Adams Morgan barbecue staple, Smoke & Barrel, reopened its doors earlier this summer with a revised concept after being forced to close its doors last November due to Covid-19. Like many other D.C. restaurants and institutions, this one-of-a-kind barbecue joint was ravaged by the pandemic, weary diners and financial aid that arrived too late. Thankfully, Smoke & Barrel has been given a second chance this year to welcome diners with a new and creative approach that is sure to remind D.C. barbecue lovers why they are one of the best in the city.
Smoke & Barrel Principal, John Andrade, was hopeful last summer the uptick in carryout orders and diners with cabin fever would help carry them through the year.
“That seemed to be the way a lot of people coped with [quarantine] and we were happy to oblige in any way we could, but that seemed to settle down in the fall, he says.”
As the weather got cooler, Andrade noticed a drop-off in restaurant visitorship, along with an increase in social media posts of folks showing off their new culinary skills they had picked up during the pandemic.
“When we got to November, it just became apparent that stepping into the winter in the financial state we were in was simply untenable, so I made the decision during the Thanksgiving holiday to wrap up.”
Though the restaurant was awarded a much needed PPP loan, they did not actually receive the funds until February, months after Andrade had made the difficult decision to close.
Thanks to the Restaurant Revitalization Fund, Andrade and his team were able to reboot the restaurant with a smaller footprint in the restaurant’s basement.
“The plan became to only open the downstairs and try and function with a simpler model that would be able to function through this post-pandemic world.”
Smoke & Barrel’s new Executive Chef, Dan Minsker, was also hard at work in giving the restaurant’s menu a makeover, offering expanded options for meat lovers, vegetarians and vegans alike.
“He cut his teeth in Texas so there is quite a Texas influence in his barbecue style,” Andrade says. “He has a great palate and is very scientific with his approach.”
Minsker’s precision for cook times and flavors have been an added benefit while the menu evolves, making the Smoke & Barrel principal a converted fan of the restaurant’s new vegan offerings. It seems like he is not the only one.
“Our sales are about 50-50 vegan and non-vegan, so we cater to the vegan quite heavily now as well.”
Mouth-watering options like smoked vegan wings, Freddy’s Vegan Pepper Steak, and the vegan turkey roll are right at home next to their classic brisket, pulled pork and rib options.
Andrade also says they made some noticeable changes to their drink menu to accommodate carryout customers.
“We changed our draft beer model from 24 to eight beers on draft and boosted up to 65 canned beer options to offer more options to our consumers.”
While the pandemic took a toll on their level of collaboration with local breweries, the team was able to expand their connections to breweries out west and diversify the geographic makeup of their beer list.
“Our whiskey list shrunk in the last year but we are also slowly building that back up.”
While they lost the bulk of their staff in the transition between close and reopening, Andrade has been able to provide necessary safety measures for the staff that did return so they could maintain a safe environment, like contactless hand-washing stations and boosted sanitation procedures.
“The PPP relief has enabled us to compensate our staff if they are not feeling well and can’t come in. My hope is that we can continue to care for our staff in that way moving forward.”
Their priority continues to be making sure their staff can feel cared for and safe.
New Covid-19 variants have made it difficult to imagine a post-pandemic world for the restaurant, an uncertain feeling heightened by renewed mask mandates and other public limitations in the city.
“I thought we were staring at this light at the end of the tunnel, but it’s still a little scary from the business side,” Andande says.
However, he has begun negotiations with the landlord to gain access back to the larger dining room upstairs. The restaurant has also benefited greatly from the Adams Morgan streetery system, the outdoor dining model introduced last summer as a way to allow diners to social distance while dining. While they are able to take advantage of their own section, they have also collaborated with the Subway next door to expand their outdoor seating area.
Andrade is hopeful that with their reopening, expanded outdoor seating, and a delicious new menu, diners will be reminded why they’re one of the most unique barbecue restaurants in the city.
“The vegan stuff that Dan is making is really great and I find myself eating more and more of it,” he gushes. “We are doing hearty barbecue dishes and classic barbecue options that are very appetizing and are going to satisfy your appetite at the same time.”
He is proud to be part of what he considers to be an elite and underrated D.C. barbecue scene and the city is sure to benefit from this reopening.
If you plan on stopping by, remember to head downstairs. No reservation is needed for groups under eight people to visit this Adams Morgan gem. Sunday through Thursday, 5-11 p.m., and Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. – 12 a.m.
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