Let's talk about my favorite bourbon bar in DC. Barrel is a beautiful wood covered restaurant dominated by bar top that practically goes the length of the whole place. For the most part, it's quiet, cozy and dark. My favorite perch is either at the bar or the long table at the front with the old metal bar stools. I stumbled upon Barrel because I was looking for a bar in DC that served Widow Jane bourbon which I hadn't found outside of NYC. The Widow is probably my favorite bourbon and started me on love affair of that brown deliciousness. It has all the trademark notes of a classic bourbon, caramel, oak, brown sugar but, at least to me, is much smoother than most.
So, I first came to Barrel for the Widow and I've kept coming back for everything else. Barrel's agility or is it utility (um...trying out these terms since I tend to use the same words over and over again) or maybe we're just talking about a damn good place to have a drink. I've had lazy Sundays brunches there, a marathon holiday drinking session, a good-bye to DC party (where ironically I realized there was another bar downstairs, Elixir), and it may have been a go-to place for my first date phase (um..cough, cough, Tinder). Regardless of the "event", Barrel always provided a good time. Okay, okay...so the Widow Jane helped too.
I've moved away so I can't go with much regularity anymore so I'm sad to say I haven't sampled the food as thoroughly as I've wanted. It's not that the food isn't really good. I just really, really enjoy the drinks at Barrel. But, don't sleep on the food there. The chef, Garret Fleming was on Season 13 of Top Chef which may not be an indication of goodness but I've never been disappointed at any Top Chef contestant's establishment. At Barrel, I seem to gravitate towards the fresh, homemade pasta dishes. The Wild Boar Pappardelle. On point. Gamey, rich and I love the thick pasta and the texture given by the bread crumbs. The Tagliatelle Alla Carbornara on the brunch menu is mind blowing. A poached egg, house smoked bacon and fresh pasta lightly dusted with cheese. Rich, savory, earthy and just the right thing for a Sunday hangover. For dessert, there was this unusual Apple & Rosemary Crostada with Parmesan Ice Cream. Not quite sweet but satisfying nonetheless. The menu changes pretty frequently so I'm not sure if any of these things are things are anymore. But, if you do run into them, order two.
If you get tired of Widow Jane which is a silly statement in it's own right, Barrel makes some wicked cocktails. If I go outside the brown liquor family, I usually get The Lord Oaf of Highgarden (great name, eh?) or The Highgarden, for short. Gin, sage, syrup, lemon, orange bitters and grenadine. It's light and summery and hence perfect for Sunday Funday. The Bucket will bring you back to loving bourbon with it's pepper-ginger syrup and bitters. For old schoolers or is that scholars, like myself, catch Barrel on a night when they're serving Old Fashioneds out of a cask. Heaven.
I don't know why I can't quit Barrel. I think maybe it's because it's my perfect kind of bar. You can drink there all day, you can take a date there (eating at the bar is perfect), spend all day drinking there, or just stop by for a quick drink with friends. You can eat (the food is amazing) or just drink. There's no pressure. Time seems to stand still inside it's cozy atmosphere. If you want something a bit more eclectic, try Elixir downstairs which feels like a cellar winery. Barrel is a place that I keep coming back to when I'm in DC. It's a good habit. Maybe y'all should pick it up too.
Barrel, 613 Pennsylvania Avenue SE, Washington, DC, 202.543.3622