Given Shaw’s plethora of bars and drinking establishments, a number of varieties in style and trends are inevitable. Shaw pioneered the pop-up bar in DC, including the holiday-themed Miracle on Seventh Street and the Game of Thrones bar, which gained international attention. The latest trend is the speakeasy bar. After a period when many bars in Shaw constructed roof decks with views of the city, the hippest drinking establishments in the area right now want to operate out of a basement. In an era of legal booze and marijuana, the reasons for this new trend are difficult to fathom, but the basement boom is upon us.
The Dabney Cellar
Perhaps the best example of the speakeasy trend is its latest incarnation in Shaw. To find it, go north on the west side of the 1200 block of Ninth Street, past Reformation Fitness, and go down a stairway to a basement door illuminated by a single light with a leaf etched on the door pane. Push the door open and you will find yourself in the Dabney Cellar (1222 Ninth St. NW), a spinoff of Shaw’s Michelin-starred restaurant The Dabney, which is on the other side of the building in Blagden Alley.
Other than not requiring a password to enter, the Dabney Cellar is true to the classic speakeasy tradition. The intimate space features 30 seats, an upper level of tables, stacks of firewood and a lower-level bar. Offerings consist of an extensive list of wines by the glass and high-end beers, while the nibbles maintain the Dabney’s commitment to the Mid-Atlantic, with a raw bar of oysters and other varieties of shellfish, country ham on the bone and cheeses from the eastern US.
Perhaps Shaw’s first speakeasy came when Capo Deli (715 Florida Ave. NW) opened last summer. It took a while before the proprietors revealed that behind a metal refrigerator door was actually a well-appointed club, known, appropriately enough as the BackRoom. It boasts a chandelier, plush couches and a stand for live music. The BackRoom continues the speakeasy tradition of relying on champagne and classic cocktails for drinks, while food is provided by the deli outside. Like the speakeasies of old, entrance to the bar is restricted. You can get your name on “the list” by calling 202-910-6884.
Perhaps one of the most unlikely covers for a speakeasy is Shaw’s Sugar Shack donut shop (1932 Ninth St. NW). After the shop closes, drinkers can walk to the back and take an elevator down to Nocturne, an after-hours establishment styled after a Parisian apartment. In the small but swank interior for 17, patrons can try out cocktails with cutting-edge concepts and ingredients. The small snacks available are similarly exacting in terms of creativity and preparation. Nocturne takes reservations for seats through Open Table.
600 T Street
At 600 T St. NW, a lone row house without a row, the bar is found going down the set of stairs to the basement. The interior of reclaimed wood and restored brick was done by owner Stephen Lawrence, who lives upstairs. The exposed beams, wood-burning fireplace and incandescent lightbulbs give the bar a frontier ambiance, down to its rustic restroom. Like its basement compatriots, the entrance is unmarked, with the proprietor hoping to avoid a permanent name for the place. The cocktails adhere to a similar anonymity, with the drinks on the menu served in antique glasses identified only by their primary alcoholic base.
The Wren Groundbreaking
Mayor Muriel Bowser, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Brian Kenner and other dignitaries got together on Nov. 30 to celebrate the groundbreaking of The Wren, the next major development project in Shaw. Located at 965 Florida Ave. NW, The Wren is a residential/commercial effort by MRP Realty, the Ellis Development Group and JBG Smith, being partially built on previously District-owned land. The 289,686-square-foot, mixed-use development will feature 433 residential units, 132 of them designated affordable, and a 43,000-square-foot Whole Foods grocery, which will anchor the building’s retail on the ground floor.
Everyone was excited by the impact that the project, on previously vacant lots, would have on the Shaw neighborhood’s residential and commercial vitality. As Kai Reynolds, co-chief development officer of JBG Smith, noted, “Now, with the addition of The Wren, even more people will have the opportunity to enjoy Shaw and call it home.”