Barcrawl Review: Jack Rose in Washington, DC

Barcrawl Review: Jack Rose in Washington, DC

Our second stop on our first night of the Great Cross-Country Barcrawl was the new Jack Rose, which is an easy walk south of our prior stop of the evening, Bourbon. It is located in the same Adams Morgan neighborhood in northern Washington, DC that I described before. And Jack Rose has the same owner. As it happens, our visit was during the first week of their soft opening, with only the rooftop bar open. Even with that limited taste of what one will experience in this fully-armed and operational battlestation bar, it was plainly a special place

Jack Rose is a two-story operation with a gigantic, high-roofed, main room, boasting a bar that runs the length of the establishment and along the back wall as well. The second floor is mostly open rooftop, which wasn’t hideous to be out on after dark, despite the record heat-wave that always attacks Washington whenever Maggi and I come to town. (This effect is similar to the snowstorm which shuts down most speeches Al Gore gives on Global Warming….)

There is a cool open pit bar-be-que on the patio, a satellite bar that in most joints would be pretty luxurious in its own right, and a small, air-conditioned room at one end with its own small bar and a fireplace. I assume this is intended for private events and tastings, as well as a refuge for rainy evenings where the main bar is over-crowded.

I wanted to include this picture from the construction of Jack Rose to give you an idea of the scale, among other things, of the main floor and its bar. The bar is 54 feet long, with about 30 seats. it is without a doubt the longest bar of any we visited in this trip. More impressively, note the shelving on the wall. Although still some weeks from opening, these shelves were (only partially) stocked when we looked in through the window on our way out. You have not seen such a sea of brown liquor in your life. Jack Rose has a heavy emphasis on scotch, and most every bottle on that wall (and the back, and the opposite wall) is different from the one sitting next to it. I don’t understand how they will know where to find anything specific when up and fully running.
To be honest, my first thought upon looking inside was that you couldn’t possibly pass fire code with that much accelerant being stored in a public space. I noted in my last post that Bourbon’s whiskey selection was slightly over the top. I shudder to think how crazy Jack Rose’s spirit list will be, but it will number comfortably into four figures.

The food at Jack Rose looks to be a pretty wide selection, with the aforementioned wood-fired BBQ, some of the tavern food selections found at Bourbon, and other, more eclectic offerings. We didn’t eat anything here ourselves, and I’m not sure the whole menu was available the night we were there anyway.

I concentrated on cocktails at Jack Rose, in no small part because I couldn’t reasonably handle any more straight brown liquor and still pay attention. The Mint Julep I had was quite good (almost as delicious as are my own), with perfect crushed ice that I can’t duplicate and served in a real metal cup. (Metal cups for juleps and mules are making a little comeback of late. We’ll see how long this trend lasts before d-bags steal enough of them to stamp it back out.) The other cocktails were similarly well made and well presented. Drinking at Jack Rose does have the feel of a high-end craft bar, as opposed to Bourbon, which almost down-plays the experience. The upstairs and down will have different drink menus (at least), with the patio concentrating on more summery or even Tiki-inspired drinks, and most of that marvelous whisk(e)y inventory only on sale on the main floor. The ingredients and presentation are top-notch.
Now, given the sheer, mind-boggling array of raw spirits choices to sift through at Jack Rose, the cocktails will still pale a little in comparison. That is no reflection on the apparent skill on offer, in both classic and modern concoctions. It’s just a simple artifact of the size of that elephant in the room.

When we arrived, I had the chance to say hello briefly to owner Bill Thomas, who looked happy but harried about how things were going at his three day old bar, which I took as a good sign for both him and his customers. We also manged to get a table in the air-conditioned room I mentioned, where we were joined by the inimitable Harvey Fry. Harvey is part of the team who helped create Jack Rose, though he isn’t on the payroll. I’d call him a sort of Uber-Customer, who has worked very hard with Bill to ensure that the place is a mind-blowing experience for newbies and the most avid of whiskey connoisseurs alike. And Harvey is well-qualified to judge how well they have succeeded. Much of the inventory here comes from his private stash. Frankly, I wish I’d been a bit more sober when we met. The amount of knowledge to be had from this (calculatedly) disreputable-looking Santa Claus was practically infinite. The fact that each point he made about whisky was illustrated with the production of a new pharmacy cough medicine bottle filled with the appropriate scotch from his voluminous suspendered trousers left me bemused and, eventually, hammered. For a much more detailed examination of the phenomenon that is Harvey Fry, and a photograph in which he looks positively dapper compared to the evening we met, check out this article in Washingtonian Magazine.

I don’t care who you are, there is much for you to learn about whisk(e)y at Jack Rose. The brain trust is incredible, and the inventory beyond most folks lifetime and means to completely explore. The cocktails are delicious, and if not so all-encompassing, still every bit the entertaining education a good craft bar should be. I can’t personally vouch for the food, but from what I’ve seen, it looks to be similarly high-end. It is almost too much of a palace for a pop-in dinner, but I’d say it is both a wonderful asset for local diners and drinkers, and will be an essential stop for cocktailians and liquorati who are visiting DC.

(For another review of Jack Rose, written by Matt Hamlin, who visited with us, check out this post. From the date, it’s based on the same visit, and the one he’d made the day before.)
This review is part of my larger Great Cross-Country Bar Crawl series. Here is the main post for our Washington stop, with links to all reviews for DC.

  1. Ryan

    23 July

    When I went, the rooftop was packed, with a line to get in, but thankfully the main bar had just opened. The variety of whisk(e)y was certainly astounding, and I would have loved to chat with Harvey.

      (Quote)  (Reply)

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