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Bar Charley is a subterranean bar in Dupont Circle best known for its tiki drinks on tap and oversized happy hour soft pretzels that can redeem the most insufferable of work days. But when Washingtonians weren’t looking, the bar owned by Jackie Greenbaum and Gordon Banks retooled its dining room menu to mimic that of a downtown steakhouse, only without lobbyist prices.
At Bourbon Steak a tuna tartare appetizer ($22) and a 12-ounce strip steak sans sides ($59) runs $81. The same combination costs $42.95 at Bar Charley, only the steak comes with a choice of salad or Parker House rolls from Lyon Bakery and a side of fries or baked potato. At Bourbon Steak, the slab of corn-fed beef may come from Allen Brothers, whileBar Charley uses Roseda Farms like many other prime D.C. meat emporiums.
Diners at Bar Charley also get to pick a sauce: chimichurri, bernaise, au poivre, roquefort, or herb butter. Traditional steakhouse sides are offered a la carte for $5-$6, including roasted button mushrooms, creamed spinach, and sautéed broccoli rabe.
Bar Charley, which opened in 2013 as a sister bar of sorts to Sidebar in Silver Spring, has gone through several iterations. Greenbaum says they’ve struggled to make the food match the popularity of the drinks. They’ve served a menu of small plates and a bistro-style menu in the past.
“We’ve never had a grip on what we felt the food ought to be there,” she says. “We’ve always noticed that dinner sales lagged behind cocktail sales. Partly that was our fault. We weren’t hitting the mark of what customers wanted, so we’re always noodling on it.”
But the idea of switching to steakhouse offerings clicked, and the menu from Executive Chef Adam Harvey and Chef de Cuisine Ilya Agarunov debuted in March. Greenbaum says it complements both the space and the bar’s martinis and Scotch flights.
“It’s a lower-level space. It has this classic feel to it,” Greenbaum says. “It always seemed a little bit of a throwback kind of place.”
As Greenbaum and Banks prepare to renew their five-year lease, they’re redesigning the bar in waves. The dining room is going to get pink flamingo wallpaper to give it a Beverly Hills Hotel vibe, and the back patio is starting to look like a Trader Vic’s thanks to all of the tiki paraphernalia. In addition to classic cocktails and twists on them, Bar Charley carries 10 tiki drinks.
Those seeking even more of a deal at Bar Charley should visit on Sundays nights when they offer half-price steaks with the purchase of a bottle of wine or a scorpion bowl cocktail for the table. “I feel like a Crazy Eddie commercial,” Greenbaum jokes. “Nobody beats our prices. When you eat here, it’s like dining in 1965, including the prices.”
Bar Charley, 1825 18th St. NW; (202) 627-2183; barcharley.com