“We thought it was time to do something new and fresh,” said Gary Koh, whose partners in the restaurant also own sibling establishments Don Tito and the G.O.A.T. in Clarendon, and Barley Mac and the forthcoming Taco Rock in Rosslyn. Koh noted that the dated nearby Ballston Commons Mall has been revamped (it goes by the posher “Ballston Quarter” now, thank you very much), complete with a food hall serving oysters and artisanal ice cream.
“Ballston” he predicts, “is going to be chic.”
And so it was out with A-Town’s vinyl loungers and in with sleek, communal beer hall tables. Shots and sparkler-accompanied champagne bottles made way for 16 draft beers, including German imports and Virginia brewers’ Teutonic-style offerings.
There’s still fun to be had for a younger crowd. Flat screens ring the bar, and for those who’d rather participate than watch, there are cornhole sets, tabletop shuffleboards, ping-pong tables and bocce courts. Live music Thursday through Saturday nights adds to the good-times vibe, though don’t plan on an intimate chat when you’re shouting over a guitarist belting out an “Old Town Road” cover.
And as post-work happy hour groups give way to packs of young professionals (makeover aside, can you really take the “bro” out of the Bronson?), the food — at least in the restaurant’s early days — isn’t always cause for celebration.
Diners would do well to skip the bland-pattied burger and dry schnitzel, and stick to some of the menu’s other beer-hall classics. I’d happily make a meal out of the pillowy pretzel, crowned with flaky salt and served with grainy mustard and tangy beer cheese sauce — with a glass of fresh Köstritzer black lager to wash it down.
The five kinds of housemade sausages emerged from the kitchen tinkerings of Barley Mac chef Chris Harman and co-owner Mike Cordero, Koh says. Both the bratwurst and the wiener, reminiscent of a hot dog that spent a semester abroad, have a pleasantly snappy casing and a peppery pungency. The Bronson is rightly proud of its sausages, which are available to-go from a case at the front.
Service at the young restaurant, though, needs refining. The system seems foolproof enough: Diners order their food, sushi-style, by checking boxes on paper slips and handing them to a server (a plus when the live music is pushing the decibel level to “yelling to be understood”). But throughout our meal, food runners kept coming by our table to drop off food we hadn’t ordered.
And twice in one visit, I encountered a chipped glass. The first time, an affable bartender whisked it away, and replaced it with apologies and a fresh pour. The second time, our waitress merely looked at the cracked vessel holding a half-finished brew and asked, “so, do you want another?”
Um, of course I wanted to keep enjoying my favorite part of a night at the Bronson. The answer is clear — and in the spirit of the place: “Yup, danke, dude.”