After 12 years of bourbon tastings, Kentucky Derby viewing parties and tater tot-fueled brunches, Bourbon in Glover Park will close for significant renovations on Sunday, Oct. 18. Owner Bill Thomas expects the pubby hangout to be closed for at least 10 months; when it reopens, it will no longer be called Bourbon.
Thomas says he has wanted to renovate what he calls a "very disjointed" building for years, but didn't want to begin any major projects until he was able to purchase the real estate, which happened just over a year ago. "The building's too small, and it's just falling apart," he explains. "I'm finally able to do what I wanted to do. It's been so frustrating. … Not seeing Bourbon in its best light was killing me."
Problems with the building have been ongoing for years, Thomas says: "Every week, it was 'What's the new crisis?'" A maxxed-out electrical system means "You can't add a blender, you can't add a toaster." The HVAC system failed over the summer. The building's layout means part of the back patio -- a great space that many customers didn't know about -- was unusable. "You walk into the basement, literally, it's like some guys building it just said, 'Hey, grab that piece of wood off of that fence. We'll use it for a beam.'"
To correct these deficiencies, Thomas has an ambitious plan that goes beyond new electrical and plumbing systems, calling for new bathrooms, a new roof and lowering the first floor to the street grade, allowing step-free access to the front patio and main dining room. ("It's easier for strollers," Thomas says. "We get kids in here every weekend.") More interestingly, he's planning to add 1,000 square feet of space to the rear of the building.
Once construction is complete, Thomas plans to reconfigure the space: Instead of the current layout, with a bar on the first floor and a jumble of tables and booths upstairs, the building will have a dining room taking up the first floor, with "a significant restaurant focus," while the second level has "more of a whiskey focus" at a bar that Thomas compares to "the first floor of Jack Rose."
He's hopeful that work can begin soon, with permits to be filed next week. "I would guess we'll be closed for 10 months, easy," he says. "I'd be happy with 10 months." Thomas had originally planned to begin the renovations sooner, but they were pushed back by work on his other businesses, including Jack Rose Dining Saloon, and what he calls "the corner space in Adams Morgan," formerly home to Dahlak restaurant and the De Vino's beer and wine shop at the corner of 18th Street and Florida Avenue, which Thomas purchased earlier this year. "We're not even close to having the plans done" on that project, Thomas admits.
A new name for Bourbon isn't even to the short-list stage, but it's certain to change. "Bourbon is done," Thomas says bluntly. "We really want a clean slate. We don't want any preconceived notions of what we are." The new space should be seen as "what we've grown up to, rather than an evolution of Bourbon." (The second Bourbon location in Adams Morgan, which Thomas sold to longtime general manager James Woods back in February, will be unaffected by the changes.)
Earlier this week, Thomas drastically cut back Bourbon's hours, and the bar will now only be open four more times before it shutters for good: this Friday and Saturday (Oct. 9 and 10) and the following Friday and Saturday (Oct. 16 and 17). Naturally, there will be some bourbon-heavy farewell parties. "We're down to five draft lines and maybe 175 whiskeys or something, including Pappy 15, Wild Turkey Tribute and Elijah Craig 22," Thomas says. "These are crazy bottles, but they're all half-filled. People are going to get sazaracs with crazy bourbons in them."
Thomas has been letting stock run out in anticipation of the move, but he's made a few extra purchases for this weekend's Only things he's bought for this weekend's bacchanalia: "Just sweet vermouth for Manhattans. And two bottles of vodka. We ran out of vodka [last weekend]."
Bourbon: 2348 Wisconsin Ave. NW. www.twitter.com/BourbonGP.