6th and Penn will always be remembered for the space where 18th Amendment used to live -- if Barrel wants to change that, they need to create their own mark. Co-owned by Matt Weiss, Mark Mernard and Mike Schuster, Weiss owner of other Capitol Hill joints Union Bar and 201 Bar, while Mernard and Schuster of 18th Amendment, it's off to a good start. Unlike the other watering holes, Barrel is less interns and more veteran staffer -- its focus is more on crafted cocktails and less on buckets of beer. The only Bucket you'll find on the menu consists of an Elijah Craig 12 year aged bourbon, peppered ginger, and bitters martini.
Split into three distinct sections, Barrel features a main dining room consisting of a full-length bar lined with shelves housing bourbons and other specialty liquors, near the back is The Lab which is a place for the bartenders to play around with their craft, while downstairs is the Elixir Bar and Cask Room, an extended space which can be reserved for private events.
With more than a dozen draft beers and a small selection of wines, there are plenty of other options to go for if a cocktail doesn't whet your appetite. But it's the cocktails Barrel wants you to try, with such imbibes as the Tres Vieux Carre: Dickel Rye, Paul Mason VSOP, Benedictine, and Dolin Rouge.
Formerly of Eatonville, Chef Garrett Fleming runs the kitchen, bringing that Southern influence with him. At first glance the menu appears to be standard fare, but take a closer look and you'll notice a few tweaks to the dishes, the Carolina BBQ Pork Sticky Buns which are steamed (I justified ordering this telling myself it was a healthier option than a traditional bun). They are meaty, slightly sweet, and tangy but dare I say it, order without the slaw. The highlight of the menu is the Fried Chicken atop a Biscuit in Sausage Gravy and Blood Orange Jam. The chicken was crisp, juicy and the flavors of the gravy and jam were a perfect combination of savory and sweet. Seasoned just right.
Don't look for healthy eating at Barrel -- there are no salads on the menu -- but plenty of roasted and fried to go around. Sides of mac n cheese, bourbon baked beans, and cauliflower creme fraiche go with the burger with roasted poblano mayo or the wild boar pappardelle and parmesan (which I recommend). From what I got to try, it's a good place to eat like a southerner for this not so southern town.
Barrel, 613 Pennsylvania Ave, SE Washington, DC (closest metro: Eastern Market)