Bloomingdale’s New Retro Drinking Den Is a ‘Cool Grandpa’s Basement’

Bloomingdale’s Pub & the People has secretly had a hospitality venture cooking right in its own basement for years, and the team is finally ready to unveil the compact drinking den it’s calling Side Door.

The surprise new sibling bar, opening Friday, December 10, is accessible from a set of stairs on North Capitol Street (1648 North Capitol Street NW). There’s room for just 25 customers at a time to chill out over barrel-aged cocktails and massive vinyl soundtrack in a throwback setting frozen in time.

A wall of vinyls at Side Door

A library of 1,000 vinyl records donated from friends and family sit inside in-wall shelves, a design feature inspired by famed D.C. architect Hugh Newell Jacobsen.
Leo Lee for Side Door

Stained wood wall paneling, Midcentury modern furniture, vinyl-covered seats, vintage beer posters, darts, and even a pay phone near the bar help create a scene straight out of the late 1970s to early 1990s.

A signage of Side Door.

Follow a row of descending retro stripes painted on Pub & the People’s building to find Side Door.
Leo Lee for Side Door

Pub partner Matt Murphy sums up the look as a “cool grandpa’s basement,” adding “we want there to be a nostalgic quality to it, amidst an old-meets-new modern music system and drink list.”

To start, Side Door will be open on Friday and Saturday nights, from 6 p.m. to 1 a.m., with food until 10 p.m. Weekday hours will be added in the new year based on demand, and the whole room can be rented out for a private party or event. Patrons can snag a seat on Resy.

A tiny bar framed in seven vinyl stools sends out cocktails in old-timey glassware. Head bartender Ulf Andreas Ekholm created a “retro-vibes” section with ‘80s names and modern elements. There’s the “Legwarmers” (Barr Hill Gin, saffron syrup, lemon, prosecco, and orange bitters), and a “Trapper Keeper” stars a rarely seen whiskey (Mellow Corn) along with falernum, lemon, Hamilton Pot Still, and black rum.

A bartender behind the bar

Side Door head bartender Ulf Andreas Ekholm ironically helmed another D.C. bar with the word “door” (Left Door).
Leo Lee for Side Door

A bartender shaking a cocktail behind the bar

Side Door’s bar itself seats just seven customers at a time.
Leo Lee for Side Door

The bar is stocked with some pricey bottles that grandpa might break out for a special occasion, like Pappy Van Winkle Bourbons, Blue Run Rye, and De Borgen Old Style Genever. The draft beer list is the same as the one up top. An abbreviated dinner menu from upstairs includes options like grilled curry wings, house-ground burger, and charred Brussels sprouts.

A pay phone with a cocktail up top

The pay phone even gets its own namesake cocktail, filled with Libelula tequila, blood orange, lime, and absinthe.
Tierney Plumb/Eater DC

Side Door’s cocktail menu ($9-$16) also includes upstairs favorites like its beloved Moscow mule and barrel-aged options like a mezcal negroni, aged six to 12 weeks in-house.

“I’m in love with the barrel aged cocktails, and fortunately we had plenty of time to get ahead on those time-intensive tasties,” says Murphy.

Since opening in 2015, Pub always planned to flip the basement storage space into “some version of a chill, unpretentious speakeasy type of venue,” he says. The team let Little Wild Things City Farm use the space for a few years while they were getting established. The pandemic put the basement bar back on hold, even though it was largely completed.

“Over the past two or so years, it’s been the best office space and employee lounge ever,” he says.

The biggest conversation starter for its first real guests will likely be that pay phone near the bar. The Ebay purchase seemed like a “funny and fitting” feature that plays into its nostalgic theme.

“As far as we know, it works, but we wouldn’t dare connect it out of fear it would never stop ringing,” he says.

A row of albums at Side Door.

Since old records can skip and need to be tended to, the bartender does double duty as DJ and won’t take requests (but private parties can pluck and play whatever they want).
Leo Lee for Side Door

Up at Pub & the People, a daily happy hour recently returned and its winterized patio now takes reservations for its fire pits. The restaurant group is also behind Chinatown’s gastropub Present Company.