Since opening in December 2009, Ping Pong Dim Sum (900 7th Street, NW) quickly faded into the plethora of Chinese, Thai, and other Pan-Asian restaurants permeating the Chinatown, Penn Quarter, and Mount Vernon Triangle neighborhoods and providing reliably enjoyable menu choices. Yet Ping Pong’s bar received precious little fanfare.
I was determined to discover the reason behind this absence of attention. The bar is not small by any means, meaning it wasn’t simply an afterthought to the restaurant itself. And the cocktail menu uses a number of intriguing ingredients: lychee juice; elderflower liqueur; and tea leaves.
So I visited Ping Pong early in the week and a short while after the dinner crowd’s departure; perhaps with only few patrons present I might elicit the true explanation.
I settled upon their Asian Manhattan – a standard (and favorite) cocktail that was mixed with plum wine. Comparatively speaking, it sounds like a conservative selection when considering my other choices. Yet I realized their cocktail menu was precisely just that: a list of conservative, traditional drinks punctuated by exotic Asian flavors: a Sidecar made with vanilla and chili spices; a Cosmopolitan with shochu and shiso leaves; and a Mint Julep infused with Earl Gray tea. My Manhattan was like visiting an old friend who had just returned from the Orient, newly inspired by the region’s tastes and flavor experimentation; familiar yet changed, for the better.
Other patrons enthusiastically enjoyed the bar’s unique take on traditional margaritas and mojitos, served up in short order by a friendly and particularly talkative bartender. All in all, a fine combination of style and substance: prompt and courteous service; a variety of drinks boasting creative ingredients; and packaged in a upscale but not-too-trendy atmosphere.
At night’s end, I still didn’t have an answer for the bar’s lack of notoriety. I had a great time and a few great drinks, and was happy to find another great neighborhood location to enjoy an evening cocktail or two.
THF is a Penn Quarter resident who blogs about the culture of drinking at thehipflask.wordpress.com.