Your Only Friend Has Finally Arrived With Cocktails and Sandwiches

Columbia Room alums debut a nostalgic Shaw bar and sandwich counter.

A custom stained glass depicting sandwich components glows above the bar of Your Only Friend. Photograph by Clarissa Villondo.

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Your Only Friend. 1114 9th St., NW. 

A jar of Duke’s Mayo depicted in stained glass glows from the ceiling of Shaw bar Your Only Friend. It’s a fitting beacon for the city’s newest place of worship for sandwiches and cocktails, and it opens today from Columbia Room alums Paul Taylor and Sherra Kurtz. The piece also perfectly captures the irreverent menu, which riffs off fast-food and casual-chain nostalgia while employing modern tools like a liquid-clarifying centrifuge.

Taylor and Kurtz started slinging takeout sandwiches from Columbia Room—the pioneering cocktail bar that shuttered in 2022—in the early days of the pandemic under the banner of “Get a Hero Be  Hero.” For every sandwich sold, one was donated to DC-area hospital workers and first responders. “We wanted to bring some sort of happiness and sense of community in this really dark moment for everyone,” Kurtz says. “It just kind of grew from there.”

Sherra Kurtz and Paul Taylor first started selling sandwiches at cocktail bar Columbia Room during the pandemic. Photograph by Clarissa Villondo.

Many of the sandwiches will be familiar to fans of the pop-up, like the “Mort & Mootz” (mortadella and mozzarella) sub and “Caul Me Maybe,” a vegan take on a banh mi with roasted cauliflower. There’s also the “Hot Nug”—essentially a very large McDonald’s-inspired chicken nugget with Nashville hot glaze. It’s served with bread-and-butter pickles and “chicken mayo” (think Duke’s doctored up with soy sauce, pickle brine, and other secret ingredients) on a sesame seed bun. Meanwhile, the “Chicky Pep No. 2” is stuffed with a chicken cutlet that’s “sort of reminiscent of how could we make the best shake-and-bake possible,” Taylor says. It’s topped with a pepperoni bolognese, cheese, long hot peppers, and a garlicky, anchovy-heavy mayo then served on a soft roll dusted with “OG breadstick dust” that will remind you of Olive Garden.

Chicky Pep No. 2 is s chicken cutlet sandwich with pepperoni bolognese. Photograph by Clarissa Villondo.

Beyond sandwiches, Your Only Friend—open lunch and dinner—will serve a couple of snacks, including a caramelized shallot dip and pimento cheese dip. (Kurtz and Taylor are so passionate about dips that they host an annual “Dip Off” where friends compete for the ultimate dip.)

Another highlight: fries coated in a cacio e pepper powder. “Sherra and I really got into powders. And I know that’s not a good thing, and my mom wouldn’t like me to say I’m really into powders,” Taylor jokes. He’s even been playing around with the idea of doing powder-based hot cocktails, similar to the way you mix hot chocolate.

Not your average Orange Julius at the mall. Photograph by Clarissa Villondo.

The high/low-brow cocktail menu is plenty zany as is. Take a carbonated margarita combining Mountain Dew, Smirnoff Ice, and mezcal served in an old-school Pizza Hut-style tumbler. “It should be illegal,” Taylor says. “That combination shouldn’t happen, but it works in such harmony.” Meanwhile, an ode to mall staple Orange Julius—made in the style of a clear milk punch—combines vodka, Aperol, clarified vanilla cream, and “super orange juice” (orange juice amped up with powdered citric and malic acids). It’s served with a candied Sicilian orange wedge jelly.

Nothing goes with a sandwich quite like a soda, so the team is making many of their own sodas to incorporate into cocktails. Carbonation works best when the liquid doesn’t have any particulates in it, so they have two Spinzall centrifuges to clarify many of their concoctions. Perhaps the cocktail that Taylor and Kurtz have spent the most time perfecting is a rum and clear cola. Taylor developed the cola recipe at Columbia Room for a non-alcoholic Long Island Iced Tea (really). While that drink won’t be making an appearance right now, Your Only Friend will have a spirit-free version of the rum and cola made with Lyre’s non-alcoholic rum.

The menu also includes deli-inspired creations such as a celery gimlet and Irish cream soda (Irish whiskey and clarified housemade cream soda). You’ll also find takes on classics, including an appletini with manzanilla sherry and a vodka dirty martini with a sherry-vermouth blend and clarified olive brine.

The takeout counter at Your Only Friend. Photograph by Clarissa Villondo.

The space itself—split between a takeout counter and a bar—also has that nostalgic vibe. Kurtz and Taylor were drawn to the previously vacant Shaw property for its historic feel. “It was almost like the walls were whispering, like you could hear all the people that had been here before,” Kurtz says. “It has been a great many things over the last 150 years, and it will be a great many things 150 years after Paul and I are gone.”

The wooden bar is a reference to the old-school taverns of Chicago, where Kurtz, a Midwest native, previously lived. Clean white tiles and checkered floors add that classic deli look.

A custom stained glass fixture pays homage to all the components of a sandwich. Photograph by Clarissa Villondo.

Now back to the stained glass, which was custom-made by New Orleans artist Devin Balara of Solid Space Glass. Kurtz says it’s kind of like the sandwich version of a family crest. But instead of, say, a shield and an olive branch, there’s bacon, bread, meats, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, and of course, Duke’s mayo. Designer Brian Miller of EditLab says the idea was inspired by the knock-off Tiffany lamps and handmade signs found in classic American taverns.

“It’s like the angels sing kind of moment,” Kurtz says. “This is how much we love sandwiches.”

Jessica Sidman
Food Editor

Jessica Sidman covers the people and trends behind D.C.’s food and drink scene. Before joining Washingtonian in July 2016, she was Food Editor and Young & Hungry columnist at Washington City Paper. She is a Colorado native and University of Pennsylvania grad.