If you’re looking for a laid-back drink with some prohibition flair, U Street’s newest late-night spot will transport you to the Lost Generation.
Gaslight Tavern opened last Monday with an early-20th century aesthetic, making you feel the roaring 20s with meals and cocktails inspired by the Gatsby decade. The bar, located at 2012 Ninth St. NW, is open seven days a week, from 5 p.m. until last call at 1:30 a.m. on weekdays or 2:30 a.m. on weekends.
When you turn off the U Street strip and walk half a block into the 3,000-square-foot building, you are dropped into a sense of untapped nostalgia.
Patrons can down drinks inspired by the roaring twenties with draught or packaged beers from $6 to $8, and cocktails ranging from $12 to $13. The Jerezian Hemingway ($12), the bar’s variation on the author’s favorite daiquiri, is a low-sugar fruity drink with cherry bark vanilla bitters, while the Aztec Old Fashioned twists the Don Draper favorite with chocolate bitters for a flavorful and smoky taste.
The bar’s owners, brothers Ian and Eric Hilton, are a ubiquitous presence in the District’s hip bar scene across quadrants, owning establishments such as the Brighton on the Wharf, Brixton, The Gibson and American Ice Company, to name just a few.
General Manager Sam Vasby stressed the presentation that went into the space’s ambience and menu, which oozes glamour and class while keeping it laid back. Even the music, filtering between contemporary ditties and jazz oldies, accent the bar’s chill vibe.
“We’re trying to present something more upscale, more refined,” Vasby said. “It is very noir, a little dark.”
Wallpapers of deep green with gold accents fill the first room and recall the art deco movement, with framed vintage photographs lining the walls. The seating arrangement is open without reservations and has bar seating or high tables with around 145 black stools in total. Two electric fireplaces stand aside from the entrance to the bar.
The back room houses a second spacious bar with a glass-paneled wall that leads out to a summer patio, which will open in the spring. Four skylights mean the natural light will invigorate the space on sunnier days, but the back room – where overhanging heaters and a wood-burning fireplace add warmth – is especially welcoming on winter nights. The patio and back room will be available for private events.
Gaslight Tavern serves food until 11 p.m., so if you’re trying to ward off drinks on an empty stomach, you’ll be astounded with top-notch, gourmet bar food. Plate options range from $5 to $24 and put a French influence on American classics.
The delectable poutine ($9) is completely vegetarian, cooked in a miso-based stock rather than the usual beef stock. Although my knowledge of poutine is limited to disco fries at Jersey diners, the relative sweetness of the gravy surprised me. It tasted lighter than the often coagulated and greasy brown sauce, removing guilt from the decadence.
The food selection, courtesy of Brendan L’Etoile, executive chef of the Georgetown brunch favorite Chez Billy Sud, offers simplistic but vibrant ingredients your usual bar food menu wouldn’t dare try. The mushroom toast ($14) with goat cheese and a sherry vinegar reduction is topped with an open-faced duck egg.
This menu is only for the winter because their options – particularly on the dessert menu – will rotate given the seasonal produce market. The bar is set to open an entirely different brunch menu beginning in April, which would start Saturdays and Sundays around noon and later transition into a dinner menu. Signatures like their cheeseburger ($14) and poutine will remain a constant on the menu.
“What we’re doing here is just bringing back a neighborhood feel, a staple that you know with consistently good drinks, great food and atmosphere,” Vasby said.
While it never betrays its old-time aesthetic, Gaslight Tavern maintains a polished, warm vibe along with a delicious savory menu that will keep you coming back.