It’s a good thing Nick Sharpe, 34, likes beer—he’s just been named the new executive chef at Birch & Barley and ChurchKey. The Rockville native’s first night in the kitchen at the Logan Circle beer destination—overseen for six years by Kyle Bailey—was yesterday. Still, don’t expect him to end a shift with a crazy brew like Luponic Distortion: Revolution No. 001. All Sharpe wants is a Tecate and a shot: “I do love beer, but after a 12-hour day, I’m want something cheap and light—they’re going to be like, ‘what’s our new chef doing?’”
Last time we checked in with Sharpe, he was gearing up to open Jolene in Adams Morgan. He’d held pop-ups and raised funds for the concept on Kickstarter. Now, the project is no longer in the works—Sharpe feels Birch & Barley will give him enough of a chance to express himself.
“Jolene was a representation of how I cook and what I want to do. Birch & Barley allows me to do all of those same things under the Birch & Barley name,” Sharpe says. “I’m still going to cook how I cook, I’m going to run the kitchen how I run the kitchen, but I’m probably just going to have a better beer program than I would have at Jolene.”
Sharpe had been in contact with Birch & Barley owner and Neighborhood Restaurant Group founder Michael Babin for a couple of years. Fortuitously, Babin called just as the Jolene project began to stall. “It was inherently exciting to me—Birch & Barley doesn’t have the limitations that a lot of restaurants have because it is a chef-driven concept,” Sharpe says. “So, now that Kyle’s not here anymore, I can make my own personal mark.” With baby number two due in June, the stability of an established restaurant doesn’t hurt.
After stops at Sonoma on Capitol Hill and the now-shuttered Ba Bay, Sharpe skipped town to spend much of his early cooking career as the corporate executive chef for the Michael Mina’s restaurant group. He helped open RN74 in Seattle, and both Wit & Wisdom and Pabu in Baltimore before landing a permanent job at RN74 in San Francisco. In 2014, the chef returned to the District while his wife, also from the area, was pregnant with their first child.
The most recent kitchen Sharpe commanded was the After Peacock Room, a two-person operation in Georgetown, which garnered accolades despite its limited kitchen: “We had three induction burners, a combi oven that I had to manually feed water, a circulator, and a convection oven,” he says. “It was fun, but after a while we decided we couldn’t turn it into a restaurant.”
At Birch & Barley, Sharpe will have a full team and myriad kitchen toys. But don’t expect a new menu immediately: “I’m trying to suppress creativity and focus on organization and assembly first.” When he is ready to fold in new menu items, the chef says he’ll draw inspiration from ingredients at the market and what’s coming through the door from foragers and farmers.