again.
The bar is not a tribute to Donald Trump; it is instead, effectively, a live-action satire of him. The speakeasy (nom de pop-up: The Trump Elixir Bar) is aimed at clientele who do not support Trump, and who in fact do not support him so vehemently that they find pleasure in mocking him. It has, as the word about it has spread, presented itself as a kind of catharsis-via-cocktail.
But the real catharsis, a visit to the bar makes clear, comes not so much by way of booze as by way of … selfies. And grams. And snaps. The bar, as you’d expect, offers its patrons a selection of Trump-themed cocktails (including the “Part of the Beauty of Me Is That I Am Very Rich,” a $50 mint julep, and the “I Beat China All the Time. All the Time”—composed of soju, pineapple rum, pineapple, mint, lime, sugar, and Chinese five spice). The sell here, though, isn’t so much the cheekily named craft cocktails as it is the theme park-style appreciation of Donald J. Trump, the human and the meme and the brand. The Trump Elixir Bar suggests not just how deeply the 2016 campaign has permeated the culture of the city that the election’s victor will soon call home; it also suggests how deeply entrenched politics themselves have become in American culture. It’s hard to tell, in the Trump Elixir Bar, where politics ends and everything else begins—and that, indeed, is part of the point.