Salty Dog Tavern (1723 Connecticut Ave. NW (b/t R & S), Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, website) is set to open in the former Black Fox Lounge today, Tuesday, April 21st, in north Dupont Circle. The lounge/restaurant will feature $4 specialty cocktails for its daily 4-7p happy hour; the spring cocktail list features $4 passion fruit sangria, blood orange mojitos, ginger margaritas, vodka strawberry lemonade, beer and wine and tapas. As Barred in DC has exclusively reported, this spot comes from the folks who currently operate Alley Cat Restaurant & Lounge in suburban Alexandria across from the Landmark Mall off I-395.
Salty Dog Tavern is set to open in Dupont in the space previously occupied by Black Fox Lounge at 1723 Connecticut Ave. NW, Barred in DC has learned. This spot, in the northern part of Dupont between R & Streets, will replace the gay-0wned lounge that shuttered in December of last year. ABRA approved the liquor license transfer on March 18th.
[3/25 Update: I’ve learned that this spot will likely have a restaurant/lounge vibe and come from the folks who currently operate Alley Cat Restaurant & Lounge in suburban Alexandria across from the Landmark Mall off I-395. They hope to open the first week in April.]
In a rare move, the Alcohol Beverage Control Board last Tuesday flat-out denied a tavern liquor license to Saloon 45 (which was seeking a name change to Swann Dive) in north Dupont Circle, as first reported by PoPville. The tiny low-key ground floor bar (840 square feet interior space, with room for 32 folks inside and 36 outside) was fiercely opposed by nearby residents on adjacent Swann Street, the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, an aging-in-place organization called the Dupont Circle Village, and D.C. Councilman Jack Evans (who wrote a letter to the Board urging denial, in an unusual move).
David Stephens, a former Navy nuclear electronics tech and professional poker player, had applied for a liquor license in the former Sandy’s Flowers shop on 18th & Swann just five months ago (Stephens is the flower shop owner’s daughter’s brother-in-law), when it was reported by the Washington City Paper that he aimed to open a low-key spot with craft beers but no kitchen. It was quickly apparent that Stephens, with no experience operating or even working in a bar/restaurant, was naive about the liquor licensing process in DC and seemingly shot himself in the foot every step of the way (for example, seeking full hours for patio), leading to this result, anticipated by many who have been following this application. The blog Short Articles about Long Meetings has a couple informative posts with additional background.
In the end, the Board unanimously denied the license (read the decision here) after an eight-hour protest hearing that ended at 12:57am in the morning (the 629-page hearing transcript is here), finding the license application:
inappropriate, because the establishment’s intention of having its entrance on Swann Street, N.W., along with outdoor seating, will bring loitering and other patron-related disturbances to a residential area [and because its] Application and presentation lacked sufficient specificity for the Board to determine whether the establishment could satisfy the appropriateness criteria.
The Board explained that Swann Street is “highly residential” so that a entrance on that street would “encourage [patrons] to loiter on [Swann], like other patrons in the neighborhood” bringing noise and other nuisances to those residences. Furthermore, the planned outdoor seating, according to the Board, “will cause an unreasonable amount of late-night noise to the neighborhood,” noting that Swann Street residents were already disturbed by the (legal) noise emitted from folks on the patio of the adjacent Bar Charley. As a result, the Board denied the license as it would “cause an adverse impact on the peace, order, and quiet” of Swann Street neighbors. Although the Board could have legally granted the license but, for example, required the bar to have an 18th St. entrance and no outside seating, it did not, likely in part because of the bar’s own hearing testimony. Saloon 45’s architect and owner testified that neither of these changes would be viable: an 18th St. entrance would not be possible because the clearance was very low and any alterations to the staircase to accommodate taller people would run afoul of historic preservation restrictions and the bar’s financial success was based on having outside space for much of the year.
The Board further found that it could not grant a license because Saloon 45 didn’t “provide the Board with a clear picture of the nature of its operations and business model” during its testimony, such as “key facts [regarding] the maximum occupancy of the outdoor seating area, the layout of the outdoor seating area, the soundproofing features of the outdoor seating area [the architect spoke of either a 7 foot high fence or a 3-foot wrought-iron fence with landscaping], or the establishment’s food service plans.” Stephens himself testified several times that the bar’s plans were a “moving target,” in response to questions about the offerings and why the concept had evolved significantly since the initial license application.
The hearing itself raised some interesting/humorous moments not mentioned in the Board’s final decision:
- Stephens cited Census demographic statistics (transportation mode, age, income level) about the 20009 zip code (including much of U Street and Columbia Heights) to explain why he chose the space
- The Swann Street neighbors repeatedly mentioned how upset they were about the new proposed name, Swann Dive, even quoting, in prefacing a question to Stephens, the Webster’s Dictionary definition of “dive” as a “shabby and disreputable establishment.” To his credit, Stephens acknowledged that he understood that the neighbors were concerned about the name, but that he thought it was a “clever name” (I agree) and that it wasn’t going to be a dive as they were “going to spend a couple hundred thousand dollars renovating it.”
- Several neighbors who testified about the horrors of the bar being “feet away” from elderly folks and “small children walking to school.”
- The noise from Bar Charley’s patio was repeatedly mentioned, as was Lauriol Plaza.
- Lots of people seem to think that everyone drives to bars because of the anecdotal evidence of people driving to Lauriol Plaza. Stephens emphasized that he intended to hire local residents to work in the bar; the commissioners didn’t seem to be convinced that they wouldn’t drive. Capitol Lounge told me that very few employees drive/park to get to work at that bar.
- There were many complaints about late night bargoers (likely from Adams Morgan who couldn’t find parking closer); for example: “noise, fights, loud car radios, drunk patrons, screaming at each other, urinating on our, doorsteps and tearing up our plantings.”
- Awesome old lady complaining about not being able to get out of her alley due to Lauriol Plaza valet blocking:
- “At one point recently I just leaned on my horn until I could get the attention of the valet parking and about 15 people who were at the outdoor bar there with a marguerita[sic] said don’t do that, you are bothering us. And I said I don’t give a damn.”
- The local ANC commissioner put on the record that this neighborhood is Dupont Circle, not Adams Morgan, as the ABRA investigator and some people in DC wrongfully think.
- Stephens does not have a lease yet; instead he has a letter of intent for a 5 year lease predicated on getting a liquor license.
- The flower shop owner testified, explaining that his son had first wanted to open a bar after she closed at the end of 2013 but then changed his mind. She claimed that many neighbors had been informed that a bar was opening there, and no one complained. The protestants hilariously tried to damage her credibility by attempting to introduce evidence that she rented out nearby properties without a DC business license; that didn’t go very far.
The public reaction to this liquor license denial has been fierce; many complaints about NIMBYism have been thrown around on Twitter and in the PoPville comments section. I usually side with the bars, but not here; the owner failed to engage the neighbors and importantly didn’t have a clear vision of what the bar would be like. Barred in DC’s unprofessional suggestions for Stephens if he continues to want to open a bar in the space and applies for another liquor license:
- partner with someone who has at least managed a bar before
- get a clearer picture of what the food offerings will be
- commit to offering food until 2 hours before closing (like a restaurant license)
- offer only can and/or draft beer (bottles are loud when disposed of)
- commit to 7 foot high fence around patio with landscaping
- seating only on patio (no standers)
- voluntarily commit to early closing hours for patio (earlier than Bar Charley, say 10p on weekdays, 11p on weekends) and Bar Charley’s hours for interior (1a/2a)
- bite the bullet and try to make the 18th Street entrance happen
- meet repeatedly with ANC commissioners and other local bar owners to figure out what works
If not, don’t be surprised if this place becomes an ice cream shop, which is a concept also brought to the owner of the flower shop/building; no liquor license required.
