We Love Drinks continues our series where we look behind the bar, profiling the many people – from mixologists to bartenders, sommeliers to publicans – who make your drinks experience happen.
I swing open the hefty, wide birch door on a cool, clear Sunday evening in March, ascend the metal staircase, and enter into a narrow but deep room, filled with lively chatter and the aromas of sweet and sour beer and freshly-cleaned tap lines. I take a seat at the bar and am immediately approached by one of the bartenders. He reaches out to shake my hand.
“Good evening, Bill! Great to see you. How’s everything going, buddy?”
That’s Nahem Simon, and this is ChurchKey, the acclaimed beer bar brother to its downstairs sister Birch & Barley in Logan Circle. Much has been written on this relatively recent addition to the DC nightlife scene, and if you’re a beer geek you’ve surely heard of Greg Engert, the famed beer director of the two restaurants. But, you may not have heard of Nahem, who on almost any given day can be found pouring one of their 50 taps, hand-pumping a cask ale, or wiping down the bar in a move he calls “the Zamboni.”
Nahem plays Greg’s right-hand man; while Greg researches beers, hosts tastings, and appears in the media as the face of ChurchKey, Nahem’s running the show behind the bar. The two have been close friends for several years and their collective enthusiasm toward craft beer has helped permanently transform DC’s beer scene.
I settle in at the bar as Nahem pours me a glass. He introduces me to some fellow patrons: another ChurchKey bartender off-duty, relaxing with his girlfriend and enjoying a hockey game on the flat screens over the taps, and a general manager of a local restaurant who has stopped in after a busy weekend. Soon, Nahem finds a moment to step out from behind the bar, and we take a seat in the secluded lounge area near the back of the room to talk. Continue reading