Pour yourself a cold one
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, August 6, 2010
The buzz: It's Friday night at, oh, any bar in Columbia Heights. All you want is a well-deserved beer, but the area in front of the bar is choked with dozens of people jostling for position as well as the bartender's attention. Finally, you just have to close your eyes and resign yourself to the wait.
Wouldn't it be great if you had the power to jump the line and pour yourself a beer whenever you wanted?
At Meridian Pint, your wish has been granted.
Although the new Columbia Heights bar offers a choice of 24 drafts -- all American, almost exclusively microbrews -- and one English-style cask ale, much of the buzz thus far is about two circular booths on the lower level where patrons can pour their own pints. Each booth holds six to eight people, and right in the middle of the table are two taps and a small computer screen. Open a tab at the bar, pick the beer you want on your touch screen, put your glass under the nozzle and go. It's that easy. Well, almost.
"Everyone screws up the first time," says Nicki Alam, who's part of a large group celebrating a birthday party around the taps. Her first attempt at pouring her own beer was "really foamy. You'd never think bartenders work so hard to pour a beer until you try it yourself."
But practice makes perfect, adds Alam, a 27-year-old who works at the Brookings Institution. If you make a mess "you get to pour again and see how you do. It's very fun, especially with friends."
Not surprisingly, Meridian Pint owner John Andrade says the booths have been "continually reserved Thursday through Saturday." (To book a table with taps, Meridian Pint requires the party to purchase at least 12 pints an hour.) Servers come over after every dozen pours to make sure that no one at the table is blotto, and the bartenders can hit a shut-off valve if that need be.
Andrade says the booths are used less for chuggingthey haven't had to kick anyone out for putting their mouth under the taps -- and more for celebrating. (I can see a posse of beer fans making a reservation and holding an impromptu beer tasting of the draft beers; since you get charged by the ounce, not the glass, it's easy to pour small tasters of unfamiliar ales.)
The scene: Meridian Pint is the sister bar to Adams Morgan's edgy, biker-friendly Asylum, though you wouldn't know it by looking. Garage door-style walls roll up to let breezes into the airy main bar and dining room, which features hardwood communal tables and plenty of booths. The spacious downstairs bar, known as the Joint Chiefs, is a rec room with a post-industrial feel. (Check out the blueprints and iron gears inlaid under the bar top, and the blueprint sketches that dot the walls.)
There's plenty of room to move around, even when you account for a bar, two pool tables, shuffleboard, a long communal bar table and dozens of seats. This is the kind of place Columbia Heights has been crying out for -- not a hipster hangout, not a pricey themed spot, but a neighborhood gathering place that's friendly and welcoming any night of the week.
"I think the bar's got a nice mixed age group," says Robert Copyak, 41, a financial analyst from Petworth. "It's a very social environment."
In your glass: Plenty of beer-focused bars have opened in the past few years, but Meridian Pint is the only one to say it will focus on American-made brews, not their Belgian or German cousins. "The more we looked at beers, the more we recognized the increasing diversity and quality of American beers," Andrade says. The frequently rotating choices come from such buzzed-about breweries as the Bruery, Allagash, 21st Amendment and Green Flash, and there will be all kinds of rare beers; Andrade says they'll be one of only five bars to have the very limited Canadian Breakfast Stout from Founders, a Michigan brewery, when it arrives in the D.C. area this month.
The original plan was to offer only draft beers to reduce waste, though beer director Sam Fitz -- formerly of ChurchKey -- has put together a strong selection of brews in 750 ml bottles, including choices from the Brewer's Art, Allagash and Stone. (That's the size of an average wine bottle.) On Tuesday nights, the empties are available for home brewers to pick up and reuse.
On your plate: As at Asylum, there are choices for carnivore, vegetarian and vegan patrons. (Try the soy half smoke with vegan chili.)
The kitchen has been a little hit-and-miss in the early days; one night, a great chili dog was accompanied by four cold onion rings. But the spicy wings "induce cravings from five feet away," said a friend who found herself ordering them after the scent wafted down the bar. (Personally, I like splitting an order of the wings and an order of a half-dozen house-made deviled eggs.)
Price points: Most beers cost between $5.50 and $7, though there are outliers, ranging from Pabst Blue Ribbon ($4) to harder-to-find micros, including the Bruery's Trade Winds Tripel ($8).