Update (July 6): The Bluebird Cocktail Room is now open, according to owner Paul Benkert. Operating hours for the Hampden bar (3600 Hickory Ave., third floor) are 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday-Thursday and 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Sunday.
Paul Benkert named his new Hampden bar after a Charles Bukowski poem that deals with self-reflection and vulnerability, emotions that some would say go hand-in-hand with a cocktail.
"There's a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out but I pour whiskey on him and inhale cigarette smoke," it partially reads.
"It's a little bit harsh," Benkert said of "Bluebird," "but it kind of sums up the soul, mixed in with drinking. I think a soulful bar is a wonderful place."
The Bluebird Cocktail Room plans to open by July, Benkert said, on the third floor of 3600 Hickory Ave., above Belgian beer bar De Kleine Duivel. Renovations, nearly a year in the making, are just about complete, he said. Next comes permitting, passing a health inspection and training the staff — but Benkert can see the finish the line to opening his roughly 100-seat, 3,000-square-foot bar.
"I'm basically making a bar that I want to go to," said Benkert, a former bar manager at Woodberry Kitchen.
Expect a heavy Lost Generation-European influence, from the decor and music to the cocktails. Benkert has long had a penchant for the period.
"The first time I was in Paris, I was 11 years old. I was privileged to be brought up in an environment where that Old World-ness was just always around me, and I love it," said Benkert, a 28-year-old Rockville native. "I love the romance."
Benkert wants Bluebird to be known for its cocktails, which will feature nods to other authors like William Faulkner (mint julep) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (gin rickey).
The price point likely will also have people talking.
While most cocktails will fall in the $8-$14 range, at least two will cost around $19, he said. The high price is a reflection of the spirit used, according to Benkert. One example, the Shibui Highball, is made of Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky from Japan, ice, club soda and a lemon slice for garnish. The simple execution is the entire point, he said.
"It's not something that's supposed to be heavily garnished and wow you, and has all sorts of bells and whistles," Benkert said. "It's really for you to appreciate a great quality whisky with great quality ice."
The ice is another element that sets Bluebird apart, he said. Benkert purchased an ice machine that creates a single 300-pound block that the staff then breaks down with power tools. The machine also removes the oxygen from the ice, which results in a noticeably clear cube.
"It makes up such a large part of the drink, and it's been neglected for so long," he said. "A crystal-clear, beautiful ice sphere into an Old Fashioned, and charging $10 for it — that's the best thing I can do for anybody."
Bluebird will also serve food, with an emphasis on bistro snacks and appetizers, like fried sweetbreads, charcuterie and cheese. A selection of entrees — including steak frites, fish and a vegetarian pasta — will be available as well.
Bluebird will operate from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday-Thursday, and 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Sunday. The goal at first, he said, is to serve the Hampden community, which Benkert has been a part of for nearly three years now. (He and his wife Caroline Benkert are Bluebird's majority owners.) He wants to be "a world-class neighborhood joint."
Benkert knows his literary-minded, upscale cocktail bar won't suit everyone. He's OK with that.
"We're never going to be open during the day, and we're never, ever going to do brunch," he said. "I know a lot of people love that, but we're not an 'everything' restaurant. We're going to try and stay as true to our concept as possible."