Island Time Bar and Grill – DC’s Most Secret Bar Is Off the … GW Parkway.

The Bar at Island Time Bar & Grill at Columbia Island off GW Parkway, in DC.

Yes, the headline is true. Legally speaking, islands in the Potomac River between DC and Arlington/Alexandria are part of the District of Columbia. This includes Columbia Island, where’ll you find the traffic circle opposite the Lincoln Memorial at the end of Memorial Bridge, and about 1.3 miles of George Washington Parkway towards I-395.

Also on this island is the LBJ Memorial Grove as well as the Columbia Island Marina overlooking the Pentagon Lagoon. Part of this marina is one of the more chill and somewhat unknown bars in DC, Island Time Bar and Grill. This seasonal outdoor spot is open from mid-April to late September and, during the Memorial Day – Labor Day period, Noon-7p Wednesday-Sunday (closed Mon-Tuesday). An outdoor bar with a friendly bartender is covered, as is a large patio. Live music is played every week (usually Saturday late afternoons). Drinks include $8 crushes (my Grapefruit Crush was made with Deep Eddy Ruby Red vodka and fresh squeezed fruit) and cocktails, several beers (including a few on draft), and $7 wines. Food is pretty standard fare; I hear the $16 crabcake sandwich is solid. Clientele is a mix of younger couples, cyclists taking a break, and older folks about to get on their boats.

Island Time Bar & Grill overlooks Pentagon Lagoon

The bar can be reached by car via GW Parkway Southbound or by bike/foot/scooter by taking the Mt Vernon Trail north from I-395 and taking an underpass under GW Parkway after crossing a short bridge.

One reason the spot hasn’t been on my radar: like other spots on National Park Service or Smithsonian properties in DC, no ABRA liquor license is required.

 

Bike Racks Often Full

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Duke’s Grocery Comes to Foggy Bottom

Duke’s Grocery, 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. NW #3500 (at I), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, website, est. 2019, 11a-late, HH Noon-7p M-F ($5 select beer & wine, rails) opens in Foggy Bottom on Thursday, May 30th. The new spot, which is still located at it’s original location in Dupont Circle (17th & P, opened in Sept 2013; full disclosure, Barred in DC lived across the street for a couple years and is friends with co-owner Daniel Kramer) and its similar Duke’s Counter location across from the Zoo (Connecticut Ave, opened in July 2016), comes to the long-vacated legendary Kinkead’s space (23 years there) at the Shops at Penn.

The third location is the biggest yet with more space for posting up at the bar and bar area (dining room behind the bar); lots of exposed brick, bar height tables. New space provides flexibility for many more plate and entree options than the amazing sandwiches (and of course one of DC’s top burgers, the Proper Burger) Also there are 12 draft lines (solidly priced at $7-8, including Brewdog IPA) and a much larger cocktail menu (almost all $12-13).

Dining Space

Barred in DC stopped by and sampled the incredible “Dark Wings” (which include a large cup of mussels, huge duck wings that are battered that look like legs, and pretzel rolls, all for an amazing $15), the octopus romesco with a ton of octopus and well cooked pasta, and a tremendous lobster bisque with popcorn. Great refreshing drinks included classics like the Pimm’s Cup, Sidecar and Citrus Crush, as well as newer drinks like the Cucumber Rickey.

The bar. Really dig the legally-required draft beer labels

This is a big development for the Foggy Bottom bar scene and adds to the great Bindaas a few doors down and the uber-popular Founding Farmers half a block down the street. Note that the Farragut West (18th st entrance) and Foggy Bottom Metro’s are equidistant at 1/4 mile away. Perhaps in two years, Duke’s will be one of the anchors for the “Western Market,” a planned renovation to the complex with new vendors and eateries.

