Shame on me. I just decided to sleep through the rest of February (and the first two weeks of March!?). What’s the point of being awake if I had to come back to the Gulf Coast from DC? I tried to talk everyone with me into letting me just stay. I really thought I was more convincing than I am.
We did not do as well on the food front as I’d hoped. That doesn’t mean we didn’t eat anything good, but it means I forgot to take pictures a few times. I’m still new to this whole Don’t put that in your mouth until it’s in my iPhone habit.
It also means we didn’t get to a couple places we’d hoped to get to, but I at least have a couple good stories for why—and a compelling reason to go back (as if I needed that).
I did spend an inordinate amount of time taking pictures of protests and political and social statements. I don’t know; maybe it was the inspiration we felt from all the like-minded people. Maybe it was just the sheer amount of pushback we witnessed. Whatever it was, the shining star on this trip was—surprisingly—not the food but the humanity. I’ll take it.
Let’s talk about the food, though. I may give you a photo journal of the politics later, but that’s not why anyone comes here, is it?
How about one political photo?
How about Gandhi?
I got to thinking. There’s so much to say about so many places, why not just do this in a series? Instead of a very long post you’ll never read, I’m going to do this by place. I’m not saying I won’t veer off into some non-food stories from time to time, but I will try. I want to give each restaurant and bar its due, and trying to write about everything in one post means either I write too much for anyone to read or I don’t write enough about the coolness (or not coolness in a couple cases) of each place. This first post is a bit long, but the restaurant we ended up in that night is absolutely worth hanging in there.
But first…the arrival
First of all, I did not get up when I was supposed to so my thought was, “Well, this trip is starting out GREAT!” Luckily, the security line was 5.4 seconds long, thanks to TSA Precheck and the fact Pensacola “International” Airport is something of a joke.
I usually enjoy a good airport restaurant because they’re sometimes unexpectedly quite good (like Cat Cora’s in Atlanta), but I despise paying the inflated prices. What does one do if one is traveling on a budget?
That’s right. One eats pretzels and Biscoff, and, hey, that’s actually a-okay with me. Biscoff should be given a Nobel Prize. Really. The cookie. Should be given a Nobel.
What? Weirder Nobel recipients exist.
We opted for Biscoff and coffee on the plane and good ol’ Starbucks in the Charlotte airport. This was primarily because we landed at E terminal and departed from C. That’s a hike even by myself, but with my mother along for the jog, it was even longer. If you don’t know the Charlotte Douglas International Airport, enjoy this map (okay, it looked bigger when we were there).
That’s the only time I ate anything until we got to DC because I was so ready to get there, the idea of pausing to waste time eating sounded like an American tragedy.
That night, we decided to wing it and just see what was around us. I like to do that when I travel sometimes, so I thought, “what better night than the first? Maybe it’ll set the tone.”
We were in Dupont Circle at the Fairfax at Embassy Row and the Embassy Row Hotel right across the street. (Detour for a second here. GREAT location. GREAT hotels. VERY different from one another. Stay at the Fairfax for the history and the Embassy Row for the modernity. Both are great choices.)
Back to that food, though. We decided on District Taco (an awesome choice at any time), which was just down the road at 20th and M, and we headed out…down Massachusetts and then 22nd. I don’t know why. It was probably my fault, but it was also very cold so I’m blaming that. (No snow; just some flurries. Still quite cold. That storm in the Northeast didn’t make it all the way to us that night, but it was reminding us of its presence close by.)
The Surprise Burger Dungeon
In any case, it turned out to be a blessing in disguise when we were too cold to round the block and head to where we were supposed to go. Instead, we stumbled into a place that just looked…interesting.
We walked up the steps, into the rickety front door, followed the arrow pointing downward through a door to our right (because that’s never the start of a bad horror flick), descended some less than reliable looking stairs (neither is that), and ended up here in the Bier Baron Tavern (1523 22nd St. NW, one block from Dupont Circle Metro – Red Line).
No question we were in the right place, and dammit, a burger sounded awesome anyway! So did a cold beer, despite the 20ºF (about -7ºC) night.
Then again, so was the Atlas Silent Neighbor and the several other forgotten brews that followed. They claim to have over 600 beers, and we tried our best to march them one by one into our guts.
We did not make it to 600.
