We Love Drinks: Cork

"roseflight" by Il Primo Uomo, on Flickr

"roseflight" by Il Primo Uomo, on Flickr

There’s a slew of new boozy places in town, and I’m going to be busy trying to hit them all. So I thought for this week’s edition of Drinks I’d focus on a bar that has been on my list for a while, but somehow haven’t gotten around to writing about. 

Well, maybe I was being selfish!

Cork was a raging success before it even opened. Just the initial rumours of a wine bar on the 14th Street Corridor was enough to send us Shavians into a frenzy, pros and cons fiercely debated. Though owners and Logan Circle residents Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts were strongly dedicated to keeping it a neighborhood spot, the advance chat was so good that it was impossible to get in for weeks, if not months, after it opened. Suddenly the brave little wine bar that could was the toast of Food & Wine. And with Cork Market & Tasting Room opening this fall a little across the way, there’s no sign of a slowdown.

Sad to say, I still can’t recommend Cork on a weekend night. It’s just too crowded, there isn’t much space to wait for a table in the bar area (there isn’t much of a bar area for a wine bar, actually) and the decibel level is extreme. Of course if all that doesn’t bother you, go for it. It’s certainly a lively scene. But I’m more an off-night girl myself.

On a quiet mid-week night, the owners’ mission to “demystify the world of wine” really comes through, and it’s a true pleasure. Servers are knowledgeable, really taking the time to help you learn more about wine. Check out the chalkboard for the flights – they change regularly and are designed to introduce you to lesser known varietals. On my last visit, I got to sample some Vouvray, and then Dolcetto. Verdict? “Funky,” just how I like it.

The wine list is dedicated to Old World, with just about 160 bottles and 50 by the glass. Narrowing the focus this way is helpful, as the universe of wine seems so daunting at times. I usually just talk with the staff and get their recommendations, and they’ve never steered wrong. There are some fantastic sparkling wines by the glass to push you out of your champagne comfort zone.  I love that their Italian selection goes outside of Tuscany as well. Wine tasting events are also frequent here, giving you the chance to talk with winemakers directly to further expand your knowledge in a casual and fun way.

Cocktails more your style? Bartender Tom Brown is one of the best in the city. Just put yourself in his hands if you can snag a seat at the bar. Actually it’s my favorite place to sit in the front room. Oh right, the decor? It’s pleasantly dark, candlelit, simply wood and brick.

What’s a wine bar without some nosh? Surprisingly, the charcuterie isn’t the menu’s strong point at Cork (hit Vinoteca or Proof if that’s your main desire). But I defy you not to swoon when munching on the avocado with pistachios on grilled bread. Luscious pistachio oil gilds the lily. Heavenly. The rest of chef Ron Tanaka’s small plates are exquisite as well. What is it that makes the simple sauteed mushrooms so good? And the branzino… sigh.

With all this I completely understand why it’s still so damn hard to get a seat at Cork. You can call 30 mintues ahead to get on the list if you like, but note no reservations except for pre-theater from 5:30-6:30pm, and they are closed on Mondays. I’m hopeful that with the crazy success of this intimate and welcoming bar, new openings will continue to follow its lead.

1720 14th Street NW
Washington, DC 20009

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.

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7 thoughts on “We Love Drinks: Cork

  1. Cork is OK but you’re right – way too busy on most nights. I think their menu is confusing too. I still vote Veritas as my favorite wine bar in town.

  2. What’s funny is that Veritas used to be totally packed all the time as well. I was there a few weeks ago on a Friday and it was fine, so that hype has died, and for the better I think.

    But Cork is still crazed. Why? Is it actually the food that causes the insanity? Maybe it’s really a restaurant masquerading as a bar. Hmmm…

  3. You know what the manager of Cork said to me when I tried to take pictures in there one night, so I could write about it for We Love Food? He said to me, “we don’t allow people to take pictures in here because people might post them on blogs.” OH REALLY? OHHHH REALLY? THOSE CRAZY BLOGGERS! To which I said, “What is wrong with that?” and he said “Sometimes they’re bad at taking pictures and they misrepresent Cork.” I quit at that point, but what I wanted to say back was “Don’t send out food you don’t want to represent your restaurant and you won’t have that problem.” I also wanted to say “Welcome to Web 2.0 where everyone is a critic.” and I also wanted to say, “you’re going to regret that attitude later.”

  4. One of the problems with Cork is the layout of the front bar area. When it gets packed there’s really no good place to stand. I guess you could say that about other places too, but it’s even worse for some reason at Cork.

    If I need a glass of wine I’ll just head over to Posto. :)

  5. Ha! Katie strikes back! Note Il Primo Uomo’s photo was taken on one of the outside tables in daylight. I didn’t have my camera any of the times I’ve been, so no direct experience, but “misrepresent”? Good grief. There’s no absolute truth with food and drinks, it’s all subjective anyway!

    Wow, so not much love for Cork, yet. So why the crowds?

  6. Dear Katie,

    FYI, most reputable restaurants do not allow you to take pictures of the interior or exterior for duplication purposes. I used to work at Balthazar in NYC and we used to be very rude to anyone that wanted to photograph the place, unless it was a planned photoshoot with Vogue. Thus, the owner/manager was cordial in saying that he did not want the food misrepresented and it should be respected. I really admire you for writing a culinary blog, but perhaps you should be a little kinder to the owner’s requests. You are a guest in their restaurant afterall.