In a bar and club scene driven by hype and hyperbole, there's something refreshing about truth in advertising. Sometimes it's breathtakingly simple: If you're going to call your bar Bourbon, you need to have a pretty good selection of the traditional Kentucky whiskey.
Thankfully, Glover Park's Bourbon lives up to its billing with a selection of more than 50 bourbons and a few Tennessee whiskeys. "This is every bourbon that's available in Washington, D.C.," General Manager Stephen King says. Owners Bill Thomas and Frank Jolley are trying to bring in even more. The result is a stellar lineup that runs from the mediocre to the sublime, with plenty of surprises along the way. There are the usual small-batch brands such as Baker's, Booker's and Maker's Mark, but the more unusual blends are the ones that intrigue.
Pointing at the long shelf behind the bar, I asked, "Are any of Wild Turkeys any good?" I'd had the original in college, but had never tried the other variations. Bourbon has five. King -- who works shifts behind the bar -- suggested I try the blended Rare Breed, which is actually pretty tasty, with a smooth finish and hints of orange. Who knew?
At the moment, King is especially passionate about Elijah Craig Single Barrel Bourbon. Aged for 18 years in charred barrels, "It's the smoothest, most balanced bourbon we have," he says.
Expertise is spread throughout the staff. On one recent visit, my bartender suggested I try the Old Forester's Birthday Bourbon, a highly limited edition with a soft, spicy taste, followed by the Elmer T. Lee, an 18-year-old that's much sharper on the palette.
The bar's other draw is the dozen wines on draft, split between reds and whites. A nitrogen-based system allows the bartenders to quickly pour a glass without affecting the taste.
Although bourbon, whiskey and wine have a place of pride, most of the young professionals hanging out on weekends are drinking beer while they chat or watch football. It's clear that Bourbon isn't a snobbish den of small-batch aficionados -- it's Glover Park's neighborhood bar.
"We've had the name for like two years," laughs co-owner Thomas. "We were just looking for the right location."
In early 2003, Thomas and Jolley -- who also own Adams Morgan's upscale Blue Room lounge -- came across a pleasant little two-story building nestled in the heart of Glover Park's commercial strip. They spent months renovating the space, formerly Mon Cheri restaurant, and refining the concept -- "American cuisine, American music, American beer," Thomas says. Crab cakes, slow-cooked bourbon chicken and baked beans come from the kitchen. Dave Brubeck, James Brown and Patsy Cline share time on the sound system. The theme is subtle, never heavy-handed.
Reminiscent of a modern, minimalist English pub, a long bar runs almost the length of the narrow first floor, with high tables and a drink shelf along the opposite wall. Taupe walls are covered with silver-framed black-and-white photographs, and molding edges the pressed-tin ceiling. On weekends, the bar quickly grows crowded; the short walk from one end of the room to the other can take a few minutes.
That's why I like to slip upstairs to the dining room, where leather booths line the walls and a calmer atmosphere prevails.
Bourbon is most comfortable on weeknights, when's there's space and time to talk to the bartenders and let them be a guide to the whiskeys, or just hang out with folks from the neighborhood.
One last local touch -- while most of the vintage photos on the wall feature American legends such as Mark Twain or jazz musicians, Bourbon's owners are inviting regulars to bring in black-and-white photos of their families to be framed and hung. One woman has already given them a snapshot of her parents smiling from the backseat of a mid-century convertible.
What a way to be part of the community.
-- Fritz Hahn (Updated November 2004)