Miles Gray, the managing partner at Smith Commons DC on H St., has a vision for the recently opened restaurant that includes it being versatile enough to serve as anything its patrons want it to be. Looking for fine cuisine? You can get it in the first floor “smith” or main dining room. Looking for a quick bite and a pint while you watch the game? The second and third floor “commons” offer that experience in spades. With three full bars and plenty of quiet and comfortable nooks, Smith Commons has anything you could be looking for in a restaurant/bar combo. That is, of course unless you’re itching for a dive, which you could not mistake this for. The polished design make Smith Commons far too refined and elegant to be considered “divey”, and yet none of the three floors is frou frou or uncomfortable (a description which fits the experience as well as the decor, to be honest).
Enough about the aesthetics though, because the beer is much more important. Miles Gray, the beer director here, has put together a list of mostly American beers from a broad smattering of styles. While you’ll find some well-known Belgian or Belgian-style (all three Chimay varieties, Delirium Tremens, selections from Unibroue) beers and the occasional German or British beer, the focus is really on what American craft brewers are putting out. My recent trip yielded a glass of the last keg of Great Lakes Christmas Ale in DC, some of Goose Island’s one-off Dominique, and two of my personal favorites from Dogfish: the Palo Santo Marron and Burton Baton.
If you’re an obscure beer seeker, you may be somewhat disappointed; everything that I saw was pretty well-known, if not readily available (putting a 12% brown ale aged in South American wood vats can be a hard sell, for example). But, the upside, and this is a strong upside as far as I’m concerned, is that everything here is a known, and reliably good, commodity. At least three of the drafts will regularly rotate, which means there will be some variety and excitement. (On my trip, the Christmas Ale and Dominique joined Founder’s Porter as the three rotating selections).
Miles is committed to making sure his staff knows the beer as well as the food. He mentioned having put together a binder (a la Churchkey/Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s beer director Greg Engert) profiling each beer available on draft or in bottles. Miles wants his staff to be able to talk about the beers that are available to beer newbies and aficionados alike. Little surprise there. Craft beer is an important part of the food industry in DC, and increasingly so, and any restaurant worth its three floors should have a staff that knows the lingo and can make suggestions to patrons who aren’t sure what they want.
Speaking of Birch & Barley/Churchkey, I can’t help but think that there are some similarities between the acclaimed restaurant/bar combo at Logan Circle and the newly opened one on H St. Main dining room on the first floor, bar on the second (and third, in Smith Commons’ case)? Check. Non-standard bar fare (Churchkey opened with foie gras tater tots, Smith Commons has its mango with moulard or standard frites served up by Chef Frederik De Pue’s staff)? Check. Beer directors committed to beer education, good service practices, and quality products? Check. (Although, due deference to Greg Engert, who must be considered one of the best beer directors in the country and who has shown an uncanny knack and unmatchable depth of knowledge about small-batch, rare, obscure beers from all around the world, which is a niche that Miles Gray and Smith Commons have not professed to be pursuing). Locations in neighborhoods that are increasingly seeing more business and foot traffic? Check check check. Is it a perfect match-up? Absolutely not, no two establishments are the same, but I’m comfortable enough putting them in the same sentence for their atmosphere, quality of product, and friendly service, which bodes incredibly well for Smith Commons, who I expect to be a real pillar in the Atlas District.
So be sure to get over to Smith Commons and have a pint on any one of the floors. Not feeling the beer (sacrilege!)? Ask Roberto the mixologist, or one of his colleagues, for the classic rye Manhattan. Also, be sure to take advantage of Smith Commons’ extended Restaurant Week offerings, which will be available through January 30 and come with a free pint or glass of wine for all patrons over 21.
I’m looking forward to seeing what develops at this three-story beauty of a bar/restaurant. From the look of things so far, Smith Commons has the potential to be exactly what it wants to be: all things to all people.