Update from the Bitches: Cirque is no longer in action.
Party brunches are popping up like spring tulips around D.C. First there was L’Enfant Café & Bar’s La Boum. Then, the boys at Napoleon Bistro & Lounge decided they were going to break off from the La Bouming and start their own party. More recently, we’ve seen invites for Lost Society’s Champagne Campaign and Neyla’s Koodeta brunch.
But what makes a successful, fun party brunch in D.C.? They are notably different from the ragers in New York (most things in D.C. are, after all). I liked La Boum because it started off as a restaurant brunch, then they zipped up the blinds, pumped up the music, and started spraying champagne. Maybe it was the progression and pace that I appreciated.
Last Saturday I went to Napoleon Bistro & Lounge to check out its party brunch, called Le Cirque, which Timur Tugberk started with John-Michael Villarama. Instead of taking over the beautiful, vampy, baroque restaurant upstairs, Tim and John-Michael send their guests down into the basement and into the little bar underneath the restaurant.
This dark room with gold damask wallpaper would be a great place to brunch in if you were coming off a 14-hour cocaine binge and desperately needed to keep the party going. It would also be great if the weather outside was total shit. Alas, I was experiencing neither of these scenarios. It was a beautiful day, and I was sober and not really in the right state of mind to be jumping into a club atmosphere at 2 p.m. on a Saturday.
The brunch started off fine. Timur and John-Michael were extremely welcoming and kind hosts. The carafes of mimosas and Marys were always full at our table. We even got a “you Bitches aren’t drinking fast enough” playful slap on the wrist from Timur, who was clad in a cardi with a big red bowtie.
We were a table of six, which included one random person who had decided to join us from another party. I loved that first impression: that other tables were welcoming and eager to meet other people. It, unfortunately, ended with that one person. As much as I drunkenly attempted to start conversations with other people during the course of the party, I was woefully unsuccessful. And I’m usually pretty good at making new friends in drunken situations.
There was a huge, long table in the center of the tiny room, which was reserved for a big birthday party. Those guests started to arrive, decked out in campy gear, masks and wigs. We clearly missed the masks-and-wigs memo. Besides our table and that long table, there were two corner couches with low coffee tables. That is the extent of the seating. So, a small party in a small room.
The DJ is set up on a pedestal at the entrance to the room, and there’s a long bar against the far wall, to which you pay you $35 upon arrival. The music is loud and thumping from the beginning, and it’s slightly hard to talk to others at your table. There is no “kick off” to the brunch party, really; you just arrive and the party is already going. At some point the lights dim a bit.
We were urged to get food from the buffet, and told that there would quickly be a line forming. We jumped at it. In the metal heated cases were French toast, spiced potatoes, and scrambled eggs. There was no bacon. In fact, that was it for food. It wasn’t anything amazing, and so it doesn’t merit much more description than that.
We ate quickly, some went back for seconds, and we drank as fast as we could in our attempt to push ourselves into the party mindset. Soon, Timur and John-Michael were clearing tables and people were standing. Some were dancing, but there weren’t enough people to fill the entire room, and so we stood along the perimeter, observing, somewhat awkwardly, much like a middle school dance.
At one point a burlesque dancer took the stage. Except there was no stage, and so this strange creepy woman just sort of circled people in the room, taking bits of clothing off, until someone realized that she was a performer, and then we made some space. As the clothes shed, a circle grew and cameras came out, but she didn’t take much off—she just got down to her skivvies and then shimmied off. Lame. And awkward.
Timur and John-Michael kept bouncing around with carafes of mimosas, refilling.
The birthday girl from the big table got a cupcake cake lit with candles, presented to her by a pimp with a black wig and big gold chain. The music stopped. The entire room sang happy birthday. Who the hell is this girl? I have no idea. Again: awkward.
We stuck around for three hours, attempting to enjoy ourselves, attempting to get drunk, attempting to talk to other people, but eventually we lost patience and nipped out to get back into the sunlight. It was a beautiful day outside, and so we sat out on Napoleon’s gorgeous patio, on its comfy cushions outside, and lapped it up.
After a few glass of champagne and some delicious, incredible desserts, I went back downstairs to use the restroom, and poked my head in the party room, to see how it was raging. It was desolate. Everyone had cleared out well before the expected 5 p.m. kick out. Sad.
The Bitches say: C+ Too trashy nightclub, not enough fabulous, friendly brunch rager.