Elegy for the Brickskeller

Photo courtesy of
courtesy of ‘needlessspaces’

By now, I’m sure you’ve heard that the Brickskeller is officially closing before the end of the month.  While I lament its departure, the great era of the Brickskeller is long past us, and the feeling I have is the relief of the peaceful passing of a long-suffering relative.

When I moved to DC in 2000, i was a fresh college grad, poor and in need of a good education of beer.  The Brickskeller quickly became that place for me, and under the direction of Beer Guy Dave (whose emails were legendary for their rambling direction and ASCII art) and Bob Tupper, I learned more about what good beer should be, what good beer often isn’t, and the intersection of the two.  The Brickskeller is the fore-runner of RFD, Church Key, Rustico, and the Big Hunt, four killer beer bars that every beerlover in DC should know and love.  For that, they must be thanked, and thanked heartily.

In fact, the very first time I was absolutely plastered in DC came at one of the (in)famous beer dinners they held in the basement level of the Brick.  My cousin and I went for the Strong Beer dinner, and at the end of the night, they had an open keg of the Carolus Golden Monkey, and after eight strong beers, this stuff was going down like water.

Mike had at least four of the small glasses, and I’d had at least two, and we were both feeling it.  It was getting on toward 11pm on a weeknight, and frankly, if we hadn’t skedaddled when we did, I think we probably would’ve had to walk home from Dupont to Alexandria, and that wasn’t happening.  So, sauced as can be, we drifted to the Metro, made our transfer at Metro Center and headed back toward Van Dorn.  Mike was starting to look a little green as we left National Airport, but, in a wonder that I have yet to see rivaled upon the Metro, he executed a perfect boot and rally into the trash can on the platform, holding his hand up to stop the driver from departing before he sauntered back onto the train.

Regardless, the Brick was where you went to try new beers, because you never knew what you’d find in their phone-book-like menu that covered every country in the world.  Of course, the menu was printed about once a decade, and you never knew what they had, so it was often russian roulette with ordering.  Sometimes you’d get the end of a case that dated back to Nixon’s last term, and what followed would be a painful exercise in appreciation.  But you always got to talk with the staff.  And they just flat out knew beer.  On the nights of the Brick’s frequent beer dinners, you’d be talking with the Brewmaster of Sierra Nevada Brewing, or one of the guys up at Samuel Adams, or the head of a small San Diego Brewing and Pizza company.

So, for providing DC with reason to stray from the usual six taps at every corner bar, I say a Thank You and Good Night to the Brickskeller.  Your presence brought this town into the top echelon of beer cities throughout the world, and your worthy successors at Church Key, Rustico, Big Hunt and RFD will sing your praises always, for you are what brought good beer to our glasses.

I live and work in the District of Columbia. I write at We Love DC, a blog I helped start, I work at Technolutionary, a company I helped start, and I’m happy doing both. I enjoy watching baseball, cooking, and gardening. I grow a mean pepper, keep a clean scorebook, and wash the dishes when I’m done. Read Why I Love DC.

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4 thoughts on “Elegy for the Brickskeller

  1. Great post Tom. I too have played Russian roulette trying to order a beer there. Very cool concept of a bar, but it lacked follow through much of the time. Still a great atmosphere and ordering a beer was part of the adventure there.

  2. Oddly, perhaps, I don’t recall being all that annoyed by the beer roulette. What really irked me was that they were always out of pierogies and often out of buffalo burgers

  3. I look at the Brickskeller and I think of the Ryman Auditorium. That century-old converted church was vital to fostering country music, but then the country music industry went more mainstream and upscale. Today the Grand Ol’ Opry broadcasts from a custom-built theater in a theme park and George Jones and Dolly Parton have been supplanted by Kenny Chesney and Taylor Swift. The Brick is the scruffy reminder of what the early days of craft brewing in the U.S. were like. Places like ChurchKey are the future of “good beer”. Will that always be for the better? Probably not. But it is the reality. If I can, I’ll be there for the last “last call” at the Brickskeller and raise my glass for all it meant to me and to many others.