Despite what many think, Washington, D.C.’s food and beverage scene isn’t all power steakhouses and oversize Martinis. And amid its ambitious cocktail dens and bevy of restaurants boasting fusion, international and Mid-Atlantic cuisine, the region is dotted with two spots that transport the vibrant flavors of the Caribbean to the Capital City.
Coffeehouse and casual lunch café by day, Colada Shop evolves to a rum-centric cocktail bar by late afternoon, where residents and visitors sip balanced Daiquiris and creative riffs on the Old Fashioned stirred with aged rum and syrup made from dried berries of the coffee plant.
At the helm is partner and creative director Juan Coronado, who also serves as rum ambassador for Bacardi (and is also an alum of José Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup). We caught up with Coronado, whose wallet-friendly cocktail prices at Colada Shop mean that guests don’t have to stop their exploration at just one drink.
What rum trends are you seeing right now?
This is the era of premium rums. We can see exquisite sugar cane distillates that we never saw on our markets, and this is just the beginning. At Colada Shop, we sometimes use a combination of rums to allow flexibility, and sometimes we pour only one into a drink, which is more straightforward.
How do you go about building a well-balanced cocktail list in a city that’s not considered a rum town?
Understanding guest behaviors and the things that motivate them to go out is key for me in creating beverage menus that can fit their lifestyle. I have to know what’s new and working, what are their eating trends, their music tastes. The cocktails at Colada Shop are a window display of Cuba’s golden era. But we’re putting our own spin on them, basically rethinking the recipes and making them accessible to our guests.
Why is it important to price your cocktails at $8?
Great drinks don’t have to be expensive. It’s important that consumers understand that cocktails are a way of expressing talent, art and business, and that part of the business is very important. I sometimes don’t quite understand why a cocktail should be $20, but I will never have the right to price someone’s art. At Colada Shop, we created a true hospitality niche that fosters the beverage and culinary industry, all woven with the charming and simple Caribbean culture. We wanted to create something affordable, casual and easy to enjoy. I want guests to be able to try all of the cocktails if they want to.
How does the cocktail list at Colada Shop encourage guests to experiment and dive into the rum category?
I always said that there’s a rum for every occasion. We are currently using different styles of rums in our cocktails that makes it easy to understand why a Mojito should always be made with white rum versus dark rum, etc. For me, rum is more than an alcoholic beverage. It represents a culture, and as one, it has so much to offer and showcase.
What drinks are most popular?
When the weather is warm, our Piña Coladas are high in demand; we can barely keep up. Mojitos and Daiquiris are also flying out of the bar into our customers’ hands. These are very refreshing and ubiquitous drinks for the summertime.
What drinks are harder to sell?
A seasonal cocktail we have on our menu is the Babalu, with Bacardí Superior rum, passion fruit, lime and palo santo syrup, garnished with palo santo and cascara dust. It’s amazing, but people have a tendency to go for the classics.
What do you think is most surprising for people on your cocktail list at Colada Shop?
It’s the stories behind the cocktails and also sometimes unexpected ingredients such as cascara and palo santo. I will also say that the quality of our beverages compared to the prices is quite surprising to guests.
How do you plan to evolve the cocktail menu?
We’re always evolving. The broad and rich Cuban culture can’t be expressed on one menu.
Therefore, we are constantly observing and studying the guests’ reactions to our products and slowly add more elements to our menus.
What is the biggest misconception about rum?
Sweetness! People associate rum with sugar, but for example, a classic white rum like Bacardí Carta Blanca has zero carbs and zero sugar once it’s bottled. I’m not saying that the common choice of mixers that we tend to ask for will not change that. But cocktails like the legendary Mismo, with Bacardi Carta Blanca, club soda and a lime wedge, are very refreshing and not sweet at all. The Daiquiri should not be too sweet either but well-balanced.
What’s the one thing you want people to remember after their visit?
That rum is the most versatile and mixable of all spirits.