Allegory DC honors black bartenders through cocktail series

Media Credit: Arielle Bader | Assistant Photo Editor

The Eaton Hotel depicts Ruby Bridges, the then-6-year-old who was the first person to desegregate a Louisiana school, on a mural in the hotel lobby.

On a wraparound mural in Eaton Hotel, 6-year-old and the first person to desegregate a Louisiana school Ruby Bridges is depicted slaying the monstrous Jabberwocky on a mural.

Just as the makers of the hotel made homage to Bridges, the restaurant’s bar is trying to highlight black bartenders through a cocktail series.

Allegory DC – Eaton Hotel’s cocktail bar, located a mile off campus – launched a series Friday to honor black history by showcasing the work of black bartenders. The series’ organizers said Allegory will offer a cocktail menu until December featuring the work five historical and five local black bartenders to honor the mixologists who never received proper recognition for their practice.

Head bartender Paul Gonzales said he wanted to create the series to complement “BLKNWS,” an art installation in the Eaton Hotel lobby by filmmaker Kahlil Joseph. As guests enter the hotel, two adjacent screens roll historical and contemporary footage of monumental moments in black history.

“‘BLKNWS’ is hyper-focused to the black lens, tying in past historical events to ones in the present to tell a bigger narrative,” Gonzales said. “That was one of the things we want to tie into the cocktail bar.”

In addition to the series, Allegory will host a mixology class on the last Sunday of each month designed and presented by one of the five local bartenders – Andra Johnson, Lauren Paylor, Kapri Robinson, Duane Sylvestre and Al Thompson. People who want to attend the class can buy tickets online once prices and times are announced on social media.

The 10 drinks featured on the series menu are unique to each of the 10 bartenders, who have created their own custom drinks. The first half of the menu focuses on historical figures like Dick Francis, a man born into slavery who, once freed after the Civil War, bartended for the U.S. Senate.

For Thompson, one of the mixologists and the bar director of Hanumanh, a Lao bar in Shaw, participating in the series is personal. Thompson said he has historically recognized people of color as “the unsung heroes behind the big name chefs and beverage gurus” but can use the series to instead highlight people of color for their talents.

Thompson calls his cocktail “Tears from a Thousand Swords” to remember the people of color who died at the hands of colonizers in the Caribbean. Each of the ingredients represents a historical European power, like Benedictine for France and allspice – a spice derived from the unripe berries of the pimento tree – for England.

“It’s served over crushed ice in a black glass to represent the sadness and mourning of the many lives lost to acquire the Caribbean Islands,” Thompson said. “It’s garnished with gold powder to represent the pursuit of riches that drove these European powers to kill the natives that were already there and also to bring people from Africa.”

Lauren Paylor, the general manager of Dos Mamis, a bar located at 819 Upshur St. NW, said she takes pride in her custom cocktails after competing in the 2019 World Class National Finals as one of the top 15 bartenders in the United States. For the Allegory series, Paylor said she prepared the Loco Bananas, a “fun, delicious, crisp libation” with Catoctin Creek rye, banana, lime and Angostura bitters.

“It is the very first cocktail that I ever created,” she said. “I thought it would be cool to place emphasis on where I started as a beverage professional.”

Paylor said people should know the impact that people of color make on the D.C. community, and events like the Allegory series will help others personally recognize artists’ achievements and skills from underrepresented communities.

“My hope is that we can continue to be represented among the crowd for our accolades and accomplishments just as any other person would,” Paylor said. “We have such a beautiful industry full of talented, hard-working people, and that is something that deserves to be respected.”

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