Hilarey and Brian Leonard
Hilarey and Brian Leonard

Update: Free State opens Jan. 4. at 4 p.m.

Marylanders, bless them, were some of the strongest opposers of prohibition because they felt the law violated states’ rights. This is how Maryland earned the nickname “The Free State.”

What better moniker for a bar, thought Maryland native Brian Leonard when he was naming his second D.C. establishment. Brian and his wife Hilarey, who are also behind Lost & Found in Shaw, are readying to open the nautically-themed Free State Atlantic Bar in Chinatown next month (501 G St. NW basement level).

Find the laid back basement bar, which can hold 80 people, by climbing down a set of stairs directly below Bantam King. It’s marked by a mural of the Chesapeake Bay. The space was once a part of Burger King, and they even kept the cooler. The Leonards are setting up shop where overflow seating was located at the fast food restaurant. Edit Lab at Streetsense, which also designed Columbia Room and Kapnos, is the design firm transforming the space.

Cocktails ($10-$12) will be made using spirits from each of the Mid-Atlantic states from Pennsylvania down to North Carolina. They have a crushed ice machine on order so they can make a proper Orange Crush—a Baltimore cocktail typically containing orange juice, orange vodka, triple sec, and lemon-lime soda. There will also be 14 beers on draft from neighboring states. Brian says he’ll have a mix of popular brews and picks for beer geeks.

But you won’t find Natty Boh because the Leonards are taking this made-in-Maryland thing seriously. “As much as I love a good Natty Boh, it’s not made in Maryland anymore,” he says. “It’s still near and dear to my heart though.”

The only food available will be prepackaged snacks. Expect Berger Cookies and salt water taffy—nostalgic for Marylanders.

The Leonards know they’re going into a saturated market by opening near the Verizon Center, but they hope to stand out by appealing to an easy-going, neighborhood crowd.

“I’m a little on the older side, but when I go to a Caps game I don’t want to go to a packed bar where everyone is throwing booze,” Hilarey says. “I want to go somewhere more chill where I can get a glass of wine and hang out with neighbors.” They also hope the bar serves as a welcome holding pen for people waiting for tables upstairs at Bantam King or around the corner at Graffiato.

When it launches Jan. 4, Free State will be open Sundays through Thursdays from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. and Fridays through Saturdays from 4 p.m. to 3 a.m. They’ll open early if there’s an afternoon game or concert at the Verizon Center.

Free State Atlantic Bar, 501 G St. NW basement level, freestatebar.com

Photo by Laura Hayes