Tom Brown’s new D.C. bar is an authentic ode to Tiki. So don’t expect to see ticky-tacky kitsch in the form of thatched roofs or bamboo torches when you vist Hogo.
Guests arriving at the bar are greeted by a mural of Bill Murray’s title character in the 2004 movie The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou, painted by local artist Bobby Moore on Hogo’s exterior. Inside, rum fans sip cocktails and sharable—or not—punch bowls amid walls adorned with a zombie Elvis tapestry and the hood of a 1939 Pontiac painted with a topless mermaid.
“Hogo was inspired by the design philosophy of the original Tiki bars—found art, the sense of the exotic, and rum,” says Brown. Tiki Tuesdays at The Passenger, the nearby bar that Brown owns with his younger brother Derek, inspired him to launch an offbeat, laid-back den for those who share his propensity for the sugar-based spirit.
The word “hogo” stems from the French term for high taste, “haut-goût,” but it’s also often used in the Caribbean to characterize that funky, hard-to-describe flavor so common in traditionally aged rums.
Brown is an obsessive rum fanatic, and Hogo offers more than 75 options, from vegetal rhum agricole to spicy and earthy blackstrap rums. He also stocks plenty of bottles of what he deems as other great, unheralded spirits—tequila, mezcal and pisco.
The bar’s signature drink is Tom’s Rum Punch ($9), with El Dorado white rum, Cruzan Blackstrap rum, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, velvet falernum, lime and nutmeg. Brown’s smoky twist on a classic Tiki tipple, the Bahía Ahumada ($11), replaces lightly aged rum for Fidencio mezcal, along with cream of coconut and pineapple.
Hogo is also part of a project called Temporary Works, which strives to bring more late-night dining options to the District. Rotating chefs from D.C. and other markets have the opportunity to serve up their twists on bar food in a Temporary Works diner-style kitchen located in the back of Hogo.
For its first month, The Passenger’s chef Javier Duran cooked Hawaiian diner food favorites like Loco Moco (a burger patty and fried egg served with rice and gravy), and traditional mixed plates.
Rogue 24 chef Robert Cooper recently offered his avant-garde take on what he called “gypsy street food,” like sweet pea emulsion with bay crab and espelette pepper ($9), and veal sweetbreads with cauliflower puree and an apple-bacon raviogote ($14).
Other chefs have highlighted Jewish deli fare and Swedish cuisine.
Of course, no Tiki temple would be complete without communal concoctions served in scorpion bowls, topped with overproof rum and ignited. Hogo’s Volcano Bowl ($25) mixes Lemon Hart rum, Appleton Estate rum, El Dorado Gold rum, maple syrup, lime and grapefruit.
Another Bowl called They’re All Bastards ($25) combines Virginia Gentleman’s Bourbon, Cruzan Blackstrap rum, falernum, Angostura bitters, orange juice, lime juice, brown sugar syrup and ginger beer, garnished with fresh flowers and citrus slices. “This drink epitomizes the spirit of Hogo,” Brown says. “It’s fun, intimate and a little unexpected.”
Kelly Magyarics is a wine and spirits writer, and wine educator, in the Washington, D.C. area. She can be reached through her website, www.kellymagyarics.com, or on Twitter @kmagyarics.