The Twisted Horn, Upshur Street's newest bar, opens Friday, January 8th -- and tonight was a special "soft launch" for family, friends and guests to get a sneak peek of the drinks and menu.
Since I was invited to the soft launch, I thought I'd share a few photos and early, early impressions.
At the door, the restaurant provided drink and food tickets to guests, along with a survey, to give their staff the chance to practice on a friendly crowd. And by crowd, I mean a fully packed, elbow to elbow crowd.
With walls painted black and small, intimate high-top tables of two-to-three chairs running along the wall opposite the bar (along with a couple of lower tables up front that are wheelchair-friendly), this isn't a family restaurant. Twisted Horn is a through-and-through cocktail bar suitable for a date, a drink on the way home or an exploration of various inebriating concoctions, balanced with small plates of food to nosh on.
The bar itself is designed to be a place to saddle up, order an interesting drink (like a Mezcal Negroni or a Sabateur Sling) and talk. Hooks for coats and power outlets await customers below the bar, ready to hold your coat and power your phone if need be. I'll also point out that each small table along the wall is separated by a short wooden divider -- if you look up, you'll see the tops of the dividers are curved like church pews, which pays homage to the church that was the previous tenant of 819 Upshur Street (side note: the church left well before the bar leased the space).
Since I wasn't trying to craft a full review, I just took advantage of the drink and food tickets to order samples. The food menu isn't large, but seems appropriate for a place focused on beverages instead of food.
The two dishes I tried were pretty good. The soft pretzel, a nice starchy treat, was great; with a slightly crunchy, salty outside and a soft inside. I also tried a Spicy Pickled Vegetable Onigiri Japanese Rice Hand Ball. Both clearly will help out with the effects of the cocktails.
Speaking of which, I ordered the Ideal Cocktail, a mixture of gin, vermouth, and grapefruit juice, served with Marcona almonds in a small bowl on the side (a nice, complementary flavor). The Ideal Cocktail makes for an easy starter drink that has a nice mixed flavor (stronger on the grapefruit side).
Since I was there by myself (no +1 on my invite, alas), I managed to grab a seat at one of the small tables along the wall at the invitation of another patron, Jennifer, who lives up along Emerson Street. Jennifer's cousin is a server at the bar, and Jennifer was on-hand to lend support.
Jennifer ordered the Mezcal Negroni cocktail, and said she enjoyed it. She ordered the Forest Mushroom Crostini, a toasted bread covered in sautéed mushrooms, and said that was very good, as was the Smoked Salmon Rice Ball she ordered. (Jennifer is a community organizer, and we had a great conversation about development and affordable housing, so thanks for inviting me to sit!)
Owner Jamie Leeds was back in the kitchen during the evening (I had a chance to say a quick hello), while general manager Megan Coyle tended both the bar and guests. Bartenders Bryan, Calvin and Burke were very busy mixing, shaking and pouring drinks non-stop.
Beyond the crowd of friends and family, I saw Sarah Gordon and Sheila Fain, owners of Gordy's Pickle Jar (221 Upshur St NW) -- there is a cool little box of their pickles on the menu. Some ANC 4C commissioners were on-hand to enjoy the launch party, including Maria Barry, John-Paul Hayworth, Joe Martin, Mike Halpern and Zach Teutsch.
I have this weird habit of checking out the bathrooms at new bars and restaurants -- I guess I figure the nicer the bathroom, the nicer the bar and the more the owners want to provide a comfortable experience. The bathrooms at Twisted Horn are very nice, with black subway tiles, modern fixtures, groovy, intense wallpaper and an air-hand dryer that actually blows forcefully.
And of course, don't forget to check out the twisted horns over the bar -- it is their namesake, after all.