We Love Drinks: Dickson Wine Bar

Photo courtesy of
‘Dickson Wine Bar’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

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.

Photo courtesy of
‘Mirrors, Dickson Wine Bar’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

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.

Photo courtesy of
‘Cherry Pop cocktails’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

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.

Photo courtesy of
‘Charcuterie, Dickson Wine Bar’
courtesy of ‘Jenn Larsen’

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

As one of the founding editors of We Love DC, Jenn’s passions are theater and cocktails. After two decades in the city, she’s loved every quirky, mundane, elegant, rude minute of her DC life. A proud advocate for DC’s talented drinks scene, she’s judged the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s ARTINI contest, the DC Rickey Month contest, the Jefferson Hotel’s Quill Cocktail competition, and is a founding member of LUPEC DC. A graduate of Catholic University’s drama program, she toured the country as a member of National Players, and has been both an actor and a costume designer before jumping the aisle to theater criticism. Writing for We Love DC restored her happiness after a life-threatening illness, and she’s grateful to you, dear readers. Send your suggestions to jenn (at) welovedc (dot) com and follow her on Twitter.

Twitter Flickr 

8 thoughts on “We Love Drinks: Dickson Wine Bar

  1. I went there a couple of weeks ago and loved it! It’s a bit out of the way for me, but I’d go there any day over Vinoteca (and probably even Cork). My only complaint is how little room there is inside, but there’s not much they can do about that. It’s interesting to see how it was transformed from an art gallery (Project 4) to a wine bar. I’ll be going back for sure.

  2. What a great spot. I stumbled upon it in the opening week and was back three nights later to bring another group. The atmosphere is outstanding… stylish and inviting, and the menu of food and wine is also unique in the city. A top choice.

  3. Pingback: Thoughts on Dickson Wine « U Street Girl

  4. Stemless? Why not go all the way with the ersatz italian peasant thing they do in SF and serve the wine in a rocks glass?

  5. Going to Dickson for the first and only time was an unabashed disappointment. The cocktails were all creative, but they just were not very good and this place would have done better to stick with the classics. The offerings were much too expensive for what they are. The mixed drinks are all $11 and nothing special, and the amount of cheese or charcuterie you get for $8-9 is infinitesimal, even by stingy wine bar standards. Most importantly, the service was poor. I’ve felt more welcomed at the DMV. Our waitress rushed us (with no one waiting for tables) and couldn’t crack a smile to save her soul. I am in the neighborhood all the time but will not be back.

  6. My wife and I really enjoyed Dicksons. It helps that we are both wine lovers and look for any excuse to have a glass or three.