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.
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:
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.
DC Harvest (517 H St. NE, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, website), the family-owned H Street restaurant, recently introduced its fresh new spring cocktail menu. The spot focuses both its constantly-changing food and drink menus locally and regionally, with emphasis on local, as it partners with urban farms across the District. Barred in DC was invited by Jared Ringel, who opened DC Harvest with brother Arthur in September 2014, to sample these new cocktails at the cheery yet cozy bar and they didn’t disappoint.
Many, if not all, of the $12-14 cocktails make heavy use of local spirits as well as herbs, fruit, and vegetables. Two cocktails use a “boosted” Kentucky Gentleman bourbon- the only mainstay on the menu, the Kentucky Windage (the bar’s smooth version of an Old Fashioned) as well as the most popular drink on the menu, the Smokey Robinson made with mexcal, 5 spice syrup, lemon juice, and smoked lemon. By “boosted,” Jared told us, means that the bar has put the bourbon through a charcoal filter, added tinctures, herbal extract, homemade bitters, and other secret flavors. It’s a creative way of creating a “local” bourbon from a cheap bourbon when most whiskey is made elsewhere anyways.
Many of the cocktails were bright and colorful. Particularly gorgeous were the Strawberry Field, made with Ivy City Gin, fennel liquor, lemon juice, and roasted(!) strawberry puree, and incredibly tasty; the refreshing BWB Blood Orange Fizz, mixed with Peychaud aperitivo (think Aperol but lighter), blood orange juice, rosemary syrup, and cava sparkling wine (made in conjunction with the Bitches Who Brunch blog; Barred in DC is waiting for a bar to create something terrible and nonsensical in his honor-hint hint); and the 517 Blossom.
The latter drink is a popular holdover from Cherry Blossom season but is well worth it as one of the more inventive but delicious (possibly healthy, but who cares) drinks had in recent memory. A rare cocktail on a menu made with scotch whiskey (specifically, McCelland’s Highland scotch) that is not a Rob Roy, the rest of the drink is made with Leopold Brothers Cherry whiskey, Lyon Distilling (out of St. Michael’s, MD) Curacao (orange peel liquor made from its rum), sweet vermouth (house-made from rose), and the kicker, roasted beet puree. This drink is incredibly light, herbaceous, and beautiful. If you’re not a beet fan, don’t worry, it’s not overpowering.
Also well worth your while is DC Harvest’s version of a Dark & Stormy, the Chesapeake Storm, which is kegged with Lyon Aged Rum & Lyon Curacao, with ginger syrup, lime juice, salt, and candied ginger lime added after it comes out of the Darth Vader draft tap. Incredibly refreshing is the incredible riff on a margarita, the Agave Dream, made with tequila, cucumber water (not just cucumber-infused water), lemon jam, salt, and cucumbers. As Mrs. Barred in DC remarked, it is a “Lady’s Version of College in a Glass.”
These cocktails can be had for 30% off (so, about $8-10) all night Sundays; drink specials also include 30% off select draft beer on Tuesdays, 30% off bottle of wine on Thursday, and daily HH specials (5:30-7p) including a selection of cocktails for $8, $6 beer and wine, as well as appetizers and cheese plates. Jared is also a big proponent of the DC Passport Program, which launches Friday May 26th, and will provide passholders (cost-$20 for passport) a visit to the bar with 2 cocktails for the price of one. The well curated draft beer list include a lot of local beers (think 3 Stars, Hellbender), though refreshingly the options are often more unique than you’d expect.
DC Harvest is known for its popular brunch (it expands its hours starting May 26th, serving Friday lunch) and great food (from chef Arthur), so the appetizers/sides we sampled, including the mussels and asparagus, were characteristically tasty. Daily specials include 30% off vegetarian entrees/sides on Mondays and 30% off all fresh pasta on Wednesdays. With a Whole Foods just a few feet away and large apartment buildings sprouting across the next block over (Jared told us of some cool partnerships DC Harvest has made with these spots, including creating a garden/herb plot on the rooftop of the nearby Apollo), DC Harvest is perched to be a solid anchor on mid H (Barred in DC just coined this phrase, deal with it) as it quickly bridges to the bar district on the east side.
Moonshine is legal, taxed, regulated and out in the light of day.
Guest post by J Palm, co-editor BIDC
Follow & Tweet me @charmedlivingDC
A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of imbibing with the co-founders of Richmond-based Belle Isle Craft Spirits and creators of Belle Isle Premium Moonshine. What the heck is premium moonshine? According to the trio of founders: Brian Marks, Alex Wotring, and Vincent Riggi, it’s an elevation of the stuff brewed in the backwoods of the Appalachians: smoother, more versatile, perfectly sippable on its own and surprisingly blendable with a multitude of mixers. In my own words—it’s nothing like that hard, hair-on-your-chest growing concoction in the Mason jar that your grandpappy and co used to make under the light of the moon.
At a media-only cocktail hour at Dupont’s Circa sponsored by Belle Isle Craft Spirits and their PR agency showcasing the well-distilled moonshine, I partook of 3 out of 4 featured specialty cocktails and was pleasantly surprised to find how smooth, versatile and, at first, virtually undetectable, the spirit is.
My passage through Belle Isle commenced at the lighter end of the spectrum—a peach-basil iced tea that I couldn’t stop drinking, as the marriage of basil to sweet summer peach continually evolved as the red tea-based drink settled. I really had no intention of completing 3 drinks at 4 pm on a Wednesday, but ehh—stuff happens! My surprise at how drinkable this cocktail was (as compared to traditional moonshine) compelled me to ask Alex for a pour of the spirit straight up so I could understand where the liquor was in the mix (so, I guess I actually had 4, after all).
