Note: Executive Chef Troy Walker replaced Jamie Leeds when Leeds left to open Hank's Oyster Bar. The menu continues to offer comfort food with fresh local ingredients and daily specials and vegetable options. If it's Tuesday, it's still short ribs at 15 ria, named for its location at 15 Rhode Island Avenue.
This appealing food gets a setting that looks both back and forward. The geometric fabric on the tall chairs echoes the flagstones of the fireplace, lending a subtle retro touch to the space, while the shimmery copper-colored curtains could almost pass for sculpture. With its autumnal color scheme and subdued lighting, 15 ria feels like a cold-weather destination, though the curved bar overlooking the outdoor patio -- get there while the weather allows -- has the advantage of natural light.
The trendy hotel bars that have opened in Washington over the past year have one thing in common: These European-style lounges, with exotic cocktail menus and electronic music don't look or feel like the sports bar at your nearby Holiday Inn.
Compared to high-concept spots like Bar Rouge or Le Bar, the Washington Terrace Hotel's 15 ria is a typical hotel bar: a bright, carpeted, high-ceilinged room located just off the lobby, within sight of the check-in desk, and adjacent to the hotel dining room. (Here's a hint: When you walk in, turn right at the bellhops and follow the zig-zagging corridor to the end.) It isn't very big - 10 metal barstools along an arching counter, three high, round tables, and a small lounge area with a few armchairs. The colorful stone walls, displaying an impressive selection of whisky bottles, attractive without being too formal or fussy.
But here's the thing: In the midst of this mundane atmosphere, you'll find some of the most imaginative drinks in town. The first gimmick on the menu are what the bar calls "Tini 'Tinis and Mini Manhattans." Order one, and the bartender makes your drink in an eight-ounce martini shaker, and delivers it to you with a three-ounce glass. You handle the pouring and refilling duties yourself. Nice concept, as long as you don't drink slowly - the melting ice watered down the last third of my Cherry Sidecar Martini (that's Courvoisier, triple sec, fruit juices and a bing cherry, and it's delicious). The Apple Manhattan (Maker's Mark and apple schnapps with a slice of a Granny Smith apple) is a great option for anyone sick of the ubiquitous apple martini.
If do-it-yourself bartending doesn't raise a smile, 15 ria makes a mean root beer float with Haagen Daas ice cream and Chester's Hard Root Beer (an alcoholic soda). Chester's is a little sweeter than your usual A&W, but this is the drink to give to your friend who says, "I don't like cocktails."
Okay, let's say you just want to nurse a cocktail without any pretense. Fine. The more "traditional" options are just as solid. The Albino Cosmo, a sweet drink with citrus vodka, is topped up with white cranberry juice and garnished with a few berries. And, mimicking the popularity of wine flights, there's a "small batch bourbon flight," with brings one-ounce tastings of several elite Kentucky bourbons, including Basil Hayden's and Booker's.
A visit to the bar probably isn't complete without a taste of the sangria. The recipe changes seasonally with fresh ingredients - the summer/fall version, for example, features strawberries, blackberries and raspberries in white wine; for late fall and winter, it will include fruits like apples and pears in a deeper red wine.
While 15 ria is worth a visit, the location (three long blocks from Dupont Circle) is a bit off the beaten path, and it doesn't seem like the kind of place where you'll spend an evening. You might want to stop in early for cocktails and a snack from the seafood-heavy bar menu, but to be honest, unless you're with good friends or a good date, there isn't much here in the way of entertainment. Quite a change from those other hotel bars.
-- Fritz Hahn