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Chris Hassaan Francke is annoyed that “Fuck ISIS Punch,” which comes with an optional bacon garnish, is his most famous invention.
“I’m kinda getting tired of it,” the 30-year-old said of a drink whose name in Arabic is even dirtier, in an interview with The Daily Caller News Foundation. His fledgling project, a wandering Washington, D.C. cocktail bar called The Green Zone, features innovative drinks that combine American cocktail culture with Middle Eastern flavors. For Francke, mocking Islamic State’s radical ideology is just the beginning.
But it’s certainly a conversation starter. On a recent weeknight in a rented bar space, patrons sipped their drinks as one Arab-American guest admitted aloud, “I don’t get it. Al-Qaida I can at least understand — though I don’t agree — but I can’t imagine why somebody would join ISIS.”
Though the anti-terrorist cocktail made headlines when The Green Zone premiered last year, it’s begun to take up less space on the menu. In its place are concoctions like the Lebanese No. 1 (combining cognac with apricot, lemon and “exotic stuff”) and “A Deer in Cihangir,” a Turkish-inspired rye-and-soda cocktail that’s topped with a dried fig.
Those tricky cocktail names are certainly a highlight of the bar. He recently ventured into politics again with a late-summer gin-and-watermelon cocktail whose Arabic name translates to “It Smells Lovely,” in tribute to Lebanon’s #YouStink protest movement. (RELATED: How Piles Of Trash Might Take Down An Entire Country)
He’s reluctant to make every cocktail into a political slogan, though. “D.C. is an obnoxiously partisan place,” he told TheDCNF. “If it were up to me I’d have a derogatory drink named after every Arab politician.”
But although “everybody going to my bar is going to hate ISIS,” he wants his bar to be neutral while it showcases the best of an overly-sectarian region. And he doesn’t want a drink to pass its expiration date just because its inspiration has passed from the headlines.
Francke was born in the U.S. to an American father and an Iraqi-Lebanese mother. Growing up, he would frequently visit relatives in Lebanon, and he gradually became obsessed with Arab culture’s emphasis on good food and hospitality. As an adult, he hopes to recapture that magic for the District’s discerning drinkers — in a setting that's named for Baghdad's secure enclave, run by the U.S. during its occupation of Iraq.
That includes the challenge of inventing a Middle Eastern cocktail culture from scratch. “That’s one of the hardest things,” he told TheDCNF. “How do I make a cocktail that tastes good and is compelling but also makes sense for the Middle East?” (RELATED: You Can’t Drink Legally In Iran, But The Government Will Still Send You To Rehab)
The bar is full of thoughtful details that evoke the region: besides the cocktails, patrons can munch on complimentary snacks like nuts, olives and pickled vegetables. He also partners with other entrepreneurs who provide Arab-style bar food and even hookahs.
Given his limited time and budget, a lot of the effort behind The Green Zone goes into developing innovative flavors that evoke Middle Eastern recipes, including “sour cherry syrup” and “Persian bitters.” He also meticulously promotes the project via email, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
While Francke currently works as a contractor for the World Bank, his dream is to turn The Green Zone into a full-time operation. He’s making connections in the local drinks industry and putting together a business plan, with a clear idea of what kind of bar he wants to build.
“There’s a lot of places here where the cocktails are great, but the bartenders are wearing bowties and suspenders: it’s for a special occasion, and it costs $16. I just want you to relax and have a good time.”
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