Col. Brooks' Tavern isn't the kind of bar we normally write about here. It's not a beer bar, not a destination. Just a place in the neighborhood with a better draft selection than it had any right to, with Bell's Two Hearted, and a rotating cast of local beers on tap, cycling through Dogfish, Flying Dog, and Heavy Seas alongside macro products. Chocolate City and DC Brau were added later, poured through tap lines that could and should have been cleaned more often.
But it's bars like this that make a city, that create a "good beer city," that give it personality. Churchkey will forever be a place that put DC on the map as a destination. Bars like Col. Brooks' Tavern are the ones that make you want to move here. That's not to say that the better beer bars in DC aren't also neighborhood spots. Spend five minutes in The Big Hunt in Dupont Circle or Meridian Pint in Columbia Heights and you'll see that these aren't mutually exclusive. But if DC is to be a good beer city, then it's going to be because of everyday, perhaps even banal places like Col. Brooks', establishments that blend in, that feel like your living room. Col. Brooks' did this better than most, acting as a "third place," between work and home, for much of Brookland. It was, is, for a few more hours, a place where anyone in the neighborhood, black or white, blue collar or white collar, was welcome, and felt welcome. Bud or Bell's, DC Brau or Hennessey, with Dixieland jazz on Tuesday nights. A history lesson, courtesy of the Washington Post:
[Owner Jim] Stiegman helped open the tavern 32 years ago, finding 200-year-old pine planks from a barn for the bar, wooden pews from a Pennsylvania church to use as booths and old photographs for the walls. Col. Jehiel Brooks owned the mansion across the street long ago — the neighborhood is named for him — and surviving family members gave Stiegman portraits from legendary Civil War photographer Mathew Brady's studio.
I'm jumping between past and present tense here because tonight is the last night Col. Brooks' will be open. Come 1:30am, it will close, as it always does. It won't open on Saturday. Soon construction will start on a new 901 Monroe St., NE. It will be five storeys tall, with ground floor retail. Jim Stiegman, the owner of Col. Brooks', will be involved with this new building, so I want to be optimistic. I'm not anti-change, sometimes change is good, sometimes change just is, but I'm already nostalgic. Stiegman and the Tavern have been through a lot, including a gruesome triple murder by an ex-employee, which decimated the business.
Whatever moves in, I hope it's that third place, and that it serves craft beer.