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Update: Church Hall experienced delays and will open this Friday, March 30.
When owner Peter Bayne’s wife first saw the space that would hold Church Hall she thought it had the arch of a cathedral. The unique, slanted shape of the 7,000-square-foot beer hall scheduled to open next Wednesday in Georgetown comes from the fact that it’s nestled underneath the ramp to one of the city’s most annoying parking garages. Bayne, who grew up in D.C., remembers taking the brass escalator down from Wisconsin Avenue to the food court that once had a Benihana.
Naming their newest bar Church made sense to Bayne and his Tin Shop business partner Geoffrey Dawson. They say they try to create gathering places to build community at their various bars including Franklin Hall, Big Chief, and Penn Social. But don’t worry; the new space won’t have cocktails called “Communion” or uncomfortable pew seating. The religious references stop at the name.
“It started as ‘Church,’ but we needed to be more exact with our branding because we’ll never get found on Google if you just type in ‘Church,’” Bayne says. “It’s a little tongue-in-cheek. We’ll probably have some 21-year-old students in the area who still have their dad’s credit cards on them. Their parents will be like, ‘How did you spend $200 at church last night, son?’”
The cavernous bar with 5,500 square feet on the ground floor and another 1,500 square feet on a mezzanine has no windows, giving it the same effect as a casino, where it’s easy to lose track of time. “We wanted it to have the same industrial feel that we did at Franklin Hall, but also the poshness of Georgetown.”
That’s why the main floor is split up between beer hall tables with padded benches and a row of cushy leather couches to sink into near two natural gas fireplaces. One of the couch nooks sits under a chandelier that looks like it was plucked from the Titanic. He’s also installed 16 flat screen televisions for watching sports and the State of the Union. “Some people want the comfort of a couch and some people need a table for 20 of their friends,” Bayne says.
As at Franklin Hall, there is no table service. When you first walk in, there’s what Bayne calls the “speed bar” where you can get a drink in hand almost immediately. Options include a diverse beer selection, wine, boozy slushies, and cocktails such as a cherry blossom gin & tonic on draft. “We want people to get up and interact,” Bayne says. “It’s such a tight labor market that it’s hard to find quality people to run the floor—I prefer just getting up and getting my drink.”
The food menu from Chef Justin Clements includes loaded fries ($8), Frito pie with Texas beef meat chili ($6), elote grilled corn ($4), steak salad ($16), a cheeseburger ($11), Reuben sliders ($12), a fried chicken and waffle sandwich ($13), and funnel cake for dessert ($6).
When Church Hall opens next week, hours will be Mondays from 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m.; Tuesdays-Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.; Fridays from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m.; Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 3 a.m.; and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. The bar may open during the day on weekdays if demand justifies it.
Bayne says Church Hall is one of the first bars to open in Georgetown since the moratorium on liquor licenses was lifted. “The reason we were able to come in early is because buildings that already had a liquor license had an exemption,” he explains. Georgetown Park fell into the exemption zone. “I think Georgetown has realized they’ve hurt themselves a little bit.”
Church Hall, 1070 Wisconsin Ave. NW; churchhalldc.com