Photos by Nicholas Karlin, words by Kaylee Dugan
It’s hard to open a bar in D.C. Unless you’re in an underserved area, it’s not enough to just make good drinks and food. There has a to be more. A fun theme. Interesting decor. A shocking menu item. Even if your goal is simple, basic, quality, you must loudly proclaim that you’re anti-theme. It’s not enough to do a good job. You have to have something else going on.
Service Bar doesn’t shun that idea, but instead of latching onto one theme and running with it, they’ve thrown a bunch of different things at the wall with the hope that most of them will stick. There’s the lovingly crafted cocktail program, the Dope Wine of the Week, the evolving punch, the fried chicken and champagne pairings, the snug room, the take out window, the all day every day happy hour menu. At any given moment there’s something to distract, delight, or entice you.
Even the space feels like a bunch of different concepts shoved into a tiny box. It’s a small bar that partly feels like your grandparents basement and partly feels like the kind of bar you would accidentally stumble into while on vacation and the spend the rest of your trip getting sloshed there. The decor is eclectic without being over the top. They’re collecting cocktail recipes from all over the world and putting them on the walls. Old book pages are collaged to form a quaint wallpaper. Copper pineapples and owls, tiki mugs and cut glass rocks glasses hang above the bar. There are swizzle sticks with airplanes on the end and a variety of tiny little bottles filled with syrups and other potions.
Then, there is the snug room. Based off of the tiny spaces found in traditional Irish pubs, the snug is a private space for guests to do business. Service Bar’s snug room is certainly tiny and comes with a special cocktail menu unavailable at the rest of the bar. Reservations will definitely be required, but it’s an interesting way to use the space. Service Bar is also differentiating itself by having a maître d’ (instead of traditional servers) who will bring guests, drinks, answer questions, and make reservations.
Speaking of cocktails, the menu at Service Bar is a filled with tons of different options. There are cocktails with rum, rhum, mezcal, tequila, vodka, whisky, brandy, and gin. They also have a separate hyper seasonal menu, that you can expect to change often, and the aforementioned all day every day happy hour menu, where all of the drinks are $7. We were lucky enough to try the Ocopa, a pisco cocktail made with St. Germain, hierba luisa, and clarified lime. It comes out looking clear as a glass of water, with a little basil garnish. Even though it’s lack of color led me to believe it was going to be boozy and alcohol forward, it was an incredibly refreshing drink that has the perfect amount of sweetness.
Next, we tried one of their hyper seasonal drinks, the Heirloom Carrot Margarita. It’s a classic margarita recipe with the addition of heirloom carrots and it’s goddamn delicious. The carrots add a subtle savory freshness and make a well worn recipe a little more intriguing. Owner Glendon Hartley explained that they sought out heirloom carrots not only for their seasonal quality, but for the variety of colors available. Meaning you could order the same drink twice and get two very different looking cocktails.
The last drink we tried was The Bloomingdale with Galangal infused Bombay Sapphire, raspberry & aged apple cider vinegar shrub, lemon, egg foam, and a absinth spritz. It looks like liquefied cotton candy in a glass, but the sour notes from the shrub and the tiny spritz of absinthe temper the sweetness of the infused gin.
There is so much to taste and try at Service Bar, it’s the sort of spot that demands more than one visit. If you’re looking for a relatively cheap place to get a drink before 9:30 Club show, their happy hour menu should suit you just fine. If you’re more of a late night food kind of person, they’ll be serving up fried chicken (which you can and should pair with anyone of their highly curated champagnes) until the early morning. If you’re looking to drink something quality, something you’ve never had before, grab yourself a seat at the bar. They’ve got you.
Service Bar is located at 928 U Street NW. They open 10/18 and their hours are 5 p.m. till 2 a.m. Tuesday – Sunday.