When The Armory opens below Rebellion on Feb. 17, it aims to be more sophisticated than its wing-slinging, bourbon-guzzling parent bar upstairs. But despite its steep-stair basement entrance on 18th Street NW, bearded beverage director, and dramatic metal door, the owner wants to strike a buzzword from the conversation: “I don’t want to use the term ‘speakeasy,’ because we’re not going to do any passwords, reservations, or anything like that,” says Brian Westlye. “We want it to be almost the anti-speakeasy, where it’s very approachable and you feel comfortable.”
Westlye prefers to call the basement bar a “test kitchen” because cocktails birthed below ground can graduate to the Rebellion menu if they prove to be hits. The Armory’s beverage director, William Scott Jackson, makes his own cola, blackberry brandy, and seasonal vermouths for the cocktail list, which is priced at $12 to $18 per drink (with the occasional triple digit sip). The decor consists of leather banquets and handsome wallpaper on one side with a pin-up girl mural on the other. “Part of the room is well decorated, but the other part should remind you that you’re drinking in the basement,” Westlye says.
The bar, named “because you can’t have a rebellion if you’re not well armed,” will be open Wednesday through Saturday with private events on other days. Some events are already lined up, like a visit from Wild Turkey’s Master Distiller Jimmy Russell on March 1.
Rebellion’s new executive chef, Travis Weiss, will oversee a small food selection, including burrata with pickled cherry peppers and wild game jerky.
Weiss is the second big change for Rebellion. He comes to the bar from Mad Fox Brewing Company where he was beloved for his burgers. Before the new menu launched at Rebellion, Weiss visited Capital Meat Company in Landover to select a custom burger meat blend for the bar. “The ratios are a secret but it’s chuck, culotte, brisket, and suet, which is the coveted beef fat that protects the kidneys,” Weiss says. In addition to the standard burgers on the menu, Weiss will offer a weekly “legacy burger,” that changes Tuesdays. Expect him to stack meat-on-meat, pull from different cultures, and get gamey.
Other highlights off Rebellion’s new menu include a Nashville-meets-Seoul hot chicken sandwich with kimchi pickles; “fatty mac” with penne, Mornay sauce, pepperoni, bacon, Brussels sprout leaves, and chives; and a “large Marge” sloppy Joe. Weiss also cooks up some health-conscious dishes like “beet it 3 ways” with beet-cured, cold-smoked Norwegian salmon served alongside roasted beets, a mound of goat cheese, and greens.
Weiss and Jackson, who have worked together at a number of career stops, will finally get to collaborate on a drink for The Armory that’s been in their back pocket. It stars a smoked habanero ice cube along with Reposado tequila, roasted grapefruit syrup, allspice dram, and grapefruit bitters.
“We wanted to make the drink at Ted’s Bulletin, but they shot it down so we kept it in our back pocket,” Jackson says. Weiss fills his smoker with water and thinly sliced habanero peppers and cold smokes it before filtering the water twice and freezing it into cube form. “As you drink the cocktail, it becomes smokier and spicier,” Weiss adds.
Rebellion and The Armory, 1836 18th St. NW; rebelliondc.com
Top photo courtesy The Armory. Food and drink photos by Laura Hayes.