Park Tavern had planned to be up and running in time for opening day at Nationals Park. That didn't happen. But the bar and restaurant in Canal Park finally began serving food and drinks on Monday, making it a prime stop before this week's Nationals games.
The attraction is the large patio area. Covered with brightly colored plastic chairs and surrounded by planters filled with pansies, it feels more like an informal gathering spot than a formal restaurant. Perhaps that's why it feels so welcoming to kids – well, that and the park's spray fountains, which are far enough away from the seating that diners won't get splashed.
The airy restaurant inside is all large windows, blond wood and exposed fittings. The room is dominated by a round bar, though there are plenty of seats. Service is quick and efficient.
There's no happy hour yet, though my bartender said one was in the works. In the meantime, there's a decent selection of draft beer, including Bell's Oberon, Heavy Seas Loose Cannon and Eggenberg Pils among the eight taps. (You'll pay $6-$7 for most.) Can choices include Fat Tire and 16-ounce pounders of Natty Boh for $5-$6.
Unlike most of the bars near the stadium, Park Tavern seems to be making a legit effort on the cocktail front. The Porch Swing muddles blueberries and mint with gin; the Pimm's Cup is fairly traditional (though sour mix instead of lemonade seems a bit of a misstep); and the Mai Tai is a boozy, tasty rum drink, if not exactly Trader Vic's recipe. Most cocktails are $9 or $10, though the Dark and Stormy is $8.
The layout of the building itself is kind of odd: You have to leave the restaurant to use the bathrooms, which seem designed for users of the ice rink in the winter. But once you're done, you can take an elevator up to the "observation deck" on the roof and have a look around. Park Tavern, like the neighborhood, remains a work in progress, but it's full of promise.