Jackie's Sidebar in Silver Spring offers imaginative cocktails and a neighborhood feel
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, October 15, 2010
For a long time, the rule of thumb has been that if you want a bar with cool tunes, well-crafted cocktails and that elusive quality of hipness, you had to be in the District.
So allow me a little cognitive dissonance as I sat at Jackie's Sidebar in Silver Spring for the first time. The bartender was nodding his head to the Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Jenny Lewis and the Smiths while shaking up a Jack Rose, a Prohibition-era cocktail made with applejack liqueur, though here it's touched up with a house-made pomegranate grenadine for a rich, nuanced fruit flavor.
The long shoe box of a room is separated into three tiers by a couple of steps. Walls are painted black, and the dim light comes from wall sconces and a pair of ornate chandeliers hanging over the bar, which are practically dripping with egg-size pieces of cut glass. (I later learn they came from a Philadelphia funeral home and am not surprised in the least.) Throughout the space are vintage tables, chairs and couches arranged in groups. As I sipped a wintry Bombayboozled cocktail -- Buffalo Trace bourbon infused with cinnamon, spicy, curried maple syrup, bitters and lemon juice -- I could feel the Sidebar's vibe fitting in on U Street NW or H Street NE, or even a happening part of Baltimore. Not Silver Spring, home to so many big boxes and chain restaurants.
But things are changing. Silver Spring residents Hannah Cherry and Marco Gonzalez were shooting pool on the old-fashioned table. (In a nice touch, play is free as long as you're eating and drinking.) "It's a really nice place to come with friends," says Cherry, 21, who works as a body piercer. "The music is good and not too loud." She's also a big fan of the cocktails, especially the Rosemary's Puppy, a tangy mix of rosemary-infused vodka, black sea salt and fresh-squeezed grapefruit.
Drinks are a draw for Gonzalez, too. "You're not going to find any Budweiser or anything like that," says the 23-year-old guitar teacher, who is sipping an Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout after finishing his Ford Cocktail, made with Dutch gin genever and orange bitters.
Gonzalez says it is more than the drinks that draw him to Jackie's Sidebar -- it is the neighborhood vibe. "The second time I came in, the bartender remembered me and treated me like a friend. This might not be as popular as places in D.C., but it's an easy place to have a good time."
The scene: Jackie's Sidebar was the brainchild of Jackie Greenbaum, who owns the adjoining Jackie's Restaurant and the venerable Quarry House Tavern a few blocks away, though she has allowed bar manager Gordon Banks and bartender Nick Nazdin to shape the place themselves, which you can see in their iPod playlists and the mind-bogglingly good drink list.
But more than the decor and the drinks, this former hair salon has developed a real neighborhood feel to it. Sure, the hipsters and cocktail aficionados will feel at home here, but so will a diverse crowd of Silver Spring residents. Some well-known cocktail places strive to be low-key and unpretentious, but the Sidebar truly is.
"It's one of the most comfortable places in Silver Spring," says Rose Wessel, 27, a marketing manager who also bartends at a Bethesda restaurant. "There's no 'thing' about it -- the lack of theme is lovely. It's about the people that are here. And the drinks here are exceptional."
Her friend Joel Sparks, a 43-year-old music writer, agrees. "You see lots of dudes off work, you see hipsters getting drinks. It's for everyone. You feel like you can talk to people you don't know. That's really nice."
In your glass: Maryland cocktail fans tired of going to PX, the Gibson, the Passenger or PS 7's for glamorous libations shaken with house-made ingredients will be in love with the menu, full of twists on the classics. One night, a regular named Tricia asked for a Bee's Knees. Bartender Gordon Banks didn't have honey, so he improvised using raw blue agave nectar in addition to lavender-infused gin and lemon juice for a sweet and tangy flavor. She loved it so much that it was added to the menu.
The creativity extends to originals, too, including the bizarre and addictive Russian Bathhouse. Vodka is infused with fresh horseradish, then mixed with vermouth and fresh dill for a pungent, spicy cocktail. But that's not the end: The drink is served with a spoonful of black caviar balanced atop the glass. The bartenders recommend dipping the caviar in the martini, taking a nibble of caviar, then a sip of the mustardy drink. Repeat.
High rollers can flip the menu for the "Uber Ultimate Pretentious Cocky Classic Cocktail Menu," where an Old Fashioned is made with 20-year-old Ragnaud-Sabourin cognac ($27) or Don Julio 1942 tequila and black sea salt form the base of a margarita ($22).
Chalkboards behind the bar display the latest beer menu. It changes often and contains bottles -- including 22-ouncers -- from Brooklyn, Stone, North Coast and other microbreweries.
On your plate: Despite its proximity, the Sidebar has a different menu than the restaurant, with small plates prepared in a corner of the room by a chef using hot plates and a panini press. (The informality is a really nice touch.) My friends and I scarfed down the truffled popcorn and a bowl of roasted cauliflower and salty boquerones. Also worth noting: The LoadedSidebarMiniDeluxeRoyaleofDoom, a pint-size burger that's piled high with quail egg, pork belly and curry mayo. Served hot and juicy from the grill, it's every bit as good as it sounds.
Price points: The cocktails are predominantly $9, with some at $10. Beers range from $5 to $10. Small plates -- including sandwiches and Chicago-style hot dogs -- are $3 to $8.