Last fall, the International District's iconic Four Seas Restaurant and its cocktail lounge, Dynasty Room, closed to make way for the construction of a seven-story building. But the demo date was TBD, and the building would have stood empty for a while had its owners not found a temporary tenant. I-Miun Liu, owner of Oasis Tea Zone and Eastern Cafe, had been looking for a place in the ID to kick-start his next venture. "The stars were definitely aligned," Liu said in an interview with The Stranger.
On April 1, after two months of DIY-ing the build-out with help from Michael Chu (formerly of Ba Bar, who was brought on as bar manager), Liu opened the new Dynasty Room, a pop-up craft cocktail bar that maintains the soul of the original while showcasing Asian culture in a new light and bringing something unique to the ID bar scene.
Interior design artists Electric Coffin fused existing structural and design elements (like the intricate antique Chinese wood carving mounted on the bar's distinctive red wall) with modern Eastern influences. They added ornamental accents, custom art pieces and wallpaper (black with white graphics of liquor bottles), and round paper lanterns that cast a pleasant glow on screen-printed tabletops.
The overall effect is warm, cozy, and chic, with a speakeasy feel. Their most striking creation is constructed entirely out of cardboard: "Wolf Temple," a 10-foot-tall wolf sculpture with a pagoda perched on its back, simultaneously greeting you and luring you into the bar with dramatic aesthetic flair.
Dynasty Room's modest menu offerings recall the Chinese and Korean street food of Liu's youth: deep-fried chicken wings with a spicy orange dipping sauce; Korean-style barbecue spare ribs; shredded dried squid that is mildly sweet and chewy; bibimbap-reminiscent rice bowls with your choice of protein (like minced pork or popcorn chicken), egg (tea or fried), and veggie (charred shishito peppers and pickled mustard greens included). The rice bowls are the priciest item at $9.50, small plates run $4 to $8, and snacky sides are $1.50 to $5. The prices drop a few dollars during the daily 4 to 7 p.m. happy hour.
The seven herbal- and tea-infused house cocktails were repurposed from the Chinese-zodiac-inspired recipes at the forthcoming East Trading Company (which Liu will open in the old Sun Liquor Distillery space later this year). Here, they are christened with their own funky names like Curious George (monkey), which is a smooth mix of gin with star fruit and green apple tonic; Petal Pusher (rabbit), a summery elixir of vodka, lychee rose infused Routin Blanc, lemon juice, ginger syrup, and brut; and That's a Good Boy (dog), an Instagram-ready drink with pink hearts drawn in the egg-white froth on top and an orchid petal garnish.
Liu and Chu want to maximize their impact on the neighborhood in their brief operating period with community events. Among the plans are parking-lot barbecues to raise funds for local organizations, monthly bartender and artist spotlights, and kung-fu movie nights (complete with projector and popcorn machine).
Dynasty Room will remain open longer than a traditional pop-up—a year, if not two—but its fleeting quality is part of its appeal. "There's some charm in knowing that it's a finite amount of time," Chu said.