There’s a slew of new boozy places in town, and I’m going to be busy trying to hit them all. So I thought for this week’s edition of Drinks I’d focus on a bar that has been on my list for a while, but somehow haven’t gotten around to writing about.
Well, maybe I was being selfish!
Cork was a raging success before it even opened. Just the initial rumours of a wine bar on the 14th Street Corridor was enough to send us Shavians into a frenzy, pros and cons fiercely debated. Though owners and Logan Circle residents Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts were strongly dedicated to keeping it a neighborhood spot, the advance chat was so good that it was impossible to get in for weeks, if not months, after it opened. Suddenly the brave little wine bar that could was the toast of Food & Wine. And with Cork Market & Tasting Room opening this fall a little across the way, there’s no sign of a slowdown.
Sad to say, I still can’t recommend Cork on a weekend night. It’s just too crowded, there isn’t much space to wait for a table in the bar area (there isn’t much of a bar area for a wine bar, actually) and the decibel level is extreme. Of course if all that doesn’t bother you, go for it. It’s certainly a lively scene. But I’m more an off-night girl myself.
On a quiet mid-week night, the owners’ mission to “demystify the world of wine” really comes through, and it’s a true pleasure. Servers are knowledgeable, really taking the time to help you learn more about wine. Check out the chalkboard for the flights – they change regularly and are designed to introduce you to lesser known varietals. On my last visit, I got to sample some Vouvray, and then Dolcetto. Verdict? “Funky,” just how I like it.
The wine list is dedicated to Old World, with just about 160 bottles and 50 by the glass. Narrowing the focus this way is helpful, as the universe of wine seems so daunting at times. I usually just talk with the staff and get their recommendations, and they’ve never steered wrong. There are some fantastic sparkling wines by the glass to push you out of your champagne comfort zone. I love that their Italian selection goes outside of Tuscany as well. Wine tasting events are also frequent here, giving you the chance to talk with winemakers directly to further expand your knowledge in a casual and fun way.
Cocktails more your style? Bartender Tom Brown is one of the best in the city. Just put yourself in his hands if you can snag a seat at the bar. Actually it’s my favorite place to sit in the front room. Oh right, the decor? It’s pleasantly dark, candlelit, simply wood and brick.
What’s a wine bar without some nosh? Surprisingly, the charcuterie isn’t the menu’s strong point at Cork (hit Vinoteca or Proof if that’s your main desire). But I defy you not to swoon when munching on the avocado with pistachios on grilled bread. Luscious pistachio oil gilds the lily. Heavenly. The rest of chef Ron Tanaka’s small plates are exquisite as well. What is it that makes the simple sauteed mushrooms so good? And the branzino… sigh.
With all this I completely understand why it’s still so damn hard to get a seat at Cork. You can call 30 mintues ahead to get on the list if you like, but note no reservations except for pre-theater from 5:30-6:30pm, and they are closed on Mondays. I’m hopeful that with the crazy success of this intimate and welcoming bar, new openings will continue to follow its lead.
1720 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009