Almost three years after a fire closed Silver Spring's beloved Quarry House Tavern, the 1930s-era dive bar reopened to the public on Sunday, March 11. After a careful restoration, it looks just like regulars will remember, if slightly cleaner.
Vintage prints, logo'd beer mirrors and retro sconces hang atop knotty pine paneling on the walls. Taller guests will have to duck to get past pipes and beams overhead. The low-ceilinged back dining room has been painted the proper shade of “Rust-Oleum red.” The staff filled the vintage jukebox with Tom Waits, Johnny Cash and Elvis Costello CDs.
“The bartop's made of the same material,” owner Jackie Greenbaum says. “I'd be surprised if anyone who didn't work here can tell the difference.”
Quarry House closed immediately after the March 2015 blaze, which started inside the still-empty Bombay Gaylord restaurant upstairs. But the fire isn't the reason the dive bar has been dark for all this time: “It was virtually undamaged,” Greenbaum says, outside of “wet ceilings” and problems with water in the building's electrical system.
One month after the fire, the Quarry House team launched a pop-up version of the bar in the former Piratz Tavern building across the street, dubbing it Quarry House Temporary because they expected to be back “with relative ease,” Greenbaum said at the time.
But on Jan. 31, 2016, when Quarry House was days away from receiving a permit from Montgomery County that would have allowed the bar to be restored, a water main broke on neighboring Bonifant Street, Greenbaum says. The same pipe burst again the following day. Before anyone realized it, the basement-level Quarry House was filled with four feet of standing water, which sat there for four days before it was pumped out. The wooden bar and walls were “warped and mildewy,” Greenbaum says. “There was no way to dry it out and restore it.”
At the time, Greenbaum and the Quarry House staff had been fielding questions from regulars who were wondering when opening night would be. The team made the decision not to post anything about the flood on social media. “I didn't want to talk about it,” she says. “I didn't want people to know how bad it was.”
In the end, the entire space was emptied and “stripped down to the gray cinder block walls,” Greenbaum says. She cried when she saw the extent of the damage and privately wondered whether the bar could ever reopen. The staff traced the outline of the bar's exact position onto the cement floor with spray paint, so they'd know where it should be placed when — and if — it was restored.
It would have been easy for Greenbaum, her business partners or the landlord to give up on the quirky little dive bar, crammed into an unusual space, with poor ventilation and a notorious men's room that required customers to climb a step and risk whacking their head on the door frame. After all, Greenbaum and longtime partner Gordon Banks were building a restaurant empire that included the District's Bar Charley, Slash Run and Little Coco's.
But moving on was never really an option, Greenbaum says, because they all love the bar so much and felt “a sense of duty” to restore it to its former glory.
So she faced months of working with architects and Montgomery County officials, getting permits and inspections, and dealing with all the required renovations. “Once it became a bigger renovation job, I was pretty worried” about whether the bar would be able to reopen, Greenbaum says.
Given the historic nature of the building, the Quarry House had long been grandfathered through building regulations — it's impossible to think about a bar with seven-foot ceilings being approved today — and the owners feared a long, drawn-out battle with the county about construction permits and bringing the historic building up to code. “Our landlord had to navigate a very complex situation with the permitting,” Greenbaum says. “The county was cooperative in the end. … They went to herculean efforts to get Quarry House open again.”
Regulars will notice some changes, including brand-new restrooms and more seats at the bar, but for the most part, these are minor touches. The old prints on the walls are originals, since they'd been used to decorate Quarry House Temporary across the street at the time of the flood, but finding the right knotty pine paneling required a cross-country search, and Greenbaum spent time looking for “crappy, Shakey's-style lamps” to hang overhead: “Not everything had to be exactly like it was, but it had to feel like the Quarry House.”
If there is an upside to the story, it's the upgrades to the building, which include a completely new kitchen. Greenbaum says that "75 to 80 percent” of the menu will be exactly the same as before the fire, when the bar was known for its burgers and tater tots, but they're using the new kitchen to experiment, too: Items from her other restaurants will make their way to Quarry House, including signature burgers from Slash Run, and she's considering bringing back fried chicken on Sunday nights — a staple of her namesake Silver Spring restaurant, Jackie's, which closed in 2016.
They also have a new draft system, allowing for 10 beers on tap instead of eight. The focus will remain on Maryland craft beers, paired with a large selection of bourbon and whiskey.
Greenbaum is looking forward to welcoming old friends as well as new customers — the ones who've moved into the brand-new apartment complexes in Silver Spring over the past three years who have never had the chance to wander down the 13 steps at the corner of Georgia and Bonifant and experience a piece of the community's history.
And she's already won her first converts, even before the bar opened to the public. “The construction company was like, 'You have a blank slate. You can have anything you want. Why do you want pipes overhead? Why do you want knotty pine walls? Why do you want to keep it like that?' But I think they get it now.”