When he dines out, Nathan Anda prefers sitting at the bar. The cleaver-wielding creative force behind Red Apron Butcher likes not only the special snacks and plates often available while perched on a stool, but also the gossipy interplay between patron and bartender, so different from the hierarchical roles in the main dining room.
"I think you find out more about the place at the bar," Anda said during a phone interview today.
Anda hasn't written menus for a bar since he left Tallula/EatBar to launch the Red Apron brand for Neighborhood Restaurant Group in 2008. But that drought will end this fall when Anda and the Red Apron team are expected to open a small, still-unnamed neighborhood bar on Barracks Row, located in the former Kraze Burgers space, the hamburger franchise that quickly devolved into ugly legal allegations.
"It's a Red Apron project, but it's going to be our first one that's not actually attached to a butcher shop," Anda says about the Barracks bar. "I guess the closest thing that you could compare it to is what EatBar used to be."
Before it closed last year (along with sister restaurant, Tallula) EatBar was an Arlington pioneer in its ability to blow up the traditional bar menu. Anda used the cozy pub as a platform to introduce his budding butchery program; he also accepted few limitations on what he could offer at the place, whether 70 wines by the glass or a sausage-stuffed pork loin.
The Barracks Row project, with only 40 to 50 seats, will be similarly open-minded in its approach to a bar. Neighborhood Restaurant Group's trio of liquid sages — beer director Greg Engert, wine director Brent Kroll and beverage director Jeff Faile – will all develop menus for the place. Despite the size of the operation, Anda expects the beverage programs to be "impressive."
"The plan is to be able to change [a little bit of the] menu a lot," Anda says. "EatBar changed it nightly and weekly, and eventually there were things that couldn't come off the menu, and then there were things that just constantly changed. I think that's something I'm looking forward to doing."
As with the Red Apron-focused B Side in Merrifield, the Barracks Row project will emphasize charcuterie (although with a smaller menu since there will be no butcher shop next door), as well as plates both large and small on a menu expected to feature about 15-18 items. The place will, of course, offer a hamburger, the sine qua non of the pub trade.
"Something that we did with the Partisan, we created that triple-stacked burger. We gave that property its own burger, then with B Side, we did the same thing," Anda says. "We'll have a unique burger for this restaurant. What's not at B Side is any seafood, and there will probably be one or two seafood items on this menu."
Anda may even revive a few dishes he created for Tallula and/or EatBar, such as his chili-braised short ribs, chorizo corn dog or fried green tomatoes with duck cracklings and bacon-scallion vinaigrette.
"If we were to do the short ribs, it wouldn't be such a big portion," the chef says. As for the fried green tomatoes, he adds, "By the time we get around to opening, [tomatoes] might be out of season, but I'm not saying it can't come back in the spring and early summer next year."
The paradox of Anda's forthcoming Barracks Row bar is that the bar itself will be small, probably no more than eight to 10 seats. So how will he create a bar atmosphere in a place where most of the seats will not be bar stools?
"A lot of it comes down to how we deliver the food and the overall environment," Anda says. One trick, he adds, will be to keep the music as loud in the dining room as at the bar.
You've been warned.
Unnamed Red Apron bar, 415 8th Street SE, set to open in the fall.