and so is social dining experience
Guest post by J Palm, BIDC co-editor
Follow, Tweet me @charmedlivingDC
A few weeks ago, I drank and dined with the editor-in-chief of Barred in DC at the new The Gryphon. We were invited to the newly revamped restaurant & bar to sample and share small plates and taste new cocktails. Yep, our meal and drinks were comped, as a matter of disclosure, but as has always been hallmark to BIDC, the reviews are real and can’t be bought. (Well, maybe they could be, but the price hasn’t been right yet—wink)
You may remember The Gryphon as a fledgling upscale sports bar with dozens of screens trying to make its mark as a destination to watch “the big game”. But as previously reported by BIDC, that didn’t quite work out so the owners, who also represent The Gryphon’s sister Lost Society, drew the curtain, went back to the drawing board, and came up with a toned-down yet elegant (and a bit sexy with its rich color palate and snakeskin patterned wall paper) social dining experience, featuring a raw bar with a robust selection of oysters and clams to suit your taste, along with shrimp and lobster cocktails to share, and modern twists on your favorite ceviches. And let us not forget the real reason we all rely on BIDC—it’s really all about the bar for us, and the bar is good, serving creative, delicious, and well-balanced cocktails that provide a clean and craveable canvas for The Gryphon’s social plates.
First, el jefe ordered the Artemis Virtue—a refreshing cocktail of gin, lime juice, cucumber, mint, and sweet vermouth, sweetened with agave and topped off with a splash of soda. Think summer in a glass. It was a dark and stormy Tuesday evening, so we really needed this. Yours truly enjoyed her own summery concoction—the signature cocktail of the joint—The Gryphon consisted of Grey Goose L’orange, strawberry puree, lime juice and sweetened further with simple syrup. Watch out, for this cocktail is clearly easily drinkable, but it’s dangerous and will sneak up on you—sip leisurely. To accompany our drinks, we started our social dining experience with a shrimp cocktail to share. Apparently, the raw bar chef is always creating new renditions of this classic, so we had to see if he could show us something new (and he did).
The shrimp cocktail special when we dined was a spicy Latin twist on your traditional shrimp cocktail. This dish felt like Cabo. Shrimp, avocado, cocktail sauce, extra horseradish and other spices all mixed together and served on ice was a nice setup for what would be coming ahead from the team at the raw bar and the Texan chef, Joseph Evans (formerly of Smith and Wollensky).
As the name of the game at The Gryphon now is surf and turf, we had to have a good smattering of each. After the cocktail, we had a hearty dish of Monkfish wrapped in prosciutto—reminding you of the more traditional bacon-wrapped scallops. Nice flavors and a good sear on the fish made this dish a star. Continuing with “surf”, we definitely over indulged in the highly touted (by the staff) lobster gnocchi. I cannot tell you what a revelation this dish was in making a gnocchi a viable dinner option for me (I usually don’t like the stuff). It’s not just gnocchi, it’s better, and there’s so much lobster that you can’t believe the price.
At this point in the meal, I felt good enough to indulge in an additional cocktail (it sneaked up on me), so of course I couldn’t resist a drink named Aphrodite’s Kiss, who could? I fell in love—the blend of Absolut vanilla/regular and lavender syrup was surprising. It was light and sexy and I wanted another immediately (though I didn’t have one), so I ate more delicious food instead.
Moving on to “turf’, we sampled a couple of dueling steak dishes. I was eager to try the hanger steak (maybe it’s the simple country girl in me), but our most kind and attentive server strongly suggested that we try the Cajun filet mignon as well, as it was his favorite. While I was certainly not disappointed by either, I have to say that my favorite was the hanger steak. Its beautiful sear (verging on char) and fresh, bright green herb sauce was simply an all-around joy for my taste buds. The filet was also delicious, but even for me, the Cajun marinade/seasoning was a bit heavy handed. I noted to our server, who came back ‘round to hear my verdict, that with the seasoning the filet lost some of its “filet-ness” and really, to me, could have been any cut of beef since I’m not sure you’d necessarily be able to taste it beyond the seasoning.
