Let’s say you love hand-crafted cocktails, but your friend is all about Miller High Life. Up until this point, I’d be hard-pressed to recommend a place where you both would feel comfortable. Thankfully, brothers Derek and Tom Brown have created a bar where the two of you can happily cosy up in a booth together.
Last night, The Passenger opened its doors to the public. The night before, I was lucky to attend a preview of the new bar and sample the atmosphere. It’s still a work in progress, the rough-and-ready quality mimicking the surrounding neighborhood. If you were familiar with the Warehouse, the space revamps the front bar and the back area near the theater. It’s got a black diamond quality, with exposed brick, hardwood floors and a long photographic mural that’s meant to remind you of the view from a train’s windows. Booths line the walls and by this weekend the back section will be finished to resemble a mirrored dining car.
If you’re expecting an upscale exclusive club atmosphere with pinkies raised over clinkety-clink glasses, well, you’ll be disappointed. What we have here is a funky, eclectic neighborhood bar that’s set to evolve organically. And I’m not kidding, in addition to those famous made-to-taste cocktails you can also get Miller High Life and a chili half-smoke.
This is a bar where both mods and rockers are easily at home.
Of course I have to like a bar that serves my favorite prosecco (Adami, if you want to know) and whose wine list is full of options I’m eager to try, from Emiliana Gewurztraminer “Natura” to Tenuta Mazzolino Pinot Nero. And I’m easily seduced by sherry. The wine list ranges from $5 to $15 a glass.
Beer is available draft or canned – four on draft at $5 to $9 from Lagunitas Pils to Gouden Carlolus Hopsingjoor, and cans ranging from $4 to $10 with several Oskar Blues and Butternuts choices highlighted.
To the cocktails, it’s true you can just ask Tom Brown at the front bar to rustle you up something based on what you like taste-wise, and I think that will be the best way to go. But in addition, there will be seasonal pitchers available. The preview featured a gin punch that was a bit too lemony-sour for my taste (I tend to steer clear of that flavor range anyway, definitely do not pair it with the kimchi hot dog!). The Sherry Flip was more to my liking – with egg white, cream, sherry, brandy and nutmeg, here was a fragrant sipping cocktail whose old-fashioned vibe somehow seemed appropriate for the rough-hewn setting.
The other cocktail buzz is around Derek’s bar-within-a-bar, the Columbia Room, which won’t open until early 2010. This will be an intimate spot for you libation lovers big on esoteric liquor lore – more one-on-one interaction, reservations-requested, with a strong focus on the aesthetic science of the cocktail. Brilliant, but don’t get confused – it’s not open yet, and you don’t need reservations for the main bar.
For bar nibbles, you can munch on aforementioned chili half-smoke or kimchi hot dog if that’s your style – I was not a fan of the latter but to each their own – or try panini with a large assortment of Room 11 chips. Personally I would just nosh repeatedly on the housemade beef jerky, crazy spicy good.
I’m hopeful that The Passenger will be foremost a neighborhood joint, the place I hit on my way home for a cider or a kicked-up old-fashioned (mood dependent), whether I’m gussied up or dressed down, and where that mythical meeting of High Life and Moscato D’Asti can get it on in the cosy corner. Time will tell, so let’s take a ride and see…
1021 7th Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
(Special thanks to WLDC author Max for coming along and shooting great photographs!)