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Music is an afterthought at some bars. Just cue up some Black Keys and people will dig it. But for forthcoming bar Five to One, music is everything. Bartender turned owner-operator Trevor Frye grew up going to the 9:30 Club back before there were places with names like Hazel, Declaration, and Warby Parker around the corner. Though the neighborhood has changed, Frye remains a devoted fan of the music venue located 482 feet from his first solo bar going into 903 U St. NW.
“This block holds a special place in my heart,” Frye says. “From high school, going to see Nas and the Dilated Peoples to OAR shows before they were big … then when college rolled around, we’d try to get together around Thanksgiving or over the holidays to go to a show and catch up.” If you’re from these parts, this probably sounds familiar.
There will be a small selection of beer and wine at Five to One, and maybe some beef jerky, but cocktails will take center stage. Ten music-themed drinks will be permanent fixtures (topping out at $13), while Frye and his team will dream up a three-cocktail menu inspired by the evening’s music act at the club.
“The eclectic shows that come through the 9:30 Club allow for unlimited inspiration for me and the team to sit down the week before, look at the show lineup, and put the music on and listen to the artist that’s playing,” Frye explains. Naturally, a few tracks from the band du jour will play over the sound system mixed in with early ’90s hip-hop like Pharcyde and De La Soul.
The bar shares its name with Frye’s favorite Doors song. It came out in 1968, the same year riots erupted on U Street, and Frye wants D.C.’s history and culture to be an intrinsic part of his bar. Another intended coincidence: Five to One is the ratio of ingredients in one of Frye’s favorite cocktails, the “Mother-in-Law.” The bourbon-heavy tipple was a smash hit when he served it at Dram & Grain.
Most seats at the intimate, 60-seat bar will be for parties with reservations, but 30 percent of seats will be held for walk-in guests. “I don’t have a lot of nights out, so I like to plan things,” Frye explains. Plus, since the bar hopes to be home base before and after shows, timing is crucial. “If I can know that I have two seats at 7:30 p.m. for a 9 p.m. show, that’s great.”
Guests will enter the bar, which was most recently Dickson Wine Bar, from the basement level. There, they’ll be greeted by a host and a liquid amuse-bouche such as a splash of sherry while they relax on comfy furniture. Then they’ll be escorted to their seats upstairs either on the main floor or a second level that’s perched above like a loft. A dumbwaiter will be used to send cocktails in carafes up to the top level.
With Five to One’s opening, Frye joins a crew of bartenders in the neighborhood who have graduated from bartender to owner/operator—Archipelago helmed by Owen Thompson and his team, plus Service Bar DC from Glendon Hartley and Chad Spangler. Frye put in 14 years in the trenches and came out the other side with a business plan that gives employees better work/life balance and a reason to stick around.
His profit-sharing system vests staff in the bar and even builds in funds for continuing education. He’ll implement it at both Five to One and his other coming-soon project, Marble Alley. Frye’s been traveling the country giving presentations on this model because he’s passionate about making sure bartenders are compensated not only for their time behind the bar, but for their creativity and work behind the scenes. By teaching staff members the ins and outs of the business, he hopes to pay it forward and provide them with a path to ownership.
Five to One will likely be open from 6 p.m. to close. They’ll start doing pop-ups in December; may host a New Years Eve party; and are planning for a mid-January grand opening.
Photo by Laura Hayes