A&D fitting into the neighborhood
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, January 11, 2013
You might get a sense of deja vu walking into A&D Neighborhood Bar.
The space is long and narrow with exposed brick, antique light fixtures dangling from a pressed tin ceiling and menus scrawled on chalkboards. Cocktails are twists on dirty martinis, Old Fashioneds and eggnog but created with house-made ingredients and local spirits. The eats are playful takes on old-school bar food: poutine made with potato chips instead of French fries and a pickled egg with a kick from jalapeno. If you’re wondering about recent bar trends, A&D distills them all into a single space.
And then there’s the name. In recent years, more bars are claiming to be “neighborhood” places to signal a casual atmosphere with lower price points and to tempt nearby residents into becoming regulars.
But in an area of Shaw that has been considered up-and-coming for years and is still waiting for its promised rush of taverns and restaurants, A&D really is a neighborhood spot. And more important, it’s good.
You might expect that when A&D’s owners also run the Sundevich sandwich shop and the boutique Seasonal Pantry grocery shop next door. As a result, A&D is a place to snack as well as sip, even though the food is prepared at a hot-plate station at the far end of the bar. That poutine -- kernel-size pieces of blue cheese and bacon under a creamy white curry atop a nest of chips -- doesn’t come in a serving large enough to share, so pair it with, say, the chow cheddar, where chow chow -- a pickled pepper relish -- and cheddar cheese are blended into something resembling a rocky beer cheese to spread on crostini. Or, split it and then go for a larger item, such as the decadent and imposing reuben, which is made with beef tongue instead of pastrami and topped with zippy house kraut and dressing.
My favorite new cocktail is the A&D, which mixes D.C.’s own Green Hat gin, Belvedere vodka and a “Housemade Dirty” blend made from the juices of olives, cornichons and onions pickled in-house. (There’s a marvelous synergy on the menu: The cornichons are used in Sundevich’s Russian salad and also sold individually.)
The result is a wonderously savory dirty martini with a beguiling mix of tang, tart and a little sweetness. You can taste a bit of coriander, juniper and garlic all playing with the botanicals in the gin. The garnish is a spike of an olive, cornichon and onion. If you can wait until after the drink to consume them, you have more willpower than I do.
The other eight drinks on the menu are equally funky, but they achieve varying degrees of success. Winter Julep trades the lime and fizz of the summer classic for maple syrup richness and spicy Catoctin Creek rye whiskey. The eggnog is spiked with a vanilla-bean-infused rum and smooth coconut milk, and La Sancha de D.C. mixes pomegranate liqueur and tequila with a habanero syrup to create a drink that is by turns sweet and fiery.
Add some judicious but predictable beer choices from DC Brau, Dogfish Head and Great Lakes on the four taps and dozen cans, and you have a solid if not exactly cheap bar. Cocktails are $12, except for the eggnog, which is $5. Beers are predominantly $6 or $7.
Service is jocular even on weekends, and bartenders are happy to pause and offer recommendations about the cocktails and food.
And when A&D’s barstools and high tables fill up, all is not lost. On my first visit, I noticed a wooden sign that says “Outhouse” over a door in the back of the room, and I assumed it led to the bathrooms. Instead, it’s the entry to a larger dining room with more tables for groups of friends and neighbors.