Beer & wine opening menu
Cocktail opening menu
“Dark Wing” duck wings, mussels, and pretzel bread for $15 is amazing
Loved the Popcorn Bisque (lobster broth)
Another view of the mural
Great English touch
The signage inside; a walk-up window to-go may be available here
Outside showing where patio seating will go

Astoria Comes to 17th Street in Dupont

Astoria (1521 17th St. NW (b/t Q & P), 5p-2a Sun-Th, 5p-3a Mon, Instagram, Washingtonian), from Devin Gong and the folks that brought you the great cocktail + bao/dumplings/skewers H Street spot, Copycat Co., opened Wednesday, April 24th (as first reported by PoPville). This 17th Street spot, in the long-vacant space between JR’s and Agora, focuses on Sichuan food and cocktails. Surprisingly, there has been a dearth of media/PR-driven hype about this spot, despite the awesomeness of Copycat. Only the Washington Business Journal contributed any original reporting on this spot, and that was back in April 2018 (Note: Washingtonian posted a more legit opening article a few hours after this was published.  So Barred in DC swung by its first Friday in operation for a first look. In short, this place, really a fancier version of Copycat with more significant food options, is tremendous, and there may be nothing set up like it in DC.

The drink menu is comprised almost entirely $14 cocktails. Like Copycat, the base menu consists of classic cocktails (Bourbon Smash, Caipirinha, Moscow Mule, Old Fashioned, Daiquris/Gimlets, Painkiller) with “Suggestions” for variations. When I visited there was an additional seven cocktails that were featured (presumably rotating on a regular basis). I got the Banana Painkiller (featured) plus a Boulevard Smash (bourbon smash with campari). Many of the drinks come in For those that prefer something cheaper to drink, $6 TsingTao and PBR cans, $8 3 Stars, and $14 Brooklyn or Anderson Valley Boont Amber (large format presumably), along with $12 wine by glass options were also available.

For the Sichuan cuisine (spicy, though some items are not traditional), 12 items (all $14) are available. Some are labeled as a “snack”, while many are labeled as a “dish” (which I think means it’s a bigger portion). The items included Dan Dan noodles, chili wonton, chimichurri, water boiled beef la-zi chicken, ma po tofu, sweet & sour ribs, walnut shrimp, veggie triple delight, basil eggplant, pork fried rice, and sober soup (borrowed from Copycat). The menu suggests 1 per person for a snack, 2 for a meal, and 3 if you’re really hungry. We had dan dan noodles, chili wonton (small size), and water boiled beef (good size). The place isn’t cheap (split a dish and 4 cocktails with Mrs. Barred and spent around $90) but it will definitely be popular.

The Banana Painkiller (left) and Pikachu No. 2

Space-wise, the very narrow establishment (sits maybe 50 people) greets patrons with a host at the door (who manages seating for the tables) and a bright, airy nook for waiting or posting up front for drinks. Around 5-6 deep blue, plush booths (4 or 6 seats) make up the first half of the establishment. A long, copper (or gold?) topped bar then extends back towards the rear (with shelving on top with bottles). This is where things get really interesting-aside from 2 stools at either end, there are NO seats directly at the bar. Instead, along the wall, pairs of stools face each other (with a table/rail running the length of the wall with bump outs for the table). When the place isn’t super busy, you still can talk to and order from the bartender, even though they are like 6 feet away. At other times when people are actually standing at the bar ordering, servers or other staff take orders (one snag so far is that it hard to figure out who exactly to order from which resulted in dropped orders for some in our group). Finally, in the back there are a couple more tables (including ones that fit a ton of people and/or are communal). Make sure you check out the ornate AF bathrooms when you visit. A 25-seat patio apparently awaits soon.

Also, the name: Astoria. A staffer told me that one of the owners if from New York, and the name is a homage to the famous bar at the Waldorf Astoria hotel as the bar was meant to be evocative of it.