Afterwards, I was ready to move to the middle of the scale. The Lunar Eclipse, a take on a classic Negroni, made me wanna call back home and tell my family down on the Bayou I knew something they didn’t know (moonshine and Campari) even if that wasn’t true, so you know, you gotta try it. The pièce de résistance was the Monk on Moonshine, a barrel aged cocktail (usually for five weeks, I was told, but on this day for one week) of moonshine, sweet vermouth, maraschino liquor, and Green Chartreuse (get the cocktail name now??) that I was happy I waited and primed my palate for as it was a deliciously heavy-handed end to my journey along the Belle Isle spectrum. Manhattan-ish, but different—deeper.
My first bottle of Belle Isle was gifted, but I can restock and you can pick yours up at ABC stores throughout NoVA from Arlington (Ballston, Clarendon) to Springfield. And, of course, Circa (Dupont, Foggy Bottom, and Clarendon) is stocking the spirit and mixing these great cocktails. Some other restaurants currently serving Belle Isle include: Central-Michel Richard (DC); Lyon Hall, Liberty Tavern (Arlington); PX/Restaurant Eve (Alexandria). For a complete list and to keep up with the growing availability, visit http://www.belleislecraftspirits.com/where-to-buy/ early and often.
I am eagerly awaiting the opening of the Belle Isle distillery in Richmond and can’t wait for a tour. The owners were open about the disappointment of the delays caused by jumping through multiple federal government hoops—not a surprise to us Washingtonians. But until that day, I’ll be referring to my copy of The Moonshine Book, a thorough compilation of cocktail recipes and moonshine history, complete with excellent photographs published by the Belle Isle team, frequently and meandering my way through the summer accompanied by nostalgic memories of the good ol’ days.
As a southern girl, I grew up sneaking sips of the harsh liquor out of Mason jars and milk jugs. Now, a towering bottle of Belle Isle sits in prime real estate in my tiny Dupont Circle kitchen’s makeshift “bar”. Before the recent rebirth of the moonshine craze, it seems fair to propose that we all used to look down on the unrefined home-brewed spirit, but not anymore. I noted to the founders of Belle Isle, thinking this was so obvious that I only said it after several cocktails, that the nearly 15” tall vessel is now the spirit looking down on all its competitors, an observation they surprisingly accepted as astute. Cheers, guys!
Bar Charley, Facebook, Twitter, 1825 18th St. NW (at Swann/T), opens at 4p on weekdays, 10a on weekends, closes at 11p Sun-Thu, midnight Fri-Sat, HH 4-6:30p M-F, est. 2013 [Post (Sietsma), Post (Hahn), InTheCapital, PoPville, Forking DC, Eater, Yelp]
A welcome respite from the circus that is the nearby Lauriol Plaza, Bar Charley is one of my favorite places to grab a cocktail in DC. This new spot in the north part of Dupont, from the folks behind the popular Silver Spring establishment Jackie’s and El Chucho in Colombia Heights, is well worth a visit, whether you’re a neighbor or come from afar.
The space, previously home to the short-lived Cajun Experience, is a few steps down from street-level but feels comfortable and neighorhoody without being divey. Although there are no TVs, a rarity for DC bars that I like to frequent, the absence contributes positively to the pleasant and casual, yet upscale vibe. To the left of the entrance is the establishment’s cozy bar area where folks can grab a stool or stand up while ordering from one of two bartenders, who often come out from behind the 10-seat bar to take orders and serve drinks. You can usually find me posting up on one of the 5 stools next to the bay window opposite the bar; this is a good spot to have a group consisting of both people who like to stand (me) and those who prefer sitting (most people). The rest of Bar Charley is made up of the main dining area to the right of the entrance: comfortable seating along one of the exposed brick walls; a communal table in the center of the room; and a large, semi-secluded booth in front of another bay window. In warmer months, visitors can enjoy food and drinks out on the back patio.
The stars of the show are the cocktails created by co-owner Gordon Banks. The menu includes the quite economical (for DC standards) classic cocktails ($8 for a Sazerac, Jack Rose, Monk Buck, and fantastic Old Fashioned), on-tap Tiki drinks ($7 for a Mai Tai and Suffering Bastard served in tiki-themed ceramic cups), and more standard-priced creative concoctions (such as the Quack-Quack-erac, made with a duck fat wash and the Stepdad which involves a blowtorch). While the pretty solid wine list, both by the bottle and glass, serves as an ample co-star, the beer list, despite nary a macrobrew, is at best a fledgling starlet. Three drafts don’t rotate as often as I would like and many of the bottles on list are $15-25 large format bottles.
Although it has only been open since September, Bar Charley has quickly generated a tremendous amount of buzz (both positive and negative). The spot has already appeared in the Post FOUR times (including critiques by bar guru Fritz Hahn and dining expert Tom Sietsma), and Bar Charley’s request to be open normal DC bar hours (2a weekdays, 3a weekends), has quickly become a source of controversy in its hood, as previously documented by this blog here. Many neighbors vehemently oppose the hours extension, though I personally know several proponents of it.
Since later hours of operation have not yet been approved, when you stop by for a drink (which you must do), make sure you go on the early side, as Bar Charley closes at 11p sharp weekdays and midnight Friday and Saturday nights.
Barred in DC Rating: 4.5/5