Jeremy Gifford knows how to pack a bar. At DC Reynolds in Petworth, it’s his almost-ludicrous buy-one-get-one-free drink (any drink) deal, six days a week. At Walters Sports Bar, which opens across from Nationals Park on Sunday at 11 AM, we’re guessing it’s going to be the pour-your-own-beer wall.
Gifford, a native Washingtonian and Nationals season ticket holder, saw a problem with a possible, profitable solution.
“When you leave Nationals Park there are tens of thousands of people flooding into dozens of bars trying to get a drink. You can have the greatest bartenders in the world, but they only have two hands at best,” says Gifford, who’s also behind the Pub and the People. “There’s nothing you can do about it—except if you can make a big huge beer wall and have customers pour their own, you can get people served faster than if you just have bartenders.”
The system works like this: You get a beer card that’s attached to a tab, either from the host stand, a long full-service bar, or from a server at your table. (Eventually, customers will be able to buy and refill their own personal cards to really save time/avoid humans.) You’re then given a glass that’s slightly smaller than a pint, you walk up to any of the 24 drafts on the beer wall, swipe the card, and fill up at leisure.
The machine charges by the ounce, so you can pour a little taster of a boozy barrel-aged stout or go to town on Bud Light. To prevent patrons from going overboard, the machine requires you check in with a staff member after 32 ounces, or nearly three standard cans.
Gifford plans to offer a range of brews at pretty standard (if not lower) ballpark prices—think $5 for a fill of Budweiser and $10 to $12 for something like a special collaboration Walters made with Atlas brewery (also coming soon to the neighborhood). Around ten beers will be staples, while the others will cycle through depending on the season or even who the Nats or DC United are playing. If you know nothing about beer, that’s okay too. In addition to detailed menus on screens above the wall, knowledgeable staff will be stationed there to answer questions.
“What I like about this: Instead of paying a bartender to pour the beer, I’m paying a guy more money to stand in front of a beer wall and talk to 50 people about beer,” says Gifford.
In addition to the brews, the focus is “bourbon, burgers, and baseball.” (Walters is named for Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson, who clinched the 1924 World Series win.) Fans will have to wait for a classic American bar menu, as no food will be available for the first few weeks due to permitting delays.
The space is also opening in phases. Patrons can head inside to the 100-seat bar area or stand on the patio, which will eventually be outfitted with tables for around 80. A 20-seat sidewalk patio will also open soon. The place will be outfitted with 20-odd TVs to catch DC sports games, including a huge 220-inch screen for the big ones. There will also be happy hour, but sadly not the BOGO kind.
“As soon as the landlord only charges me $3,000 a month and not $33,000 I’ll do that,” says Gifford.
Walters Sports Bar. 1221 Van St., SE. Hours for the opening are 11 AM to 2 AM but are subject to change.