Tucked into a cozy two-story space in the Adams Morgan neighborhood lies a portal to a different world. It's called The Green Zone, and it offers patrons a small sliver of the Middle East.
Entrenched in Middle Eastern hospitality, this unique cocktail bar serves innovative drinks with passion. The bar attracts guests of all backgrounds, and its impressive menu and music selection offer something for everyone. The cocktails are simply a gateway into the vast community owner Chris Hassaan Francke has created with Green Zone; the space serves as a hub of cultural fusion, uniting people over drinks, food and music. Francke passionately explains the process that led to the current space with a relaxed demeanor and a welcoming smile.
Known as "the cocktail guy" among his friends, Francke began a speakeasy in his apartment while he was working for the World Bank. Francke's passions for music, cooking and hospitality combined with the success of his drinks among his friends led the concept to evolve into a series of pop-ups with an initial menu of six drinks.
The brick-and-mortar Adams Morgan bar, which now features a 10-page food and drink menu, opened a few years later in 2018. In three short years, the establishment has made its way into countless "best bars" lists for good reason.
“We encompass the whole Middle East,” Francke says. “If it was part of the original Arab Empire, the Persian Empire, the Ottoman Empire—it’s pretty much all fair game. We have a lot of customers from Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, the Arab world, North Africa [and] the Balkans.”
The food menu offers a selection of casual finger foods, inspired by the foods Francke misses from traveling the Middle East. Of Iraqi descent himself, he has spent extensive time in Beirut and sought to bring staples like Lebanese street-style falafel to his establishment. The mana’ish, hummus and baklava are a few of the other welcome alternatives to Adams Morgan’s late-night jumbo slice pizza.
The extensive drink menu is divided into three sections: classics, seasonal offerings, and a list of “other cocktails we love” with full credit to each drink’s creator. Certain items, like the Iranian-inspired Faloodeh Swizzle, were spur-of-the-moment creations successful enough to earn a spot on the menu.
The classic cocktails are generally the most popular, and the Mint Lemonade and the Ottoman Times take the cake. Originally meant to be a seasonal item, the Mint Lemonade was rendered a classic due to its popularity. It's a refreshing, blended drink served either virgin or complimented by vodka or gin. Labeled an “old-fashioned, Middle East style,” the Ottoman Times remixes the iconic drink with pomegranate and Arabian bitters.
An exposed brick wall climbs up the staircase to the second floor and alludes to the stone bars of Lebanon and Turkey.
“I wanted this to look like some of the bars in Beirut that I’ve been to,” Francke says. “The old-school bars in Beirut are built in these stone buildings with vaults. They tend to all have music but lack dance floors.”
Jokingly dubbed the “Upstairs Club,” the upper floor earns its nickname with a lively atmosphere, expansive bar and compact dance floor. The sound of live music and DJs routinely fills the air. The nostalgia of Lebanese singer Fairuz, the fun and energetic charm of Syrian artist Omar Souleyman, and other musicians' posters and vinyl covers decorate the space. The colorful walls compliment the decor, glittering in blue and gold throughout the two stories.
Moroccan and Indian light fixtures hang above the colorful tile counters created to mirror the pattern of a Moroccan palace floor. Not even the bars’ drip trays were overlooked; ornately crafted by a friend of Francke, their design incorporates a Moroccan geometric pattern. Downstairs, a large commissioned painting of the Johnnie Walker logo is a nod to the drink’s popularity in the Middle East.
“The Middle East is a common cultural space with small degrees of differentiation the further out you go," Francke says, "but there really is a core culture that, regardless of language, everybody celebrates.”
The Green Zone has effectively embodied this idea; the space is as welcoming and festive as it is enthusiastic to share the flavors of the Middle East.
The friendly service, unique drinks, and cool music of The Green Zone will transport you away from DC; visit the cocktail bar for yourself at 2226 18th St NW.
Photography by: Courtesy of The Green Zone