When bar owners Matt Weiss and Mike Schuster opened Barrel on Capitol Hill, they wanted to create an unpretentious place for whiskey nerds and novices alike. For their next joint project, they’re hoping to treat wine the same way. The Eastern, just a block from Eastern Market, opens July 30.
The wide-ranging wine list includes nearly 40 options, all of which come by the bottle or glass. (Though not explicitly advertised, you can also ask for half glasses.) The choose-your-own adventure menu is broken down into categories such as “If you like Sauvignon Blanc” or “If you like Pinot Noir.” From there, you can opt for a good representation of a familiar staple or from lesser-known grapes with similar taste profiles. “If you like adventure,” look for Slovenian Pinot Grigio that’s rose in color or a Lebanese wine produced for decades despite interruptions from war.
“I wanted it to be available and understandable to people who didn’t know exactly what every grape in the world was, because there are so many,” says general manager and sommelier Robert Morin, who previously worked at A Rake’s Progress and The Partisan. “Sometimes I’ll go to a menu and won’t recognize a grape or a specific region, so I couldn’t expect somewhere else to.”
Most wines range from $9 to $15 by the glass, but you can also get pours from higher end bottles (preserved with an argon gas system) for as much as $40. However, there will be a happy hour weekdays from 4 to 7 PM with rotating red, white, and sparkling glasses for $7, plus $25 carafes and other drink specials.
The beverages, after all, aren’t limited to wine. Cocktails include classics (martinis, old-fashioneds) and “originals” such as a pisco concoction with pepper-ginger syrup and a soju rinse. Beers range from Miller High Life to a mango kolsch.
“Since it is me, this wine bar has a shit ton of whiskey in it,” adds Weiss, who also owns McClellan’s Retreat and Truxton Inn, among other bars. “You can definitely sit there and drink a Pappy Van Winkle if you wanted to.” Still, the bourbon and Scotch selection, including some high-end stuff, is limited to around 30 bottles compared to the 300-plus options at Barrel.
Barrel chef Walfer Hernandez will oversee the eclectic menu of cheese, charcuterie, and share plates. Beyond snacks like hummus or stuffed olives, look for scallops with celery root puree, lamb meatballs, or a Brussels salad with peach and yogurt vinaigrette.
As for the look of the space, Weiss wanted to avoid the cold, modern feel of new construction. Instead, the place has a colorful mid-century vibe with 50 seats inside and 20 outside.
“The place is very Mad Men-esque,” Weiss says. “There’s a cocktail banquette area as well communal tables. It definitely operates more as a bar, but the idea was also to think about Don Draper being there too.”
The Eastern. 360 7th St., SE.