By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, September 28, 2007
With transatlantic airfares hovering around "you've got to be kidding," the quickest and cheapest way to visit Brussels this fall is to head to H Street NE.
Chalkboard beer menus on both levels of the dimly lit Granville Moore's contain names to make Belgian beer fans' mouths water: K armeliet. Pannepot. Kwak. Caracole.
The decor is an edgy mix of exposed brick, scarred plaster and antiqued wood, with worn floorboards and bar fixtures salvaged from such disparate locations as a Manassas farmhouse and a closed tavern in Upstate New York.
In this laid-back atmosphere, it doesn't matter if you don't know the difference between a Trappist ale or a fruity lambic. I've seen a number of people drinking Stella Artois (the most recognizable of the rotating draft beers) or asking for "wheat beer, like a hefeweizen."
Artisanal Belgian beers come with a bit of sticker shock, and managing partner and frequent bartender Chris Surrusco knows it's not easy to persuade customers to spend $8 to $10 on a single bottle of beer.
"It's education," he says. "I ask them what they like, what they normally drink. You make them aware there are pricier beers that are meant to be enjoyed. Then again, I've also got Stella for $4 a glass."
But if you want to learn more about beer, this is the place. Surrusco, who's around most nights, trained as a brewer at Capitol City Brewing Co. before working in several restaurants in Alexandria and helping to set up the beer list at Rustico. Bartender Chris Frazier is a former brewer for Old Dominion Brewing Co. Let them steer you toward something you'll like. There are 40 to 50 beers available in bottles, so there's bound to be something.
Beyond beer, oenophiles will appreciate a small selection of French wines by the glass, and the bartenders whip up a pretty good Manhattan, too.
On a street that boasts more Chinese takeouts and fast-food joints than sit-down restaurants, Granville Moore's menu has made it one of the most popular spots on the strip. Moules frites, the pairing of mussels and crispy fries, is practically the national dish of Belgium, and Granville Moore's offers five preparations, including the spicy Navigateur and the basic Bleu Fromage.
The tavern's character is taking shape. A graduate student from Gallaudet University bartends in the second-floor bar on Monday nights, thus better serving the deaf patrons from the nearby school. Wednesdays are Dead Night, where Surrusco and his friends fire up old Grateful Dead bootlegs and relax over a few beers. The following night is a Chimay happy hour, with a couple of bucks knocked off the price of the three famous Belgian ales.
Open since early August, Granville Moore's has been plagued by complaints about service. Waiters and waitresses have a habit of disappearing or not even noticing that you're at a table.
All in all, though, the intentions here are good, down to the gastropub's name. It's a tribute to the building's former occupant: Granville Moore, an African American doctor who provided low-cost health care for the neighborhood.
* * *
Fancy beers and bison steaks might be a draw for some, but not for everyone. That's why it's nice to have a choice. Just two doors down from Granville Moore's is the Pug, one of the coolest little bars in the city.
This boxing-themed watering hole is the baby of Tony Tomelden, who has earned a loyal following after 11 years managing and pouring drinks at the Capitol Lounge on Pennsylvania Avenue. His philosophy is spelled out on nine small chalkboards hanging over the bar: No idiots. No specials. No shooters. No politics. No bombs. Relax. Be cool. Drink. Behave.
With rules like that, you'd expect a low-key place with plenty of regulars, and you'd be right. This is a beer-and-a-shot kind of joint, where you can get $2 cans of Natural Light and $3 cans of Schaefer and Natty Boh, often as a chaser for whiskey, and sink back into vintage theater seats that came from Baltimore's Orpheum Cinema.
The Pug is short for the Pugilist, and it's decorated with the iconic shot of Muhammad Ali knocking down Sonny Liston, old Time magazine covers, antique gloves and portraits of turn-of-the-century boxers with extravagant facial hair. It also has a sense of humor. Ali's "I Am the Greatest" album is framed on the back wall, just above DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's classic "I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson" single. At the front of the room is a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots game. (People can get a little aggressive with the plastic pugilists, Tomelden says. "I've gone through five of those.") He also has added his own non-boxing touches, including rows of police badges behind the bar and soccer scarves from England, Germany, Ukraine and Ireland.
Tomelden had planned on a jukebox, but after years of listening to tipsy congressional staffers play '80s rock and hair metal at Capitol Lounge, he decided he'd rather set up playlists on his laptop. "Hearing U2 once a week is cool," he explains. "Hearing them nine times a night is not. And never hearing Jon Bon Jovi is awesome."
Food options are as basic as the drinks: hot dogs boiled in a pot behind the bar or bowls of (free) neon-orange cheese balls. "We're going to start making panini soon," he promises, using -- what else? -- a George Foreman grill.
Granville Moore's 1238 H St. NE, 202-399-2546 Vibe: A slice of Belgium with 50 ales and bowls of mussels and fries in a so-gritty-it's-hip environment. The Pug 1234 H St. NE, 202-388-8554 Vibe: Though it has a boxing theme and a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots game, the Pug is really just a neighborhood tavern -- the kind we could use more of in Washington. Granville Moore's 1238 H St. NE, 202-399-2546 Vibe: A slice of Belgium with 50 ales and bowls of mussels and fries in a so-gritty-it's-hip environment.