More pics below:

Idle Hands a Solid Addition to the H Street Scene

 

[NOTE: This bar closed at end of September 2018]

 

Idle Hands [Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, 1236 H St. NE, open at 6p, est. 2018] is a solid addition to H Street from Hill bar owner Erik Holzherr. Idle Hands comes to the space that was the super (overly?) chill Church & State. Erik also ran Church & State so the space is still recognizable and many of the cool church-like touches (like windows and the confessional room off the bar) and the relative lack of light remain. Think board games (available for rent for a few bucks except from 6-7:30p M-F and Sun when they’re free), a few arcade games you can sit your drink on, video games. Unlike Church & State, which offered great cocktails which took forever to make, Idle Hands menu is simplified, with a list of 7 quick and easy (but still tasty) $9-11 cocktails named after late 80s/90s movies, 2 housemade shots (“fireball” & “coffee liqueur”), about 14 types of canned/bottled beer (mostly around $7), and wine ($8-11/glass). Happy hour runs 6-7:30p M-F and Sun with a buck off wine and beer and $5 off bottles of wine.

Holzherr made the place much livelier, enlisting his friend to create speakers made out of cardboard and pumping out 90s tunes. You could call Idle Hands a more adult/less divey version of Atlas Arcade downstairs (also run by Holzherr, who appears to own the rowhouse, as he does his SE gin joint Wisdom).

Also, you may have heard the controversy stemming from marketing materials/interviews which talked about the bar being a “sexy nerd bar,” Drunken Twister (which incidentally may be hard to play since space is so tight) and infamously, the “casting couch” (Read DCist, WCP). The bar was blasted in social media and in Frozen Tropics blog comments, which led to a post by Erik on The Hill is Home blog apologizing but defending himself from the “anonymity of the Internet.” As someone who has met Erik many times (I live near Wisdom and am a lifetime member of the bar’s Gin Club), the vibe people are getting from those descriptions is different than the super chill, laid back dude I’ve met, so I’m giving the benefit of the doubt, but I understand if others are not.

Bar Roubaix, a New Hilton Brothers Concept, Opens Next Friday in Columbia Heights

Bar Roubaix (courtesy Bar Roubaix Facebook page)

Bar Roubaix, Facebook, Twitter, est. Dec 2017, 1400 Irving St. NW [open at 5p daily, closes at noon Mon-Wed, 1a Thu, 2a Fri-Sat] is slated to open Friday, December 8th (a previous version of this story said the 1st but this has been pushed back), in the old Acre 121 space at 14th and Irving in the heart of the Columbia Heights neighborhood.

The spot, which strives to showcase “Great Beers. European Street Food. Cycling Culture,” is being run by brothers Ian and Eric Hilton (as first reported by PoPville in late April when Acre 121 closed after nearly six years). Although the Hilton brothers own/operate many spots around the area (Marvin, The Gibson, El Rey, The Brixton, American Ice, Satellite Room, the Brighton, Chez Billy Sud/Bar a Vin, Ten Tigers Parlour, Crimson Diner/Bar/View, and the upcoming Gaslight Tavern at 9th/U), this spot will retain the same ownership of Acre 121 (and Lou’s City Bar next door). Both bars are apparently owned by the developer of the Highland Park apartment building (Donatelli) in which they are located, quite possibly the only bars in DC owned by a property developer company.

Posts on social media so far only hint at some of the European street food offered by Chef Rafael Nuñez (who once cooked at Eatonville & Busboys & Poets): house-made spanakopitazapiekanki, German potato pancakes (Kartoffelpuffer) and doner kebab might be on the menu. Less is known about the drinks, but expect craft beers; the GM, Arturo Zaloga, recently managed the bar at the nearby Mezcalero and has been behind the bar at other Hilton brother spots like Marvin, El Rey, and The Brixton.

If you’re not Martin Austermuhle and aren’t familiar (and I wasn’t until I asked Jeeves), “Roubaix” refers to a town in France that is the terminus of a long-running bike race from Paris, as well as a name of a renowned road bike.  There will be a cycling arcade simulation game powered by Open Sprints software,  and a pool table. Bar Roubaix will have plenty of parking racks and will feature a fixing station where cyclists can perform maintenance or adjustments on their ride.

Before Acre 121, Commonwealth Gastro Pub from Jamie Leeds and the Hank’s folks (definitely don’t recall this part) occupied the space from 2008-2011.

[This story has been updated.]

