IF YOU LIKE well-made cocktails, you’ve probably seen brothers Derek and Tom Brown behind bars around town, including the Gibson and Cork. But now the Browns have teamed up for their own venture with the Passenger, which opened last month in Mount Vernon Square.
Derek Brown said the Passenger “was mostly my brother’s idea, but we both wanted to create a laid-back bar where one can drink well.”
“Most neighborhood bars are cozy but lack good wine and cocktails,” he said. “With the Passenger, it’s the comfort of a local watering hole with the discovery of a wine bar or cocktail lounge. In essence, we’ve resurrected and modernized the old saloon where bartenders used to take pride in the drinks they served.”
The bar is in the old Warehouse Theatre on 7th Street NW, which the Browns chose because their partner Paul Ruppert owns the space.
“We loved the space because it was accessible, historic — the building has been in Paul’s family since 1890 — and in a neighborhood that could use a little life but wasn’t so far off the beaten path,” Derek Brown said.
Look for a nice mix of open space and tables up front. There’s low lighting and exposed brick, which give the space an unfinished, raw aesthetic. Grab a spot at the bar or head toward the smaller room at the back.
There are more than two dozen wines available by the glass, like L. Mawby’s Blanc de Blanc and beers in cans, like Old Speckled Hen Ale. You can also order draft beer, like Bell’s Kalamazoo Stout.
There isn’t a set cocktail menu, but talk to Tom and describe a drink you like, and he’ll whip something up for you. If you’re going in a group, check out the pitchers of cocktails, like the delicious Sherry Flip, which serves five. Soon, spirits lovers will be able to visit the Columbia Room, a cocktail club and laboratory that Derek says they’re hoping to open in January.
Don’t expect limp bar fries or radioactive nachos here. Instead, hot dogs and beef jerky come from Nathan Anda’s Red Apron Butchery (see our interview with Anda here).
“Our chef, Javier Duran, gets Nathan’s dogs at the farmer’s market,” Derek Brown said. “We tried them and were very impressed.”
Or try bowls of Spanish olives or Marcona almonds, Route 11 chips (Chesapeake crab, dill pickle and other flavors) or meat and roasted vegetable Panini.
He added that patrons could expect food and drinks to change seasonally. “It’s not a motto or slogan for us, just something we try to do where we can.”
Derek said that between the brothers, “there’s a pretty natural division of talents.”
“We’re both good bartenders, but behind the scenes I’m the spreadsheet kind of guy and Tom’s ready with a hammer and nail,” he said. “I’m a little more bookish and Tom was a restoration carpenter in another life. So the work gets done.”
» The Passenger, 1021 7th St. NW, 202-393-0220. (Mt. Vernon Square)
Written by Express contributor Amy Cavanaugh
Photos by Kris Conner for Express