Is it a cocktail bar? Is it a dive? Or is it a pool hall?
Reliable Tavern General Managers Ben Long and Ben Alt don’t really care what you call it, so long as you’re having fun.
I stopped by recently to check out the neighborhood’s newest watering hole, which opened in early May inside a former hardware store at 3655 Georgia Avenue. Reliable Tavern's arrival alongside DC Reynolds and Looking Glass Lounge is heating up foot traffic along the Petworth/Park View border, and giving the Upshur drag and 14th street corridor a run for their money as Petworth’s late night hubs.
Reliable is already making waves, landing atop Eater’s list of hottest DC bars. The eclectic hangout’s main floor is polished and neighborhoody, with a mix of cocktails, wines and 10 beers on tap. The basement is grungier, with a second bar, a couple of pool tables and a jukebox. The result, it seems, is something for everyone.
“We tried our best to let the neighborhood decide the scene,” said Ben Long, one of Reliable’s General Managers and formerly a bartender at Central Michel Richard. “We were prepared with a multitude of offerings - wine by the glass, ten tap beers, 1 and 1's [like Gin and Tonics], and 'choose your own' style cocktails. We were prepared for super busy late weekend nights with younger crowds and typical weekdays of regulars. Instead what we got was great weekdays and steady weekends filled with mostly neighborhood cocktail drinkers of all ages.”
“That's fine by us. The vibe is always determined by the guests," Long said.
Several hangovers from the space’s former incarnation as a hardware store adorn the bar’s walls: old tools and equipment, pinup signs, and the industrial look of exposed piping and bricks.
“The concept of the hardware store was the idea of our owners," Long said. [Joe Englert and Kyle Remissong are also partners in the Big Hunt, Rock and Roll Hotel and DC9.] “They were trying to keep it a neighborhood feel at a neighborhood bar and the hardware store had been around for a very long time.”
Long co-manages Reliable Tavern with Ben Alt, formerly of Himitsu, and before that of award-winning Convivial, where the two Bens met in 2015. It was there that Alt credits Long with teaching him the art of making cocktails.
“Him and I stayed in touch, and continued to work together, one way or another, after he left Convivial,” Alt says. “Eventually, we got this opportunity to operate a bar together, and jumped at it. We are constantly learning from each other, and we have a good time doing it.”
Though Reliable Tavern has a wide beer and wine selection, Long says the cocktails have been by far the most popular choice thus far. The cocktail menu is designed around various styles of cocktails – Collins, Rickey, Buck, Daiquiri/Gimlet, Manhattan/Martini, Old Fashioned, and Negroni – which the bartenders can make classic or with a twist. And, resisting the urge to experiment too much, the Bens have decided to lean heavily on drinks that have proven popular around the world.
“From time to time we hope to add a drink or two to the pantheon of libations,” Long says. “But only if we truly believe our drink is as enjoyable as the more established cocktails we are imitating.”
In addition to drinks, Reliable offers food from DC pop-up Republic Kolache. On “Texas Tuesdays” the bar serves the Texan treat alongside Tecates loaded with hot sauce, salt and Lime, Tequila and Topos (a popular sparkling Texas mineral water), Shiner Bock and "Texas Margaritas."
Stay tuned for an APA Pool League that will start in late summer. Games will run on Mondays at 7:30pm. You can sign up by emailing the Tavern.
3655 Georgia Avenue NW