Hill Prince: The Best Bar in DC Right Now.

Hill Prince

Hill Prince, website, Facebook, Instagram, 1337 H St. NE, opens at 5p (weekdays), noon (weekends), HH until 7p everyday, closed Mondays, est. March 2017 [Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Washingtonian, Eater DC]

Hill Prince is the best bar in DC right now. I’ve been to the newish H Street spot (opened back in March) at least 10 times since it opened (I’m not a regular anywhere-gotta perform research, ya know?). Although it exudes cool and charm, Hill Prince also feels like a neighborhood bar thanks in part to the much-ballyhooed budget-friendly (and excellent) $10 classic cocktails but also largely due to friendly service from folks like Tony Lawson (ever-present beverage director), Eve (who hosts recurring “Friday Eve” parties on select Thursdays)-even the door person/bouncer greets you warmly. The crowd, unlike many of the other spots on the 1300 block of H Street, skews a little bit older, and it often feels like an oasis of chill when it gets “lit” (as the kids say) on the Atlas Corridor weekend nights. Crowds do come at times on weekends, but there’s more an ebb and flow that adds positively to the vibe.

The cocktail menu varies a bit, but expect around six classic cocktails (awesome Daiquiri, French 75, Sidecar, Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Negroni, and New York Sour have been on the menu) and a few more specials ($12 or $14). Around 4 rotating beers are on tap (beers from local breweries like RAR are often available, Narragansett Lager was on tap for much of the summer), along with around 10-12 bottles/cans (you’ll see $4 High Life or Natty Boh often being drunk). There’s a choice of wines as well.  Whistle Pig seems to be often highlighted as the fancy whiskey of choice. Recently, Hill Prince just kicked off a great happy hour, going everyday until 7p – many drinks are roughly $3 off.

Space-wise, it’s bigger than you think , and there’s a lot of pine flooring, exposed brick/wooden ceiling, and even a floor-to-ceiling wooden beam or two. The front section of Hill Prince is occupied by the long main bar as well as a table with a few chairs. Stairs, off-limits to patrons, are kind of mysterious (I’ve heard that some dude lives up there, unaffiliated with the bar). The next room has a long-ass drink rail, which is a nice perch if you can’t catch a spot on the nearby couch or at the bar. Currently, a DJ sets up shop there starting at 10p on Fridays and Saturdays (don’t worry, it doesn’t turn into a dance club). Back further is a small covered patio that overlooks a super-chill hipstery courtyard (strung lights, sandy surface, tables); in warm times, a mini-bar with separate menu (think a couple canned beers an $9 G&T and Dark & Stormy) has been open weekend nights. In the carriage house on the other side of the courtyard is an under-construction bar (possibly 30 seats and a more permanent DJ set-up); owner Nick Wiseman tells me that it’s on track to open in early 2018.

Hill Prince comes from Nick and his cousin David Wiseman, the folks behind the upscale Jewish deli DGS Delicatessen in Dupont and Whaley’s in Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront (in fact, I’ve hung out with staff from both spots on multiple occasions at Hill Prince). The bar has a fairly subtle equestrian theme (other than the fake stuffed horse head), as Hill Prince is the name of the horse that won the 1950 Preakness and the building used to house horse stables. Not surprisingly, the bar hosted watch parties for the horse racing Triple Crown series in May-June (I met DC bar extraordinaire Derek Brown there watching the Belmont). During the summer, crab boils were held on select weekends, and recently the bar started serving waffle brunches on weekends (noon-4p).

In full disclosure, one reason I extoll the virtues of Hill Prince to all who I encounter is that it’s less than a twenty-minute walk from my house, but I legit would love this bar even if it was in Park View. Go.

