Kit Yarber, general manager of The Passenger, is in the process of transforming the upper floor of the popular Shaw neighborhood bar into Hex, a witch-themed space that will come complete with its own unique drink and food menu, regularly scheduled tarot card readings, and a creepier, mellower feel than its downstairs counterpart.
“It’s going to be very dark,” said Yarber. “It will have a dark ambiance.” He pointed out the purple ceiling lighting that has already been installed and explained that the windows will all be blacked out. He is also curating music playlists specifically for Hex. “I want it to be a juxtaposition from (the bar) downstairs, which is louder and has more of a punk vibe.”
The small size of the space- maximum occupancy for the space is less than forty people- will add to the intimate atmosphere. Yarber explained that though he is not himself a witch he has many friends who do practice witchcraft and that he has been fascinated by the subject since an early age.
With décor ranging from black-painted walls, antique-styled furniture, and artwork reminiscent of Tim Burton’s style that would be at home in any haunted house, Yarber has managed to find the sweet spot between goth bar chic and witch kitsch. “I want to show proper reverence and respect for witchcraft,” he explained. He nixed an early design plan that called for runes to be painted on the wall going up the stairs because they would be inauthentic. “But I also want to have a little fun with it.”
The stuffed unicorn head that adorns the wall across from the top of the stairs shares space with creepy hand sculptures created by Yarber himself. Beautiful lacquered-wood tables with tarot cards embedded in the surfaces to be used for readings, also made by Yarber, further showcase his creative talents.
David Salisbury, co-organizer of DC-based pan-Pagan organization, The Firefly House, appreciates both Yarber’s creative work and his sense of fun. “Hex sounds like a great space,” said Salisbury. “Kit has a great reputation for his artistic aesthetic and I’m glad he’s putting that toward the imagery of the witch. It’s a bar, after all. That’s not where I go for reverence. I do think that fun and play can be important parts of the Craft.”
Like the space itself, Hex’s menu is still under construction. Yarber described a drink list consisting of thirty-six mystical- and macabre-themed mixed drinks and unusual food selections like frog’s legs, grilled alligator skewers, and deep-fried chili peppers. He said that he plans to rotate the Passenger’s bartenders between the two bars so they can all learn what he admits is a complex drink menu. “They’re all going to hate me for a little while,” he said with a grin, “but I think they’ll be able to have fun with it too. Thirty-six drinks are a lot.”
And, as Yarber told The Wild Hunt, he has devised a game around the idea of serving a “bartender’s choice” drink. It will involve the customer reaching into a bag and pulling out a tile with a symbol on it, then looking for that symbol on the menu to learn what their next drink is going to be. “It’s going to add a bit of mystery to it,” he said.
Yarber said he is targeting a mid-April opening date for Hex. The Firefly House already has an April event scheduled at the new bar–an event the organization calls, “Witches Night Out”.
“Witches Night Out is an opportunity for people to come to a local event that’s not a class or ritual, which is most of what we do in Firefly,” said Salisbury. “It’s great for new folks who might be intimidated by coming to a more serious event first. They can get to know some of the personalities and see that we’re a friendly bunch.”
Salisbury said that the Firefly House has been hosting Witches Night Out events throughout most of their eleven-year history in the city. “We’ve gone to bars, movie theaters, bowling, restaurants, karaoke nights, and more,” he said. A witch-themed space that has been crafted with care, attention to detail, and a generous helping of whimsy could be a good thing for the city’s witches, as well as the witch-curious among us.
“There are certainly enough witches in DC to appreciate it,” said Salisbury, “and I’m sure the non-magical folks of the city will too.”
That mix of clientele is exactly what Yarber is hoping to attract to his new space. “Hex is for anyone who wants to have a good time,” he said. “I wanted to focus on customer service, creating a place that’s very chill, and be a place where people can bring their friends, get some really good drinks, enjoy a conversation, and relax someplace that’s a little different for D.C.”
In Northwest Washington, D.C., a part of the city better known for fine dining and sports bars, Hex will certainly fill the bill for those seeking something different. The Passenger is located at 1539 7th Street NW, Washington, DC 20001, convenient to the Shaw/Howard University, Mt. Vernon/Convention Center, and Dupont Circle Metro stops.