Bourbon and craft beer bar Barrel is set to open on Capitol Hill in a week or two with more than 100 varieties of whiskey, a Southern-inspired food menu, and one of the city’s most extensive liquor barrel-aging operations.
The restaurant, located where 18th Amendment used to be, comes from Union Pub and 201 Bar owner Matt Weiss and former 18th Amendment owners Mike Menard and Mike Schuster, who are also involved in Star and Shamrock, Trusty’s, and forthcoming Compass Rose.
Barrel is named so for a reason. The bar will use 10 different 10-liter oak barrels plus at least one smaller barrel to age spirits, cocktails, and sauces. Manager Patrick McClure calls the bar’s approach a “cascading barrel-aged program” where each barrel builds on what was in it before. For example, McClure is using one of the barrels to age a Redemption white rye for two to three weeks. When that’s done, the barrel will be filled with housemade hot sauce. And when that whiskey-steeped hot sauce comes out, maple syrup goes in. The resulting spicy/sweet/boozy concoction will eventually be used this fall for cocktails and various menu items. Another barrel will be filled with Fernet Branca Menta, then a mint julep, and then a Stinger with brandy and crème de menthe after that.
“We have these families of cocktails that extend out over months,” McClure explains. He admits it is a bit of an experiment; even he’s not totally sure how some of these concoctions will taste. “Some of it might end up as $2 shots during happy hour.”
Barrel’s liquor collection focuses on bourbon, but the bar also stocks rye, Japanese whisky, Scotch, and other types of whiskey as well. “We’ve got all the Pappys,” says Weiss of his rare Pappy Van Winkle bourbon collection which includes 20- and 23-year-aged bottles. Barrel will also have a cocktail list beyond the barrel-aged creations as well as wines, craft beer cans, and 16 beers on tap. The beers come primarily on Southern and Eastern breweries with plenty of local stuff.
The main dining area has a lot of exposed brick, reclaimed wood, and 25-seat concrete bar that’s more than 60 feet long. “It’s the longest on Capitol Hill as far as we know,” Weiss says. There’s another bar downstairs, known as “The Elixir Bar,” with a whiskey and other booze display case and storage area Weiss calls “The Dispensary.” The basement has several large tables that can be assembled together to create one really long banquet table for bourbon and beer dinners or private events.
Chef Garret Fleming, a Charleston, S.C., native who formerly worked at The Pig, is taking inspiration from the South Carolina Lowcountry. His menu will have fewer than 20 items like a fried pork chop sandwich and fried chicken with andouille gravy and biscuit. Fleming is also making pastas and his own charcuterie, including sausages, terrines, pâtés, as well as cured and smoked fish. While vegetarians will find a few dishes, there are no salads and also no desserts. No dish will cost more than $20. The restaurant will be open for dinner only at first, but brunch will eventually follow.
Fleming says plans for his own restaurant, Gristle, are on hold as he helps get Barrel up and running. He held a number of pop-ups for Gristle last year, but he hasn’t locked down a location for an actual restaurant yet. “Gristle is going to be more offensive than Barrel will ever be,” he says. “I love the idea of serving meat on the bone—chicken’s with their heads on. It’s a philosophical endeavor on my end, which is probably a horrible business move, but the idea is that we can somehow reintroduce the American palette to seeing what your food comes from.”
Barrel, 613 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; barreldc.com
Photo by Jessica Sidman