It was happy hour, one of the better ones I’ve run across in a town filled with amazing happy hour specials: $10 for a brew and a burger as well as a generous selection of other appetizers for a fraction of their normal cost. Everything looked great. It’s just…well, a beer and a burger for $10 is not something you pass up. So for a Hamilton, I ate a pretty awesome burger and perfect fries.
Why were the above pictured fries perfect? See, where we live now, someone told someone somewhere that everything should be fried in truffle oil. I’m no expert, but I’ve always thought truffle oil was better as a finishing oil than a cooking oil. Even if there is a way to cook with it, whatever they do locally is not it. Even if they do just use it as a finishing oil, they do so with reckless abandon, resulting in weird-tasting, soggy, depressed fries. The places that like to bill themselves as contemporary (hip even…yep) around here do weird things with food and call it culinary expertise, but, see, that’s another post for another time.
Let’s get back to these fries. They were the perfect balance of crispy on the outside but still a potato on the inside, the oil was obviously hot enough to have cooked them but not clung to them afterward, and the salt-to-fry ratio was spot on. Just damned good French fries.
The burger was dynamite, too. Just look at the thickness of that patty. It was a satisfying experience with good old American standards on night one in the nation’s capital. So glad we made a wrong turn. Even more glad my people didn’t question it, instead choosing to blindly follow me throughout the 202.
For some reason, we also ate fried Oreos. I did not photograph these out of pure shame.
There’s not a ton more to say about the food or the beer except it was delicious. There is, however, quite a lot to say about the locale itself.
First, let’s go back to that bit about it being underground. The Bier Baron Tavern has this fantastic dive bar feel to it, complete with reminders of home carved on the tables.
I unfortunately didn’t take too many pictures of the interior of the place (man, I am NOT good at this), but in addition to the cool DC flag made from beer caps, there was an oddly placed, eerily lit shadow box of beers along the top of the back wall. Was it pretty? Well, yes, if you appreciate beer, it was downright gorgeous.
When you first walk in, there’s a long bar down the right hand side that looked like it may have been home to some interesting characters that evening if we’d planned to make a night out of it. We opted for the back dining room, which involved being taken through an archway into a dining room and then through a less sturdy looking archway to a nice long table with more carvings than just the state of Florida pictured above. I recall California and a bit of profanity. I’m sure there was more.
We absolutely loved it.
Speaking of making a night out of it, our very chill, very West Coast server told us all about the club upstairs, and we made plans on the spot to come back to it later. From burlesque to comedy, there’s something going on at The Bier Baron almost every night.
Also, District Trivia. That same chill server explained to us the sanctity of their trivia night, which was the previous night (and every Monday and Wednesday), making us both grateful we’d come in on a quiet Thursday night and regretful we weren’t going to be there for either a Wednesday or a Monday night.
That same chill server also did a bang up job of elevating my and my family’s inclination toward dad jokes. My mom, who despises ketchup, asked him for “a side of no ketchup.” Her burger arrived with a heaping portion of fries, a cold beer, and an empty condiment cup, an actual “side of no ketchup.” Another point for this place.
There’s also, much to our curiosity, a hotel (also 1523 22nd St. NW). The Baron Hotel, according to WC (our server’s name from now on), has been recently remodeled and features a variety of interesting room layouts and pretty competitive prices. We didn’t go into a room, but we wanted to so badly. I’m tempted to book it one day just to see what it’s like. Reviews are generally pretty good, and the only “bad” things seem to be “not a lot of amenities,” “it’s noisy because of the bar,” and “the rooms are dated.” Please someone stay there and let me know how it is.
I was overall very pleased with our accidental burger dungeon find. At first, I wasn’t entirely sure whether we’d found a gem or not, but when I posted on Facebook about it, a friend who spent a couple years at American had this to say:
So it used to be the Brickskeller and it’s local-approved! Night one was a rousing success, and I will go back (four, five times a week) when I move up there. Hope to see you there!
And no, we did not make it back to the club for the comedy show that night. I wish I could say we found ourselves somewhere else, but we just crashed. Up since 3:45 AM, flying clear up the coast and running through an airport with bags and a mom, a reluctant admission that 20ºF (about -7ºC) weather wipes you out when you’re not used to it, and dealing with a bit of a hotel fiasco (not the fault of either place we stayed but still the reason we had multiple hotels. Long story. Longer than this one) set us up for an early night in on night one.
I didn’t care. I went to bed smiling at the sounds of city life right outside the window. Ugh. Why did I come home?
What’s a can’t miss accidental find in your favorite city?