Editors' pick

William Jeffrey's Tavern

Bar
William Jeffrey's Tavern photo
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Editorial Review

These are heady times on Columbia Pike. While upscale condos and shops have been popping up along the busy Arlington thoroughfare, new bars and restaurants have been slow to follow. But all of a sudden, the area is getting a bit hipper: Last month saw the debut of William Jeffrey's Tavern, a Prohibition-themed hangout from the owners of Court House's Ragtime and Rhodeside Grill. And later this spring, cocktail king Todd Thrasher of PX and Restaurant Eve is due to open his TNT bar a block away.

Take that, Clarendon.

Although William Jeffrey's Tavern is a newcomer to the scene, the building blocks to make a great neighborhood bar are in place: an ambitious food menu, good beers, a excellent cocktail program and friendly bartenders.

There's also plenty of room to spread out. With two bars, a large dining room, a lower-key area of communal seating and high-top tables near the bar and, if you're lucky, seats at the marble counter next to the two roaring (glassed-in) fireplaces, this is set to be Columbia Pike's gathering spot.

The decor is a mix of industrial (exposed beams and pipes) and traditional (dark wood, lots of light) with a huge mural depicting a 1920s speak-easy. The bar, topped with rows of flat-screen TVs, is the central focus, though it's often crowded on weekends and at happy hour. If that's the case, slip up a few stairs next to the fireplace and you'll find an intimate eight-seat bar with more TVs and faster service.

Bartenders know they're getting more neighbors than out-of-towners, and they're quick to introduce themselves and chat. More than once, I've heard someone on my side of the bar say, "I live down the street, so I'll be seeing you again soon" as they pay their check. It's easy to see why: There are 16 draft beers, from Miller Lite to Port City and Victory, with a rotating "Microbrew of the Month" (currently Long Trail's Hibernator Ale from Vermont).

Happy hour runs from 3 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, when deals include $2.50 Miller Lites, $3 for the microbrew of the month, and $5 house red and white wines. (Outside of happy hour, expect to pay $5 to $7 for a beer, or $7 to $9 for most wines.)

Bartender Logan Skidmore, formerly of Estadio and the W Hotel's P.O.V. Lounge, is the man behind the well-designed cocktail program, which features simple but delicious takes on Prohibition-era drinks for $10 or less. His French 76 subs an herbaceous rosemary-infused vodka for the gin in a version of the classic French 75; an Old Fashioned gets sublime with chocolate bitters; a champagne cocktail trades cognac and strong bitters for Navy rum, sweet cherry bitters and the floral kiss of elderflower liqueur.

None of this should take the focus off the kitchen, where chef Sam Adkins, formerly of Jackie's and Cashion's, is turning out great comfort food: fried oysters; a stellar "Deviled BLT" with deviled-egg mayo and bits of deviled egg among the bacon and salad; even a fantastic Spiedie - for those not from Upstate New York, that's a richly marinated skewer of lamb stuffed into a sub roll with feta cheese, lettuce and tomato. A raw bar features local and Blue Point oysters at $19 for a dozen, or $11 for six, and both the crusted fried oysters and fried corn-and-crab fritters are crowd pleasers.

There are plans for wine-tasting nights and raw-bar nights, plus entertainment with "acoustic guitars - more background music," says owner Chris Lefbom. "We have residents above us, so we can't be too loud."

-- Fritz Hahn (Friday, Jan. 13, 2012)