The heat is on at Standard and Smith Commons
By Fritz Hahn,
We Washingtonians know what thick, soupy humidity does to a person. You’d think we’d have the sense to seek shelter in dark, cool lounges. Or maybe the Argonaut, which has a new misting system on the patio. Not so. Last week, as the temperatures were in the 100s, I took a sweaty bar tour and found hardy souls (who should know better) parked at every outdoor space I looked.
Here are two good reasons why.
German-inspired beer gardens have proven to be pretty popular fixtures on the night-life circuit in the past year or two, but there’s something charmingly laid-back about Standard, which opened in March in the old Garden District space at 14th and S streets NW. You can get your Hofbrau lager in giant liter mugs if you want — the way it would be served in Munich — but Standard is more about hanging out and having beers and barbecue in a great outdoor space that’s just two blocks from the bustle of 14th and U.
What you see is what you get: A courtyard filled with a mix of colorful hand-built picnic tables and long, high bar tables, shaded by sail-shaped pieces of cloth and oversize beer umbrellas, surrounded by a tall metal fence decorated with flower boxes and hanging baskets. The “indoor” part is a bar, a lunch counter and a handful of bar stools, plus the kitchen, where chef Tad Curtz prepares his smoky, hand-rubbed brisket, savory pulled pork and one of the better grilled cheese sandwiches in town: a buttery, four-cheese vision that arrives with — surprise! — three half-slices of bread and a side of sweetly tangy pickles. (If you’re ordering dinner, don’t miss the side of grilled-and-spiced “Mexico City” corn on the cob or the delectable hush puppies.)
Draft beers come in two sizes (liter or half-liter), from two countries (America or Germany) and at two price points ($5.46 or $6.37 pretax). It’s nice to see North Coast Scrimshaw Pils and Hofbrau Lager on the lower end of that spectrum, though on really hot days it’s better to splurge on the Weihenstephaner Hefe-Weissbier.
On a block that appeals to both punks and preppies, Standard does a good job appealing to those in office wear and those heading to Black Cat. But unless you’re really lucky or traveling with a small party, it’s next-to-impossible to squeeze in on Friday and Saturday nights, when groups arrive for happy hour and wind up staying two or three hours. Better to try a weekend afternoon, when service doesn’t feel so stressed and it’s possible to not have to order your next beer when a third of your glass is still full. It also might alleviate the awkwardness I saw last weekend: Party of five arrived, couldn’t all squeeze into four seats at one of the communal tables, so the group stood around (in the middle of the narrow aisle) waiting for someone to leave.
One note: In addition to being closed every Monday, Standard notes on its Web site that “we close early for bad weather and when we run out of food.” Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a public phone number. If you’re worried about showing up to find the gates locked, check the bar’s Twitter feed (@standarddc) for updates.
1801 14th St. NW. No phone. www.stand
I found myself singing the praises of Smith Commons several times over the winter. The three-story resto-lounge’s clean lines, open spaces and brick-and-honey hues add up to one of the most attractive spaces on H Street NE. The beer program is growing into one of the city’s best, and the crowd gathered around the bar or on soft leather couches is frequently the most diverse in the neighborhood.
Smith Commons’ menu — both liquid and solid — has changed several times, but what’s drawing me back now is the second story patio, especially the daily “Smith Hour.” Like the indoors, the patio is simple and refined: wood plank walls to keep the noise out of neighbors’ yards, shield-shaped tables, metal chairs with woven seats and backs. The afternoon sun finds several tables in the shade as well as the sun.
“Smith Hour” brings $5 beers, rail drinks and wines by the glass and $6 appetizers from 5 to 7 p.m. during the week and 3 to 7 p.m. on weekends. That it’s offered al fresco is a treat — there are enough places that insist happy-hour deals apply only at the bar. A friend and I stopped in last week for crab cake sliders (two good examples, topped with green tomatoes) and angus beef skewers, plus a couple of drinks. House white wine was fruity and nothing to shout about. The happy-hour mixed drinks are made with brands you’ve heard of. And the draft selection includes refreshing beers if you have the table in the sun (Ommegang Witte, Bell’s Oberon) and stronger brews if you’re in the shade (Stone Arrogant Bastard, Flying Dog’s Raging Bitch).
As with Standard, timing is everything. Show up on a Thursday night and it will be bustling, there will be no seats and you and your friends will be standing awkwardly between tables and trying not to be in the way. Stop by on Monday or Tuesday night, and you can even have the run of the place at 6 p.m. If you have the kind of friends who say, “Oh, I don’t go out during the week,” this could be an easy way to change their outlook.
1245 H St. NE. 202-396-0038. www.smithcommonsdc.com.