Tuesday, December 21, 2010

The Brickskeller: Closed

The Brickseller was a DC institution for beer lovers. I say was for two reasons. One, it's closed now. Two, it hasn't been an “institution” for DC beer lovers for what I'd wager is nearly 5 years. Like many, The Brick was my first “real” introduction to a bar that catered to craft beer, at least until I thought about all my fond memories in Norfolk Virginia going to the Taphouse at Ghent and Cogan’s Instant Art Bar, two places with much smaller beer menus, but much better experiences in terms of service and food. I had never seen as many beers at one time in a bar as when I first entered the basement of The Brickskeller. When the sale was first announced a few months ago, I wasn’t sure if a purchase by anyone would be a good idea. My first thoughts were that the name made the place, and without it there would be absolutely no point if the name didn’t come with the purchase.

Well, after making such a statement, I weighed my thoughts about this place. Should we only remember the good times? Should we just put aside the bad times or even the truth?

The Brick has “history,” but like most things they have their time and at some point, it is past. This most certainly needed to be acknowledged with The Brick. Whatever The Brickskeller was even just 15 years ago was long gone by the time I started to frequent it by 2007. The bathrooms were nauseous. The service was pitiful almost every night. The food wasn’t that great, but if you knew what to choose off the menu, you could usually scrape by. Now, before I get too nostalgic, the beer list was not just a joke, it was an outright sham. The cellar was always touted as having over a thousand beers, but can you really make that claim if they're always out of hundreds of beers? Their beer menu was at best a list of items they had at one point and hadn't carried for 6 to 8 months (or a few years prior), at worst, beers they may never had carried. A friend of mine joked they may have just picked up one six pack of a particular beer at some point. While The Brick painfully clung to their Guinness World Record, other people in town were innovating.

While people may think back now and remember that The Brickskeller introduced them to craft beer, I'd wager that the name "Brickskeller" means very little in today's DC beer culture beyond the simple nostalgia factor. The sad part is that The Brickskeller could have easily kept up with the times. Rustico and Pizzeria Paradiso opened years ago, Churchkey not long after that – I actually feel like those places care about the beer they’re serving as well as the food and overall service they provide each customer. The Alexanders (or whoever was running the show the last decade) should have been taking notes. The once unique establishment became a dinosaur, frequented mostly by loyal patrons who were likely blissfully unaware of these better establishments or decided to remain ignorant and by those who went there once simply to say they did. The latter would include my parents, who I went with on my birthday the week before it closed.

That last experience wasn't awful - I sat at the same exact table two nights in a row. The beers, as you'd expect were few and far between. We had partial menus Saturday night, but were greeted on Sunday with beer stained menus, but menus that were intact. We are after all, talking about The Brickskeller, where if are ordering a beer and get the first one you order you're doing something wrong. You might as well not order from the menu at all! "Surprise me with something special" sometimes worked if you had a competent waiter. After a few frustrating attempts, you just ask for whatever they had of a particular brand. That last night I was there I saw they had a bottle of Stone Lucky Bastard on another person's table, but apparently that was the last bottle. Bummer. That would have been a way to go out.

After spending over a year away from the place and entering it right before it closed, part of me is sad to see it go but after a nice short chat with one of the new owners, I’m hopeful that these people can breath life into this fading establishment as soon as possible. Clean bathrooms (one of their top priorities) and an up-to-date beer menu is really all it would need to surpass the existing Brickskeller’s current conditions. You know you're probably in for a good experience when the new owners say "What's on the menu will be here. If we run out, we'll grab every menu and cross it out." Here's hoping.


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