Photos By Nicholas Karlin, Words By Brandon Wetherbee
There are two stories about Five to One. The first is about the space. The former record store and former Dickson Wine Bar space is now a music themed bar. It’s the first bar owned by one of our favorite bartenders, Trevor Frye. The other story is about the business model.
You’re reading this because you want to know if you’ll like Five to One. The way an employee gets paid shouldn’t influence your experience at any bar, but it does.
We profile bartenders and chefs on this site quite often, maybe 100 times a year. We rarely, if ever, focus on the business side. It doesn’t usually impact the customer experience. At least on the surface it doesn’t. We think our readers care more about how the bar will fit into their social schedule. Is it a good meeting place for large groups? Does it have a romantic feel? Are the prices reasonable? Most importantly, is it good? Maybe we should be asking owners how tips are split.
The Five to One model isn’t anything revolutionary. It’s not breaking the mold or using catchphrases about hustle to sell itself. The reason we’re so interested in the business model of the new spot at 903 U Street is because it’s rare. And it shouldn’t be rare.
Frye cut his teeth at Jack Rose. Which led to opening the bar within a bar Dram & Grain. He’s also consulted on other spots and repped brands and bartended at great spots. He’s been around and knows what works. So Five to One is operating as sort of a profit sharing co-op. Employees aren’t paid hourly. 28.5% per dollar goes to the bar. Tips are split at the weeks end, allowing bartenders to actually have a Friday or Saturday off without worrying about missing a payday. All of the staff is full time, which means four shifts a week. All of the staff has health insurance and a Balance Gym membership. There’s a track to ownership.
How does any of this impact you? In theory, and most likely in practice, the staff is more invested. And that obviously means your experience should be better.
If you just came for info on what it’s like to drink at Five to One, here you go. Frye wants you to have the experience of band performing at a music venue, specifically 9:30 Club. The entrance is through the basement/ground floor. You’re greeted with a Amuse-bouche drink.
The second, main floor, is a 12-seat bar that’s half reservation, half walk in. The third floor feels like the top floor of the 9:30 Club. You’re able to peer over the balcony and into the bar. There’s a small outdoor patio also on the third floor.
Frye makes excellent drinks. It’s one of the reasons we’ve profiled him multiple times. What makes Five to One different is the limited menu. Gone are the super rare whiskeys. In its place is a menu of eight rotating cocktails, well curated wines, and our favorite, boilermaker combos that highlight the beer and spirits. For example, the 3 Stars Peppercorn Saison is paired with about an ounce of Illegal Mezcal for an extra $2. You’re encouraged to pour a little of the spirit into the beer. It’s an excellent deal.
Five to One isn’t open from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Five to One is named after The Doors song “Five to One.” That’s why there’s a very large Jim Morrison painting. You know what was popular while The Doors were at their prime in California? Co-ops.
Five To One, 903 U St NW, is open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday.