Editors' pick

Quarry House Tavern

Bar, Low-key
Quarry House Tavern photo
J. Carrier

Editorial Review

Bar Review

Rock Solid
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Weekend Section
Friday, November 11, 2005

Whether you blame the smoking ban or changing demographics, Montgomery County has lost some of its oldest neighborhood watering holes in recent years. The Anchor Inn closed after more than 50 years in Wheaton. Dietle's Tavern, which received the county's second liquor license after the end of Prohibition, shut its doors for good. But there is some good news: The Quarry House Tavern (8401 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-587-9406), which opened in Silver Spring in the mid-1930s, isn't going anywhere.

Jim Brown has been the steward of this low-ceilinged, wood-paneled basement bar since 1975, watching over a collection of antique beer posters, German beer steins and a large boar's head, which usually has a rose in its mouth. A steady flow of regular customers sip Leinenkugel and Warsteiner and munch on house specialties such as the Grotto Grill, a hamburger that arrives with flattened hunks of fresh ground chuck dangling over the edge of the roll, topped with a gooey, greasy pile of melted Swiss cheese and mushrooms, and Utz chips straight from the tin.

Brown was a regular of the Quarry House for years before he purchased it. "I just love the place," he says. "The very idea of the local tavern is something I fell in love with."

He has kept it going through good times and bad, lean years and the booming redevelopment. Now, he says, it's time to move on. "I've been here for almost 30 years. There's a lot more competition today. We're the only tavern left."

Brown didn't just want to abandon the Quarry House, though. He wanted to find someone to keep it going -- and eventually mentioned his interest to Jackie Greenbaum and Patrick Higgins, who run Jackie's, a neighborhood restaurant a few blocks away.

"Jim came to us and asked if we were interested [in taking it over]," Higgins says. "[Quarry House] is such an amazingly unique little watering hole. . . . Jackie and I jumped at the chance to preserve it and put our own little twist on it."

That twist, he says, will be mild and gradual.

"People are calling us, like, 'Please, please, please, don't change the Quarry House.' It is what it is, and we don't want to change it that much. The boar head's not going anywhere."

He pauses. "Oh, the Keno's going."

Instead, Higgins and Greenbaum plan to change the menu, adding such items as pork riblets and mini-burgers. They're applying for a full liquor license -- the Quarry House sells only beer and wine -- and hope to offer a menu of classic martinis in honor of the bar's 1937 birth year. Microbrews such as Hook & Ladder and Wild Goose Porter should stay on draft, joined by an expanded wine list and a wider selection of imported beers. A DJ booth will eventually find its way into the back dining room, and Higgins says they may even have acoustic jazz.

(Sadly, he's also talking about removing the wonderful jukebox, stocked with John Lee Hooker, Patsy Cline, Bruce Springsteen, the Eagles and Johnny Cash, and replacing it with a digital jukebox. Someone needs to start a petition drive.) Higgins and Greenbaum are taking over the Quarry House on Dec. 1, and they intend to close for a "week or so" to clean and address such mundane maintenance issues as a new sump pump. Then we'll get our first look at the new, improved Quarry House. With any luck, it'll be around for 70 more years.

Sietsema Review

Brews You Can Use
The Quarry House serves up a world of beers

By Tom Sietsema
Sunday, April 9, 2006

Having lost an old friend myself recently -- the late, great, hole-in-the-paneling known as Stoney's in Washington -- I sympathize with the regulars of the venerable Quarry House in Silver Spring. Once known for its hamburgers and pitchers of beer, the Georgia Avenue dive hasn't shuttered, but it did change hands late last year. The new owners, Jackie Greenbaum and Patrick Higgins of the hip Jackie's nearby, tried to reassure everyone that they would keep the funky character of the original even as they began tweaking the place. Out went those pitchers of beer and a few longtime servers; in went some microbrews and an actual chef.

Regulars immediately complained that the burgers weren't the same. Greenbaum bragged that her patties were made with organic beef. ("We're buying our own cows!" I heard her tell a clutch of customers not long ago, referring to the grass-fed beef from a purveyor in West Virginia who grinds the fresh meat to her specifications.) Depending on your point of view, the "new" Quarry House is a disappointment or a delight.

I showed up with an open mind and no ties to the place, having never experienced the Quarry House B.J. ("before Jackie"). I immediately fell in like with the old jukebox, which plays "Walk the Line" as sung not by Joaquin Phoenix but by The Man in Black himself, Johnny Cash. The wood bar pulled me in, too, its surface worn down over the decades by a million tired elbows. On the other hand, I could do without the flat-screen TVs , and the dingy men's restroom that looks as if it hasn't been updated since Prohibition.

The burger? Sometimes it's overcooked, other times it's as juicy as you want it to be. Always, it is thick, nicely seasoned and presented on a fine sesame seed bun in a plastic basket, like all the chow here. The sandwich comes with a choice of potato chips that are made right there, in a closet of a kitchen, or tater tots or a salad. If I want to splurge, I'll get those chips and hope they're crisp (they sometimes arrive limp); a dill-spiked dip from an old James Beard recipe makes for fun dunking. If I'm feeling fat, I'll ask for the radish- and carrot-strewn green salad, which is prettier than one might expect from a tavern and is best eaten with the house-made blue cheese dressing. The burger is a better choice than the lame grilled cheese sandwich, the wimpy cheesesteak and the routine soft tacos with chicken.

The short menu holds a few surprises. One involves a flaky empanada stuffed with black beans and rice. It's very good. Yet the real shockers are the chicken wings labeled "hot." Ignited with habanero chilies, the snack is blazing, searing, eyelash-curling. A buddy gave up after one bite, and that was after he tried to douse the flames in a quarter-cup of blue cheese dip.

Old and scruffy is a hoot when the servers play along and the grub is good. But that isn't always the case in this basement watering hole. One night my young waitress took my drink order as if she didn't know her employer served pinot noir; later, she delivered the entrees ahead of the appetizers. When I pointed this out to her, she returned the entrees to the kitchen --- where they languished on a shelf as a friend and I ate our starters: a rigid chicken satay with cement-thick, refrigerator-cold peanut sauce and a black bean soup that tasted as if it had been made only with black beans, nothing more. Thank goodness the martini was strong and the brew was diverting. (The new owners expanded the beer list to include, among other labels, Belgium's esteemed Chimay and Britain's very good Young's Oatmeal Stout.)

The Quarry House is a work in progress and far from a perfect pub. But Greenbaum and company have lots of ideas up their sleeves --- live music a few nights a week, lunch service, a new bar fashioned from vinyl records, more than Rice Krispie treats for dessert. While I wait for the joint to come together, I'll take comfort in what legions of visitors have before me: a burger and a beer.