The buzz: There's no mistaking that you're at a Dogfish Head Ale House. Just check the chalkboards on the walls, where you'll find such drafts as Pangaea, a spicy ale made with one ingredient from each continent, or Raison D'Etre, which gets its rich taste from grapes added during brewing. This is one of the only places in the area that carries these beers regularly, which explains the folks reverently holding snifters of the Immort Ale.
Alan Zawisky and Justin Thie are fans of Dogfish Head. So the two Buffalo residents, who travel to Virginia each week to work as project managers at Dulles International Airport, knew they had to visit. "We've been here every week since they opened," says Zawisky, 27. "And between the two of us, we've tried almost every beer." Both praise the selection of drafts and the service. "I've got no complaints," Thie says with a smile.
The scene: The beer really is the focus of this large, boxy restaurant in the middle of the Greenbriar shopping center. A U-shaped bar sits in a large sunken area in the middle of the room, with dining tables on the main level. Four 52-inch flat-screen TVs hang in the corners. Crowds are always thicker in the bar than at the tables.
"I am home," announces Rich McFadden, a 44-year-old program director for Radio America, who is with a group of friends on a Wednesday night. Though they all dub themselves fans of the "excellent" beer, they're at Dogfish for a different reason. "It's a neighborhood bar -- you can come here to eat and grab an amazing beer in the neighborhood shopping center. How cool is that?" he says.
"I've been going to the [original Dogfish Head brewpub] in Rehoboth for years," says Scott Gentzen, 35. He's disappointed the Fairfax location doesn't carry the Dogfish Head's rums and vodkas or its Beach Beer, which is available only in Rehoboth. Still, the IT worker concedes, "this isn't 150 miles away."
Convenience and great beer seem to be the common denominator for most of the customers. "I like the place, especially for the area," says Brian Miller, 25, who's out with co-workers from the video game company Mythic Entertainment. "There's not a lot choices for brewpubs in Fairfax." The group has come several times since the bar opened. The only complaint: "The bar's not big enough," says Drew Morgan, 28. "It needs to be twice as big."
In your glass: Dogfish Head beers. You might not have heard of most of them, which is fine: The bartenders and servers are very knowledgeable about what they pour. Other drinks are available, though you might not want to order them. "I was here when one guy ordered a Bud Light," says Gentzen. "He got booed by the people sitting next to him and even some of the staff!"
On your plate: Dogfish's food is better than you'd expect. The flatbread pizzas can be hit-or-miss, but the burgers are solid and the larger entrees, such as spicy jambalaya and a rich three-cheese mac and cheese, will fill you up.
Price points: Beers start at $5.25 and can go into the mid-$20s if you want one of the specialty items, such as a three-year-old bottle of the World Wide Stout.
Happy hour: 4-7 p.m., $1.50 off all beers, $2 off pizza and appetizers, $1 off "dogtinis" (the bar's regular cocktails).
Need to know: Dogfish Head beers are made in small batches, and selections change frequently. You can check availability before you drive to the pub. iPhone users can download an app called AleBoards, which shows images of the daily chalkboards. Everyone else can look at the Web site, which shows the same photos.
Nice to know: Live music, a staple at the other Dogfish Head locations, will begin after the first of the year.
-- Fritz Hahn (Oct. 9, 2009)