Dickson Wine Bar has been open for a few weeks now, occupying a three story brick building opposite Nellie’s. It’s got a rather nondescript industrial look outside, save for the old stone plaque “Dickson BLDG 903 You” from which the bar took its name. I walked by one night in late March, noticing the sexy candlelit interior, and vowed to hit it as soon as possible. I’ve been back twice and can say it will definitely become a regular stop for me from now on. You can’t beat having a bar like this five blocks from your house!
It certainly has a great pedigree – the owners are Tien Claudio (with her husband and DC legend Eric Hilton) and Steve Kaufman (with his husband Fred Paxton), all locals living in Adams Morgan. They wanted to create a friendly neighborhood bar, and that’s the vibe here – residents, workers, Howard University students – everyone’s mingling nicely in an atmosphere that manages to be both adult and fun. As my friend who lives a block away puts it aptly, “the clientele seemed more interested in the food and drink than in finding potential spouses.”
And that food and drink is definitely a draw. Executive chef James Claudio (who also helms the kitchen at Marvin) has dedicated the food menu to local ingredients, and the wine list designed by Jarad Slipp, restaurant director at Cityzen, features organic and biodynamic selections. Rounding out the team is Tom Street, who created the cocktail program and selected the beers. Tom told me they are planning on changing the entire beverage program “quite often,” and in keeping with the eco-conscious theme, the food menu will also change seasonally. Everyone on staff is incredibly personable and helpful, which imbues the bar with a kind of care and love that’s really striking.
What else is striking? The “green” theme continues with the decor, designed by Brian Miller and Lauren Winter of Winter Architecture. It’s just sparse enough to be funky without being cold. Reclaimed wine bottles from Proof line a full two-storied wall, backlit in orange against deep grey. The three levels hold about twenty people each, with wood block tables and industrial plastic stools (surprisingly comfortable). The front window seats are choice, with great people-watching peeps of Nellie’s and the U Street scene, but the tables manage to be both intimate and potentially communal. In other words, this bar is both your go-to date and go-to group spot.
Though Dickson is primarily a wine bar, the cocktail menu is delightfully inventive and my favorite thus far has been the Cherry Pop. I was a bit wary ordering it, worried it might be too sweet for my tastes, but instead it was a complex and refreshing sip of spring. Cuca Fresca Cachaca rum, sour cherry juice, St. Germain, lemon juice and Gruet sparkling wine served in a tall glass with ice all makes for a grown-up cherry soda.
You’ll note some familiar faces on the wine list (“Frog’s Leap is organic?” my surprised friend said) with notations directing you to which are organic and which biodynamic. If that’s important to you, you’ll love it. I hadn’t a clue what that means and had to look it up. Glasses ranged from around $9 to $14 and are served stemless. The list changes frequently, so be prepared to have to branch out from your favorites! I’m fine with that though – a featured wine each night and a helpful staff make it a great place to experiment and learn more. I’ve tried verdejo, chenin blanc and chignin there, all served at proper temperature and just as described by my server. As befits a proper wine bar, servers are not only knowledgeable but thoughtful, taking the time to talk to you about your tastes and steering you towards certain wines accordingly, but also willing to direct you to something new.
The biggest surprise at Dickson is how delicious the food has been so far. A good wine bar lives and dies by its charcuterie plate, and here there’s a smashing selection (my last visit featured duck prosciutto, seductively glistening, meltingly divine). But the rest of the menu’s small plates are also excellent. I’ve enjoyed a decadent ahi tuna crudo – really exquisite cuts of raw tuna accented by a sauce made with the Japanese citrus yuzu. There are several flatbreads as well (I like the wild mushroom and mozzarella, though overall the crustiness of the flatbreads has been a bit on the dry side for me) and Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches. Really where I think the kitchen shines best are the salads – it’s here that the commitment to fresh and local is most apparent, in delicate and subtle mixes of greens and herbs. It’s always a plus to feel slightly healthy while inbibing!
What’s truly wonderful to me as a nearby resident is the high quality of Dickson Wine Bar, and I’m hoping its opening on that still rather blighted stretch of U Street between 10th to 9th is a beacon to other businesses to take a chance here. It’s still quite new, so it’ll be interesting to see if it maintains the current low-key vibe, kind of like a funky yet elegant party. I certainly appreciate it, and will be back often.
Dickson Wine Bar
903 U Street NW
Washington, DC 20001