Hidden behind the family-friendly dining room at Evening Star Cafe in the Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria is a rollicking back area that feels like a mash-up of a ’70s rec-room basement and an ’80s punk dive.
Along the walls—-which are plastered with vintage gig posters for bands like Crass and The U.K. Subs—-there are a battery of mid-century couches, stumpy teak coffee tables, and laid-back yellow chairs. Behind the bar, a trio of retro General Electric refrigerators are fitted with beer taps that spew nearly 20 regional and national craft brews. When I visited, “Let It Be”-era Replacements blared at a pitch so intense I feared it might shatter the handmade Mason jar light fixtures overhead.
This room, dubbed Majestic Lounge, is one of several new additions to Evening Star Cafe, the oldest establishment in the snowballing repertoire of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group, which closed the space last fall for a hard reboot. When it reopened in December, an eccentric design scheme decked the halls, and handsome southerner and CityZen alum Jim Jeffords took over the kitchen.
While Jeffords’ entire dining room menu is available in the back room, the Majestic Lounge also serves a separate list that covers some simple but dependable American bar-grub standards. And while little on that list flat-out flops, it can be hard to find a hit.
Chicken wings are carefully crisped and kissed with a tangy sauce, but the watery blue cheese dip is insipid. A fried chicken sandwich suffers from a bogus bread-to-meat ratio, in which a housemade sesame roll completely engulfs an otherwise lovely crunchy chicken breast fillet slathered with fiery pimento-spiked mayo.
The best of the lot is Jeffords’ housemade half-smoke served on a supple potato roll and smothered in chopped kimchi masquerading as relish. He knocks it out of the park.
Some of the snacks and small plates, like fried pimento cheese-stuffed Peppadew peppers and Cajun-style “duck dip,” are agreeable but way too tame for my eager palette. Others, like a bracing Caesar salad and a shallow terrine of al dente orecchiette with spunky cheese sauce, show that Jeffords can crank out the flavor.
The barbecue expert in my dining squad accurately noted that the pulled pork tasted not of a particular regional style but of something commonly found in grocery aisles across America: Hormel hot dog chili. And one night a pickled mushroom salad arrived with no sign of its namesake ingredient.
But our waiter, the affable and attentive bar manager Evan Labb, apologized and earnestly rectified the mistake with a round of drinks on the house. Before we raised our glasses and merrily knocked those back, we couldn’t help but scream, “Cheers!” amid the crushing din of rock ‘n’ roll.
Photo by Samer Farha