It was almost 10 p.m. on a Thursday night, and Ali Watkins was walking around the capital following instructions texted by a stranger. One message instructed her to walk through an abandoned parking lot near Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle, and then wait at a laundromat. Then came a final cryptic instruction: She was to enter an unmarked door on Connecticut Avenue leading to a hidden bar.
The Sheppard, an upscale speakeasy, was so dimly lit it was sometimes hard to see the menu, let alone a stranger at the bar. But amid the red velvet upholstery, Watkins, then a reporter at Politico, almost immediately spotted the man she was supposed to meet: He was wearing a corduroy blazer and jeans and had a distinctive gap between his teeth.