Smith Public Trust: A new Brookland restaurant you can believe in

Don't look now, but Brookland is on the cusp of a pretty cool neighborhood bar scene. Brookland's Finest debuted earlier this month. Brookland Pint, from the owners of Meridian Pint, is set to open by the end of the summer. And Smith Public Trust, a sister restaurant to H Street's Smith Commons, is in soft-opening mode, with full operations beginning after the World Cup.


Street artist Gaia, who created the mural on the Smith Commons building on H Street NE, is responsible for the artwork at Smith Public Trust, including the heads of Knight Templar Jacques de Molay, far left, and St. Maurice of Thebes, second from left. (Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

The gorgeous, light-filled space is worlds away from the building's previous incarnations as the Library, Johnny K's and Kitty O'Shea's, which were little more than grungy drinking spots for Catholic University students. (The Library had a particularly unsavory reputation: A man was stabbed to death there in 2012.) Miles Gray III, the mastermind of Smith Commons, is behind the industrial-chic vibe at the new spot: The bar is made from a converted shipping container and recycled floor boards; the lamps overhead came from shipping vessels.

The airy dining room is a mix of communal tables and two-tops (again, recycled), with a few comfortable vintage leather couches and armchairs. Street artist Gaia created the artworks, including large cutout heads of Sun Ra, St. Maurice of Thebes, Benjamin Franklin and Meek Mill (spot the odd one out).

A raised area near the front window is home to an upright piano; Gray says there will be live jazz and other music, beginning in late July.


The piano at Smith Public Trust will be used by bands, probably beginning in late July. (Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

At the back of the building, there is a long, narrow room with a four-seat bar at one end, which Gray says will eventually be a "cocktail lab" with creative drinks and house-made ingredients. The space does double duty as a sports viewing area, thanks to a few rows of bleacher seats and a huge projection screen.

Perfect for summer: a small back patio with a handful of picnic tables. It's not fancy, but it'll do.

The bar's drink list is short, but smart, with eight craft beers on tap ($7-$8) and a short wine list dominated by California vineyards ($8 per glass). The quartet of cocktails shows great promise: The Malaysian Kei Smith is a flavorful blast of summer, combining muddled watermelon, fresh basil and a house-made ginger syrup with citrusy Don Julio tequila.

Happy hour runs from 5 to 7 p.m. daily, with $5 draft beers, wines and cocktails.


The Malaysian Kei Smith, a summery mix of tequila, watermelon, basil and ginger syrup. (Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

Chef Mercedes Delgado (late of the Partisan) has created a wide-ranging menu of snacks and meals: a Texas-style taco that gets its smoky, savory flavor from eight hours of braising with achiote spices; a juicy cheeseburger topped with red onions and house-made pickles; Southern fried chicken and waffles; a summer watermelon-and-arugula salad. The menu is a work in progress -- my taco needed another tortilla to prevent it from dissolving from all the juices -- but it looks good.

Smith Public Trust has been open only 10 days, so it's early to call it a hit. But the atmosphere and cocktails have me looking forward to seeing what it can do once it's fully operational.

Smith Public Trust, 3514 12th St. NE. 202-733-5834. publictrustdc.tumblr.com


The back patio at Smith Public Trust isn't as stylish as the rest of the place, but it's a shady refuge on warm days. (Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

A long bar runs along one wall, but there's much more room for dining than for drinking. (Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)
Smith Public Trust
A safe on display in the back of the restaurant is filled with objects found in the walls during renovations, including beer cans and a shoe. (Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)
Fritz Hahn has covered bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. You can find him on Twitter and Instagram.
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