Most restaurants have a small, out-of-sight area where drinks are prepared for guests dining at tables, as opposed to the bar, where bartenders are front and center mixing drinks and passing them directly to customers with a side of showmanship.
These nooks are called service bars. “Usually it’s an area that’s thankless,” says Chad Spangler, one of the founders of the new Service Bar DC. “You are behind the scenes, so it’s not about you, it’s about the guest and the guest experience,” Spangler says. “They don’t see you, they don’t know who made the drink, so everything has to be perfect because they don’t have that personal connection.”
Though the bartenders will be out in the open at Service Bar DC, the mission of the bar opening Oct. 20 on U Street NW (928 U Street NW) is to capture the spirit of the service bar by putting hospitality above the ego of its bartenders.
Spangler teamed with his longtime drinks partner Glendon Hartley for the project. The duo operate a cocktail consulting company called the Menehune Group. They’ve built cocktail lists for Ocopa, Provision No. 14, Bonfire, Soi 38, and others. Chris Willoughby,who owned JIN Lounge on 14th Street NW, is also a partner.
The team’s aim is to fuse a cocktail bar with a casual neighborhood bar. That’s why the drink menu swings high and low. There are original cocktails ($9-$14) like the “The Italian Bubble Coat” made with gin, 10-spice limonata, eucalyptus-infused maraschino, Menehune tonic syrup, and clarified orange juice. But there are also $7 beer-and-shot combos, and $7 classic cocktails.
“We’re taking elements of going to a comfortable neighborhood bar and incorporating the things we love to make,” Spangler says. Keeping with the casual theme, the food menu is dominated by fried chicken, including fried tenders in a waffle cone, fried chicken salad, and a buffalo chicken dip. The menu is concise because they eventually plan to add a walk-up, take-out window.
Those looking for more than a fried bird and a boilermaker can find an intimate, higher-end experience in Service Bar DC’s “snug room.” The private table that seats four to six people is encapsulated in a box with a window directly to the bar. “It’s a common thing in Irish pubs,” Spangler says. Historically, “They’re intended for private meetings, or where women would go to drink because it was considered unsightly for them to stand at the bar if there were men there.”
Guests in the snug room can choose between two prix-fixe menus. The “cocktailery” menu includes two drinks and costs $25, while the “Tom Foolery” menu costs closer to $50 and includes at least three drinks. Service Bar DC doesn’t take online or phone reservations for the snug room, but they will allow in-person reservations for guests who can stop by.
The 40-seat bar will be open from 5 p.m. to last call (2 a.m. on weekdays, 3 a.m. on weekends) Tuesdays through Sundays. If the bar is open, the kitchen is open too.
Service Bar DC, 928 U Street NW; servicebardc.com