"We knew we had a limited amount of time in that [Hogo] space," Brown said earlier today. "We expected to last for six months or so, but it was going well and we were having a good time. … It's been a lot of fun, but we need to focus on the future."
The future of the block has been up in the air for a while. Douglas Development, which owns the land, wants to put an office building on the site; construction would involve closing the Passenger and Hogo, either temporarily or permanently. Thankfully for fans of the two bars, the start date has been pushed back numerous times, and at this point, the Passenger's closing isn't set.
"We will have, at the very least, a New Year's Eve party," Brown said of the Passenger. "So there's nothing imminent. But there are always a lot of things that could change between now and then."
Brown opened the Passenger with his brother, Derek Brown, in November 2009. While Tom bartenders at the Passenger's main bar, Derek later founded the Columbia Room, an exclusive cocktail lounge hidden inside the Passenger. Hogo opened in a vacant storefront on the same block as the Passenger in December 2012. The brothers have turned the bars into destinations for both Washington cocktail lovers and people who just want a beer and a shot after work. The Columbia Room has twice been a semifinalist for "Outstanding Bar Program" at the prestigious James Beard Awards, and both the Passenger and Columbia Room have landed on various "Best Bars in America" lists.
Tom Brown said that Hogo's closure is not directly related to the new building, and it won't be replaced by another business, but it's hard not to get the feeling that he's preparing for a time when the Passenger isn't around. Brown said he's currently lining up other projects to work on after Hogo closes, but wouldn't comment on specifics: "I don't want to jinx them because they're not final yet."
In Hogo's case, Brown said he feels like the concept has run its course. Since its opening, Hogo has paired classic rum cocktails with a short menu of bar food presented by a rotating guest chef. Those temporary menus, which lasted a few weeks or a month, have featured some of the brightest stars on the D.C. food scene: Aaron Silverman took a turn in the kitchen before opening the acclaimed Rose's Luxury, and Rogue 24's RJ Cooper used the space to preview and refine dishes for Gypsy Soul, which is expected to open in Fairfax's Mosaic District this summer.
While the turnover is interesting for customers, Brown said it has "been a little time consuming" to make sure he has chefs lined up to cook at Hogo. "We have a restaurant license, not a tavern license, so we have to keep serving food. It's been difficult."
The flaming tiki bowls and potent mai tais won't disappear quietly: The bar is planning a week of parties leading up to the closure, which will probably be Aug. 2. "We have seven or eight weeks of booze left, because I'm a hoarder," Brown joked. He's taking some of the aged rum over to Passenger, where he'll bartend after Hogo's closure, but he's hoping that much of it will be consumed at a blowout farewell party.