Years ago, the Brickskeller was the only game in town for true brew enthusiasts, a place you’d proudly bring out-of-town guests to prove D.C. had some beer cred. In its later years, as the craft beer scene exploded across the District, the competition opened up the playing field and the “Brick” lost some of its luster. But to me, it always remained a casual gathering place for fellow beer geeks, or even the less hops-obsessed, with walls of beer as a backdrop. In the end, however, the place sort of felt like visiting your parents’ house after having lived on your own for awhile.
Once the decades-old restaurant was sold to Megan Merrifield and her husband in December, it took me several months before deciding to check out the new incarnation, Bier Baron, as the old space on P Street is now called. Earlier this week, I finally dropped by and was not disappointed. The place is filled with memories, as the decor remains largely unchanged, including the world-class collection of vintage beer cans that still line the walls. But several significant factors have changed for the better.
For one thing, Bier Baron has bumped up their pouring power to 50 total taps, including 24 new draft lines installed in the basement bar and 14 additional taps upstairs. And, while the Brickskeller was constantly out of your first, second, and sometimes third choice from the bottle list, Bier Baron actually seems to have most of the 500 beers on its bottle list in stock. (Numbers sound familiar? Bier Baron now has the same number of taps and bottles that local top dog ChurchKey/Birch & Barley does.) I have heard a few complaints about some of the Baron’s rarer finds not being in stock, but no one at my table struck out even once during our visit.
Fellow Lagerhead Bruce and I had the chance to chat with Dorlyn Catron, who is running the beer program alongside fellow Brick veteran bartender Eve Maier. Catron showed us the new draft system and explained some of the changes she and Maier have made. Trimming down the Brickskeller’s legendary list of some 1,200 beers, they cut the lager selection significantly. Instead of stocking as many lagers as they could from every country around the world, as was former owner Dave Alexander‘s modus operandi, they tried to keep just one from each country. They also cut back on the macro selection—no Heineken or Coors. The lady suds-slingers also reorganized the beer list by style instead of nation, which tends to be what today’s craft beer-savvy consumer prefers.
Add to the list a new and improved food menu (about the only thing I ordered from the old menu was Dave’s chicken breast sandwich, which I’ll continue to miss for nostalgia’s sake), live music, and renovated bathrooms, and you’ve got some solid signs that the storied drinking destination is well on its way to being remade into something better than before. At its core, Bier Baron is still a dark, somewhat dingy spot to throw back decent beer, but the new team is working hard to preserve the things that were great about the Brick and fix the things that sucked.
Having stuff in stock at least is a very good start.
Bier Baron, 1523 22nd St NW, (202) 293-1885
Photos by Tammy Tuck