Bar at Hill Prince
Back Room at Hill Prince
View of Bar from back room
Bar at Hill Prince
Hill Prince is named after the 1950 winner of the Preakness
Hipstery Courtyard

Thomas Foolery

Sidewalk Chalkboard Sign Hints at the Goofiness of Thomas Foolery
Sidewalk Chalkboard Sign Hints at the Goofiness of Thomas Foolery

Thomas FoolerywebsiteFacebook,  2029 P St. NW, opens at noon everyday, closes at midnight weekdays, 2a on weekends, HH (Angry Hour 5-7p daily, est. 2013 [Post (Carman), Post (Hahn) WCP (read this), HuffPoYelp]

Indisputably the goofiest bar in DC, the uber-fun Thomas Foolery entertains those who stop by the snug basement spot in west Dupont on P Street with games and candy and “adult” milk and cookies and grilled cheese! Steve Davis, the rocket scientist who operates Mr. Yogato, the frozen yogurt establishment on the east side of the Circle on 17th Street, runs this joint, imbuing it with the same care-free, harken-to-childhood atmosphere as the yogurt place.

The small bar area
The small bar area

Although one might try to compare it with one of my favorite spots in town, the nearby Board Room, Thomas Foolery has a different style. Unlike the sprawling board games place, Thomas Foolery is quite small, essentially fitting into one room (with a nook that features a king’s throne and a Nintendo Wii) and sporting only one bar (with no stools, so be prepared for all the milling about the area as you embarrass yourself ordering an Elmo and a saucerful of Starbursts).

Nintendo Wii/Mario Kart being played
Nintendo Wii/Mario Kart being played

Games, though significantly fewer in number, are free, and random diversions are available throughout the bar (such as Nerf basketball, Etch-A-Sketch, velcro darts, and hopscotch).

Food with a distinct childhood theme is served, i.e.,  grilled cheese sandwiches and bakery fresh cookies from two popular food trucks are available to purchase. The cookies, from the the great Captain Cookie and Milkman food truck, are well worth sampling, but be warned, you may become a bona fide Cookie Monster. Cups of candy are a nice dessert if you don’t want cookies and ice cream.

Another view of the bar
Another view of the bar

The drink selection isn’t exactly comprehensive, but there are always a couple of colorful cocktails (a shot of vodka with a candy treat at the bottom of the glass was downed on a recent visit). There are no beers on draft, but a nice list of 40 or so bottles are listed, each chosen by a local minor celebrity/journalist (Barred in DC hopes to make this one day).

Candy in shots? Candy in shots.
Candy in shots? Candy in shots.

Most interestingly/hilariously is the selection of 2 or 3 Smirnoff Ice flavors (Steve doesn’t like beer), including regular, green apple, or my new favorite peach bellini. Normally these cost $4; in the many times I’ve been I’ve never actually paid that amount. Instead, patrons wanting to get self-Iced can play a Plinko game next to the register; the drink might be $1, $2, $3, $4, or $5 instead. Another terrific drink special twist; instead of Happy Hour, Thomas Foolery offers an “Angry Hour” from 5-7p daily where patrons who order in an ANGRY tone get a buck off their drinks. These hours (and into the evening) some weekend nights are hosted by a local charity/non-profit organization; some of the “guest” bartenders those nights work behind the bar to earn money for their organization.

Another view from back of Thomas Foolery
Another view from back of Thomas Foolery

Aside from the games and the playful food, the small area of the bar along with the games are conducive to interacting with other guests, which adds to the fun. To be sure, this is a very laid-back spot. The music doesn’t blast (so you can always hear your friends), you don’t spot many bros, and too-cool people would feel out of place. The atmosphere is so collegial that you may even find yourself daring a neighbor at an adjacent table to join your Jenga tournament.

Party Jenga!
Party Jenga!

One simple quibble is that the lighting near the bar is way too bright and fluorescent, which sometimes spoils the mood in the rest of the place. One of the most interesting scenes I’ve seen in a bar anywhere was set here: post-midnight one Saturday, a group of 10 or so younger Muslim women came in, some with strollers. They proceeded to have a grand time playing games, eating milk and cookies, and being friendly with the other slightly drunker customers late into the night.

Barred in DC Rating: 4/5

Close-up of games
Close-up of games
View from P Street
View from P Street
Someone just got Iced
Someone just got Iced