The pleasures here are largely liquid
By Tom Sietsema
Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2011
If you aren't thirsty when you open the door at Jack Rose Dining Saloon in Adams Morgan, you will be the moment you step inside.
The main granite bar of the three-story watering hole is packed. The walls are stocked with more than 1,500 bottles of spirits, some from the stash of co-owner Bill Thomas, the guy behind Washington's two Bourbon bars. The first menu to land on your table is not the food list but an inventory of liquid pleasures that runs hundreds of spirits long.
Break out the Bruichladdich!
Named for the classic American cocktail that blends applejack and grenadine, Jack Rose revealed itself to the general public in phases, opening its rooftop bar in May and its ground-floor dining room in August on weekends. Not until last month did it commence daily dinner service. One of its charms is a blended audience that reminds this diner of the early days at Marvin in the U Street corridor.
Heading up Jack Rose's kitchen is Michael Hartzer, 35, who hasn't cooked professionally since he left the late IndeBleu in December 2009. While coming up with recipes occupied some of the chef's time away from day-to-day cooking, he also helped design the space, a former boxing gym, and outfit the dining room. The butcher-block tables, mahogany chairs and den-size leather booths beneath the stamped-tin ceiling were his selections, says Hartzer, one of five partners in the enterprise.
The chef's Caesar salad is smoky from a brush with the grill. But Hartzer says he wasn't necessarily trying to pair his food with whiskey. Rather, the chef was inspired by the flavors of Ireland and Scotland, aiming for what he calls a "hunter's-lodge realm" with some Americana thrown in.
Smoked salmon? Check. Steak Diane? Tender rib-eye paved with creamed spinach and mushrooms is very appealing. I love the idea of ham biscuits, but not their execution: prosciutto from Iowa squandered on dust-dry bread. Pickled shrimp sounds like a natural for this venue, too, but the seafood is hijacked by the lemon in its seasoning. One night's arctic char smells as if it sailed in on a slow boat from China; the fish was promptly returned to the kitchen and replaced by (better) short ribs.
The din is deafening. The third time I ask a gal pal to repeat a story, she advises me to get my hearing checked, because, as she says across the table, "I'M SCREAMING!"
Jack Rose is a rich place to hoist a shot glass. I wish there were better reasons to pick up a knife and fork.
Jack Rose is a good stop for whiskeyphiles and neophytes alike
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, Sep 30, 2011
By now you may have heard about a bar called Jack Rose.
The three-story temple to whiskey boasts an inventory of more than 1,000 bottles - both Scotch and American - in a former boxing gym at the foot of Adams Morgan. Some of it comes from the collection of Bill Thomas, who founded the two Bourbon bars, each of which stocks more than 100 rare, weird and wonderful Kentucky whiskeys. Much of the Scotch comes from the storied collection of Harvey Fry, a single-minded single-malt obsessive who owns thousands of extraordinary examples and often hangs out at the bar at Jack Rose to mull over the finer points of Bruichladdich or Glen Grant.
Jack Rose's array of whiskey fills specially built shelves along three walls of its first-floor dining room. The displays climb toward the pressed-tin ceiling - so much so that bartenders have to use special rolling ladders to reach the bottles at the top. It really is a virtual reference library of whisk(e)y. If you want to explore the diversity of Islays, Lowlands or hard-to-find barrel-aged Kentucky spirits, this is your place.
But the thing about Jack Rose is that you don't have to be a Scotch fanatic to have it become one of your favorite bars.
Let's start with the airy dining room, which finally opened last month. It may be the classiest place in the city to have a cocktail right now. A 54-foot marble bar with four bartenders on duty runs down one wall. It faces a dining area filled with mahogany tables and luxe round leather booths. There's plenty of light, both natural and not.
A whiskey list at Jack Rose is as thick as a wine bible at a high-end D.C. restaurant: Scotches are organized by regional style, bourbons by producer. Almost all selections are sold in half-ounce pours as well as two-ounce glasses. Most of those little tastes cost $4 to $7, and they're worth it for both intrepid samplers and neophytes who want to explore something like the peaty Port Charlotte PC6 without plunking down $26 for the equivalent of a shot glass full.
But, as I said, it's not all about neat glasses of whiskey. Cocktail fans will find much to like on the list of 20 mixed drinks ($13 each). Half are classics - a full-bodied Boulevardier, the sweet and satisfying Jack Rose, made with apple brandy. The others are new creations. The Knuckleball, which just about every bartender recommends, is a whirl of tastes - rye whiskey, crisp aperitif Cocchi Americano, herbal and woody Pernod absinthe, sweet chocolate bitters and sea salt.
What not to make your first drink of the night: Not Your Mother's Scotch Bonnet adds a spicy syrup of Scotch bonnet peppers to malty Bushmill's Irish whiskey, Dubonnet and fresh grapefruit. Delicious and savory, but I felt the burning on my tongue for a while afterward.
The scene: Jack Rose has been opening in stages since May, when the public got its first look at the rooftop deck. It boasts three bars, three vistas of the city and an open grill, where former IndeBleu chef Michael Hartzer served up barbecue sandwiches on a recent evening. Unlike the whiskey-focused dining room, the cocktails on the roof have a sunny tiki vibe: Stormy Monday #3 peps up the usual Dark and Stormy with apricot liqueur and citrusy Beefeater 24 gin; such old favorites as mai tais and Painkillers are also available.
In your glass: In addition to cocktails, there are 20 draft beers, predominantly American microbrews. One thing I've learned the hard way: Don't trust the printed draft beer list, which is perpetually out of date. Chalkboards would be helpful.
Six red wines, six whites and five sparking wines are available by the glass.
Price points: Where you eat or drink has an effect on your tab: Cocktails in the dining room cost $13; those on the roof are $10. Draft beers are about $7; cans of beer start at $6 on the roof. On the roof deck, a pit beef sandwich is $9 and a bowl of smoked clams is $8; in the dining room, a slab of braised pork belly is $10 as is a plate of five buttermilk-fried frog legs.
Coming soon: A hidden basement-level "Prohibition Bar," where customers may be able to sample some of Bill Thomas's pre-Prohibition whiskeys.