The Northwest’s first neighborhood distillery, District Distilling Co., is bringing liquor connoisseurs and cuisine gourmands together in an industrial modern space.
Chae Yi, the chief executive officer of District Distilling Co., said he founded the distillery as a place for “makers” of food and drink to come together.
“The intended concept is for this to be a collaboration between a lot of different makers: makers of spirits, makers of cocktails and makers of good food,” Yi said.
The new distillery, restaurant and bar on U Street opened last month. It’s the first of its kind in the District since the Distillery Pub Licensure Act was passed in 2013, which allows restaurants to craft liquor on site.
Opening a distillery was a long, complicated process that took three years longer than Yi anticipated, he said. But he said complications were “only natural” when building a distillery in the heart of D.C.
Getting the required permits, remodeling the 100-year-old row house and dealing with outdated city plans pushed back the release date, but Yi said he was set on maintaining the location’s historical elements.
“We tried to touch as little as possible,” Yi said. “The brick is pretty much as-is.”
Yi and the distillery’s board of directors hired a team of culinary all-stars to couple the drinks with food, he said.
Said Haddad, of Brixton and Compass Rose fame, acts as District Distilling Co.’s general manager and the face of the restaurant hybrid. Chef Justin Bittner, from Bar Pilar and Cafe Saint-Ex, also moonlights as a Maryland farmer and helps find local produce for the kitchen. Head distiller Matt Strickland, from the famous Corsair Distillery in Tennessee, oversees all spirit production.
Customers enjoy the food and drinks in style: District Distilling Co. has a gleaming distillery downstairs and a bar and restaurant upstairs, separated by a staircase and glass windows so patrons from the upstairs can peer down into the inner workings of the distillery.
The interior is decked out in burnished wood, exposed piping and industrial lights, all composed in a sleek design. The bar and the restaurant are connected, and the kitchen is seamlessly integrated into the main dining room.
In the future, the barrel tasting room in the distillery – complete with white oak barrels – will be open as an event space, Yi said.
Integration is the name of the game at District Distilling Co., and Haddad said he prides the distillery on being a gathering place for all types of people.
“Somebody who loves a beer and a shot eating a burger could be sitting right next to somebody who could be drinking a $18 glass of champagne, eating toast and caviar,” Haddad said. “It’s all happening in the same space.”
When asked if the steep prices – $13 average for a cocktail, $11 for a starter and $20 for an American entrée – might eliminate some of “average joes” from the clientele, Haddad said that there are options on the menu within varying price ranges.
The bar menu includes some staples, like the garlic herb curly fries ($6) and buttermilk chicken fried biscuit ($7). But District Distilling Co. also offers chicken liver pate ($8), pork shoulder poutine ($12) and shrimp toast ($11) with paddlefish roe and quail egg.
Similarly, their entrées include both classic meals – potato gnocchi for $11 or half-roasted chicken ($22) – and more austere options like the crispy skin suckling pig ($24), vegetable ratatouille pie ($17) and whiskey-rubbed smoked salmon ($13).
The prices are reflective of the quality of the food and drink served at District Distilling Co. All the produce is brought in fresh from local farms, and the menu changes constantly to reflect what is available for that season.
The distillery has also produced original bottles of whiskey, gin, vodka and rum to serve at future events during the month it has been in business. Four spirits have been crafted on site: Backroom Bourbon, Buzzard Point white unaged gin, Checker Bark gin and Corridor vodka.
Producing the liquor on site has been an exciting process, Haddad said.
“To be able to watch a product being born, sourced, mashed, bottled – it’s just been an exciting experience.”