Are you tired of bourbon and rye whiskey yet? Rebellion, which officially opens Thursday in the former Zabb and Straits of Malaya space on 18th Street NW, certainly hopes not.
Rebellion, which takes its name from Pennsylvania's famous Whiskey Rebellion of the 1790s, is the latest in a string of bars selling America's Native Spirit. So far this year, we've welcomed Barrel and Dry 85. 2013 openings included Copperwood Cafe and Southern Efficiency. They joined the whiskey-focused Jack Rose, the two branches of Bourbon, and Smoke and Barrel, and the increasing number of bars boasting stellar bourbon selections, such as the Passenger, Bourbon Steak, Boundary Stone and Acadiana.
That's a lot of brown water splashing around, especially on 18th Street NW, where Jack Rose, Bourbon and Smoke and Barrel are already within a few blocks of each other.
The newcomer has around 50 kinds of whiskey, including a dozen ryes, though it's clearly still a work in progress. The whiskey menus haven't been printed yet, so I had to pick my pours from what I could see from my barstool, and didn't find out the price of Catoctin Creek's Roundstone Rye ($7) or Russell's Reserve ($8) until I got the check. The four barrel-aged cocktails featured prominently on the menu and chalkboards behind the bar have just hit the wood, and won't be ready for a few weeks, according to my bartender. And while there's a fairly decent selection of bourbons and ryes on the back bar, ranging from 23-year-old Pappy Van Winkle down to Col. E. H. Taylor Small Batch and WhistlePig 10 Year, the selection is still growing.
It comes as no surprise that bourbon and rye feature prominently in six of the nine cocktails on the menu. I was most taken with the Legacy – the menu claims it was "Al Capone's Favorite Cocktail" – which featured a healthy pour of Buffalo Trace mixed with simple syrup and balsamic vinegar and topped with Fever Tree ginger beer. The vinegar offered a tangy counterpoint to bourbon and ginger beer.
The dozen craft beers on tap are rather pedestrian – Sierra Nevada Pale Ale, Brooklyn Lager – with Flying Dog's the Truth and Atlas's Rowdy Rye standing out among the locals. The menu, similar to Barrel and Southern Efficiency, is heavy on Southern comfort food: shrimp and grits, Kentucky hot brown and Low Country pulled pork.
Rebellion's secret weapon – one that most of its competitors lack – is a rooftop and patio space, because we all know how much Washingtonians love to be outside in the summer. (Exhibit A is right across the street at Lauriol Plaza.) The landscaped deck, with a few small flower boxes and its own bar, was more popular than the indoor seating last night. No taps exist on the roof, so you'll be drinking canned craft beers from DC Brau, 21st Amendment and other usual suspects. Word of warning, though: The couple next to me on the roof was having trouble flagging servers, and I saw at least one empty (or mostly empty) can of beer go soaring off the roof and onto the patio below in a gust of wind.
There are interesting nightly specials, too. On Wednesdays, all whiskeys are 25 percent off all night; on Thursdays, take $2 off craft beers (usually$6-$8). Tuesday is half-price wine by the bottle and glass. This is in addition to the weeknight happy hour (which runs from 3:30 to 8 p.m.) and includes half-price bar food, $3 domestic cans and $5 rail drinks.
If you drop into Rebellion soon, be patient: The menu's incomplete (or, in the case of straight whiskey, nonexistent); service is hit-or-miss; but the rooftop, and the cocktails, show promise.
Rebellion, 1836 18th St. NW. 202-299-0399.