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Bar Review: Brickskeller

Submitted by on November 19, 2009 – 4:18 PMNo Comment
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1523 22nd St NW
Washington, DC

Hours of Operation:
Sunday 6PM til 2AM
Monday and Tuesday 5PM – 2AM
Wednesday and Thursday 11:30AM – 2AM
Friday 11:30AM – 3AM
Saturday 6PM – 3AM

brickskeller-frontDown an unassuming street on the west side of DuPont Circle you’ll find Brickskeller, a homey basement bar that happens to boast the “Guinness Book of World Records” certificate for world’s largest selection of commercially available beers. Open since 1957, this small family-run operation offers over 1000 bottled beers that range from familiar watery domestics to the country’s best microbrews; as well as bank breaking imports to cheap oddities from places like Latvia and Guatemala.

Everything feels ancient in Brickskeller’s century old basement, from its weathered wooden door down to the collection of antique beers cans that lines the ceiling. The craggy bricks feel petrified with age, and its low ceilings muffle the din of the sometimes full house. While you can stand at the bar in Brickskeller, the best option is to take a seat in the dining area where a friendly wait staff will take your orders as you try to wrap your head around the 10 page, double column beer list.

Despite the staggering size of Brickskeller’s award winning beer selection, it isn’t mired in obscurities that chase away the average beer drinker. Choosing may be time consuming (Overheard: “Okay, I’ve boiled down what I want to seven”), but it never feels intimidating or pretentious. While the bar has a wide variety of rare and obscure beers, most of the selection comes from larger breweries like Brooklyn, Stone, and Dogfish Head and a few dozen others. And while it’s easy to find things they don’t have (Hobgoblin, for example), and they don’t always have everything in stock, there’s more than enough choice to keep everyone happy.

Brickskeller isn’t without its problems, of course. As if the beer weren’t enough, the bar also offers an array of beer-based cocktails that are more of a novelty if anything. While drinks like the Snakebite, a cider/lager mix, are fairly common, Brickskeller goes overboard with things like a Bloody Mary made with beer or the “Blow My Skull Off,” a concoction described as being an 1850s Australian miner’s drink made with stout and lime juice that tastes like cold mud mixed with vinegar and chilies.

The attentive and cheerful wait staff is the main draw of sitting in the dining area, but despite that they sometimes come across as being flakey and under-informed about the beers. Still, their otherwise pleasant service makes it endearing in a weird sort of way. Another danger of the dining area is the food, an aimless array of middling pub grub. The food is serviceable, but there mostly for convenience. With all of the quality restaurants in the neighborhood, Brickskeller works better as a bookend to a night out rather than a destination for dining.

Brickskeller’s allure lies firmly in the peerless size of their beers. While the list is padded with things like the full range of Anheuser-Busch beers (15 in all), it mostly falls on the side of imported and craft beers. It’s a great place to come for a few drinks with a small group, but anything more would be best serviced somewhere else.

Pros: The largest beer selection in the world, warm atmosphere, attentive service

Cons: Odd cocktails and middlebrow food–both of which are thankfully avoidable

Rating: 4 out of 5