After 15 months without going out, the crush of bargoers gathering outside old haunts and those opening for the first time has been a sight to see. But whether opening back up or inviting patrons for the first time, many are implementing progressive changes to better support their staff and the local community. One of the new spots building back better is Northeast newcomer Metrobar. Built around a retired Metro car, the venue celebrates what connects the District.
Bar owners Jesse Rauch and John Groth arrived at the idea over drinks a few years ago. They were talking about D.C. and what connects the city, and it so happened that Metro was coincidentally disposing of its 5000-series train cars. They secured one, and Groth called in third owner Matt Weaver to find a venue. Rauch and Groth know one another through the social sports scene: Rauch started District Karaoke, and Groth founded DC Bocce.
Located off of the Metropolitan Branch Trail by the Rhode Island Avenue Metro stop in Edgewood, Metrobar opened near the ongoing Bryant Street development, which will add 1,500 residential units to the area and at least 35,000 square feet of retail — including Alamo Drafthouse and food hall The Bevy.
The bar owners are mindful that the Bryant Street development will change the historically quiet neighborhood, but hope Metrobar can counter that by being a place to welcome all District residents and celebrate the local artisans, music and culture. They chose a bar for that reason, as it allows the most flexibility in terms of bringing the community together.
There’s no kitchen onsite, but guests can expect food trucks, collaborations with culinary incubator Mess Hall and ultimately, to order from The Bevy directly via a QR code at their individual table.
The venue has a sit-where-you-like atmosphere, between the picnic tables, standing barrels, cabanas and eponymous Metro car. It holds 499 people, including 50 in the Metrocar, which will also have a bar. A shipping container on the other end of the space houses another bar.
Based on guest responses at pop-ups, beverage director Rich Sterling’s menu is cocktail-focused. This plays to his strengths as he comes to Metrobar from D.C. standout Serenata, located inside Latin market La Cosecha. Led by beverage director Andra “AJ” Johnson, Serenata was recently featured on an Esquire list of the 27 best bars in America. Before that, he also worked at
Burmese restaurant Thamee on H Street.
In addition to three draft beers, several canned beers, three wines and two nonalcoholic options, the menu includes six house cocktails like the Red Line Rickey, a take on D.C.’s signature cocktail featuring One Eight District Made Gin, Don Ciccio & Figli Ambrosia, Luxardo Maraschino, DC Brau Black Cherry Hard Seltzer and lime. Almost all menu items, including the wines, are local.
In collaboration with DMV Black Restaurant Week, they will highlight local Black craft distillers on upcoming menus.
“I want to make it where, until our dying breath, we’re giving [Black craft distillers] access, celebrating the flavor profiles inherent in their spirits and telling their stories,” Sterling says.
To avoid the “District Industry” Facebook-centric hiring process, they turned to DMV Black Restaurant Week to help with staffing. And in line with ongoing changes in the industry, all checks have an automatic 20% gratuity and the bar offers full and part-time staff health insurance.
The mural work of D.C. artist Trap Bob is currently on view in the space, but the owners plan to invite other artists to work in other open areas. Trap is known for her vibrant, colorful work celebrating Black icons. For music, they will have regular go-go and jazz programs.
Their commitment to feature only homegrown producers and artists, welcome all D.C. residents, and take better care of staff sounds idealistic — but that’s the point. They felt there was an opening for a D.C. bar that purposefully and thoughtfully celebrated what brings the District together.
Rauch frames the project in terms of the Don’t Mute DC movement that started in 2019, when residents at a condo building on U Street filed a noise complaint against a nearby Metro PCS playing go-go music. It led to actions such as a pending Don’t Mute DC city council bill, which would make go-go the official music of the city. But, in looking around the city, Rauch and his partners saw an opportunity for providing a community space that made an effort to serve not just incoming community members but those already there. Positive examples they note include Howard Theatre and nearby City-State Brewing.
“We’ve made it a point to meet with the existing groups in the area and come in as someone who’s welcoming of everyone here,” Rauch says.
Already, the co-owners say whatever ideas they had about the space have already been transformed by the response they’ve heard from nearby residents and guests.
Rauch adds, “Our hope is to bring everyone together and create a really positive community vibe.”
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