McGovern is smiling a wide cheshire cat smile, shuffling from one end of the bar to the other, shaking hands with his new patrons and old friends. He is very much in his element. This bar has all of the recognizable trappings of Wonderland or Looking Glass. The old bier steins on the shelf, the red hue of the overhead lights, the jukebox, and the old-fashioned posters on the walls evoke a very familiar feeling. The only difference is that this room isn’t in Columbia Heights or Park View– it’s on 8th st. NE, just over the CSX tracks.
The Dew Drop Inn is the latest D.C. venture from Wonderland and Looking Glass owners Matthew McGovern and Rose Donna. The space is a re-purposed standalone garage and warehouse in Brookland, and was once the Chocolate City Brewing Company’s headquarters. When Matt and Rose took over, they converted the second floor into a main bar room, and built a deck extension, complete with picnic tables and umbrellas. Rose told me this past Thursday, while making sure all of her guests were well-served, that there are plans to turn the downstairs space into a dance floor, and possibly build a roof deck.
Thursday night’s soft opening was fun preview of what the bar will turn into. The barstools and picnic tables full of people talking loudly and carrying on, while the tables against the wall were reserved for quiet discussion. This is no easy feat to pull off, especially in a room with such a wide floor plan. While there is a clear effort to make the room look and feel like Wonderland or Looking Glass, the effort seems a little more sincere, like Matt and Rose are trying to make their new guests comfortable, instead of capitalizing on the atmosphere of their previous two ventures.
Their menu is limited for the moment, but has several delicious selections. Everyone raved about the pretzels and homemade beer mustard. You can order a Cobb sandwich by the inch. Their pulled pork sandwich is not the typical wet-and-greasy mess you’d get from a bar, but a sizable amount of pork and coleslaw on a gigantic sourdough bun. The pulled pork itself comes in giant chunks… you know, like it was pulled off the bone. Also, their home-made kettle chips are delicious.
There are, of course, some small quirks and kinks that are getting worked out over the next week before the grand opening. Keith, one of the bartenders, explains his biggest challenge of their soft opening is the distinct lack of dedicated taps. While all the lines have been run through the bar, the keg room itself downstairs hasn’t been finished yet. They have a smaller system up and running now, serving beer just as cold as a conventional tap line. Still, Keith reaches every two seconds for a soda gun that’s not there, or turns around for taps that don’t have a keg hooked up yet.
Matt and Rose have placed a clipboard with a page whose heading reads “COMMENTS, SUGGESTIONS??” The guests chimed in. One asked why there was no mirror in the bathroom. Another asked if they planned to install bike racks. While this bar is taking its first steps, it looks as though the owners are missing very little so far. The biggest question so far is “will people trek all the way out from Columbia Heights, U Street, or even Virginia to come to a bar by the railroad tracks in Brookland?” Most of the folks at the picnic tables out front a delivered a “yes.”
Like Wonderland and Looking Glass, Matt and Rose want to focus on the community aspect of the bar. They would like to see their regulars make their way across North Capitol, but they want just as much to bring in people from the surrounding neighborhoods. Brookland has remained a very residential neighborhood, with several second or third-generation D.C. families. Unlike a large portion of the newly-developed Arts Walk, the Dew Drop Inn will cater as much to the long-term residents as it would for the new-comers.
McGovern certainly hopes so. “People better come out to the new place, or I’m just going to sit at the bar, and drink all the beer myself.”