At Chicken + Whiskey , you do your dining in the front and your drinking in the back, behind a freezer door.
It's one of three hard-to-find bars clustered at 14th and S streets NW. There's also 2 Birds 1 Stone and Left Door. 2 Birds is in a basement, and Left Door is up a flight of stairs, tucked away with a tiny sign. But they weren't angling to join the District's speakeasy circuit, owners say.
Chicken + Whiskey's Desmond Reilly and his partners from Star Restaurant Group, Stu Damon and Kristopher Carr, wanted to open a neighborhood chicken joint. They brine chicken for 12 hours, play music from almost 1,500 albums and line walls with posters. The freezer door, they say, makes the most of their narrow space. "You're going to discover the bar, and that will be part of the experience. People love discovering new things," Reilly says.
Janine Higgins was nursing a whiskey sour at Chicken + Whiskey (1738 14th St. NW) one night in October. The ex-bartender and current Denver-based research scientist said certain things draw people to out-of-the-way watering holes. "One, excitement, and, two, anonymity. l'll add a third: history."
Across the street, in the basement below Southeast Asian restaurant Doi Moi (1800 14th St. NW), is 2 Birds. There's a small sign for the place, which has a "Cape Cod kitchen" interior of white brick walls and cozy nooks. Owner Adam Bernbach and bar manager Lucy Dunning create weekly cocktail menus. Bernbach compares finding places like his to when you stumble across a new album and are eager to share it with your friends. "I guess it's a sense of being the first to arrive at something," he says.
On the left side of a rowhouse shared with Capitol Valet, past the doorman and up the stairs, Left Door (1345 S St. NW) embraces a Victorian design. One wall is lined with repurposed doors. "The public decided we were a speakeasy," says owner and partner Mick Perrigo. Jonah Belser, 23, sat drinking in a corner. "The evocation of a simpler era" is what makes these bars popular, he says. Left Door guarantees all guests a seat, though with only 38, that can mean a wait on weekends.
At 2 Birds, Arlington teacher Jillian Johnston, 29, sees the allure of hideaway drinking this way: "It feels like something you shouldn't be doing."
Clockwise from top: The bar 2 Birds 1 Stone sits below the restaurant Doi Moi; Left Door evokes a "simpler era," says one visitor; Chicken + Whiskey's Kristopher Carr creates a Smoke Show cocktail.