More good news though—the beer, wine, and spirits list is well-rounded enough to scratch any itch and prices are in line with other DC hot spots, with the exception of a higher-than-usual priced DC Brau ($9). After a couple cocktails, a Devil’s Backbone Vienna Lager soothed BIDC’s chief and I took a break (despite the sparkling wine calling my name) before dessert drinks—it was a Tuesday night.
It must be noted that the side dishes were fantastic—Brussels sprouts are the new “it” veggie, but I promise, you actually do have to try these perfectly roasted, seasoned, and browned sprouts sprinkled atop with parmesan cheese. Southern girls know macaroni and cheese, and I’ve struggled with the creamy, over-truffled dishes being served all over the metro area. At The Gryphon, the mac is like what mom would make, no—grandma—but more up-to-date yet classically presented, bubbling over in a sizzling cast-iron dish.
Bread pudding and cognac was a gluttonous end to our meal. The pudding was rich and creamy (even without the ice cream on top for there were technical issues in the kitchen). Not too sweet, but who needs all that sugar when life (and dinner) can be this good?
Further disclosure: Your guest poster, J Palm, is engaged to BIDC’s chief. We will marry in October. We dine and drink together frequently at home and “on the scene”.
Thomas Foolery, website, Facebook, 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), HuffPo, Yelp]
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.
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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
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
Lucky Bar, website, Facebook, Twitter, 1221 Connecticut Ave. NW (at 18th & M), opens at 3p on weekdays (unless soccer event), typically 8a or earlier on weekends , HH 3-8 M-W, 3-close Th, 3-10p F, est. 1997 [Yelp, WaPo, Frommers]
Arguably the best soccer bar in D.C. (though Fado may quibble), Lucky Bar has been treating futbol fans and 23 year olds to good times for nearly two decades. More divey than a true dive, this Joe Englert spot sports nearly 25 TVs on 3 levels in its location in the raucous triangle of 18th/M/Connecticut.
For soccer fans, the bar opens quite early, often on weekends before booze can even be served at 8am and similarly early on weekdays during the World Cup and other big competitions. Every conceivable game around the world is available here, and fans who want to catch the big matches have to show up early or strategically (i.e., right when previous games end) to even get a seat.
For everyone else, this spot is a less crowded (compared to neighbors Sign of the Whale & Madhatter) meat market for the younger set (especially popular on Thursdays). A green awning covering a handful outdoor seating fronts the bar. Behind, the first floor is the most divey of the levels; it is a narrow space mostly taken up by a long bar and some booths. Located at the rear, up a few steps, is the more expansive main bar area. Booths, couches, pool tables, lots of tvs, and a smaller bar in the far corner make up this larger space. A seemingly impromptu dance floor often (but not always) materializes late at night ; it should be noted that this is definitely a sticky-floor-kind-of-bar. If you’re hungry for some nuts after dancing, put in a few quarters in a vending machine at the back of this floor, and you’ll be rewarded.
Leading upstairs near the nut machine is perhaps the most harrowing/steep (at least if you’ve had a few too many Bud Lights) stairs in any DC bar; bargoers making it to the summit will be rewarded with a more private-feeling space and another bar, along with the only bathrooms in all of Lucky Bar. Just be careful walking back down to the 2nd floor.
Although the smell of the adjacent Julia’s Empanadas (Lucky Bar + couple Jamaican empanadas was definitely a common combo of mine in the mid-2000s) permeates the bar, good times can be had . Even if you’re not a soccer fan, the extended happy hour (3-8pm M-W with $2.50-$3.75/pint & $3.50 rail drinks) is cheap, and drafts (even the local craft beers like DC Brau, Chocolate City & Atlas) are $4 until 10p on Fridays. On Thursdays, the most popular night, happy hour runs all night-usually $3-4 pints & cocktails, $12 pitchers and food specials. Beer and rail drinks are always relatively cheap at all hours too.
Barred in DC Rating: 3/5