Judging Restaurants – Churchkey/Birch & Barley

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These new spots opened up at 1337 14th Street, NW back in October. We took an early look here. But now that it’s been open for a while a reader wrote in requesting an update. She was curious about Birch & Barley (the restaurant) but I’m also interested in what you think of Churchkey upstairs (primarily a bar though food is also served). Both of these spaces seem to be packed every weekend. Have they lived up to the hype? Have you discovered a new favorite beer? What’s the best dish?

39 Comment

  • i love churckey. just don’t order the beer listed under ‘meaty and spicy’… it tastes remarkably like drinking baloney.

  • Churckey is really good. They have a good selections of wine too, if beer isn’t your thing. As for food, they have a BLT pizza thing that’s amazing and fried mac & cheese. The few times I have gone the service was really good. The only con is that its’ so damn busy all the time.

  • Very pricey, very good. For both.

    Had the corned beef hash for brunch Sunday ($15, no sides). Service was excellent, though.. meal was slow but they more than made up for it with courtesy and complementary hash browns, grapefruit juice, etc.

    Been upstairs two or three times now.. Not much of a beer guy but there is some very good stuff. I appreciate there are small glasses I can use to sample without making a $5-10 commitment.

    I plan to go back. To both.

  • Was there this weekend. Found the bar upstairs impossible to enjoy because of so many people. Maybe I’m just getting old…

  • So yes, it’s incredibly busy, but my wife and I have never really had an issue finding a table for two. Usually it just involves scoping out the scene for a few minutes, tops. And the beer and food are, naturally, top notch. Highest marks!

  • LOVE IT. Preferred sitting at the restaurant bar downstairs to the crowded noisy upstairs bar, because the copper “Beer pipe organ” behind the bar looks cool, and it’s more peaceful. Designed my own flight of 4 4-oz. beer samplers and got properly toasted since most of them are very strong brews and I hadn’t had any dinner.
    Food prices look kind of expensive. Will definitely go again. It has been discovered though so don’t expect to throw together a happy hour group on Friday and be able to sit down.

  • Only been to Churchkey once–during the snow. I liked it. The selection was great, though a little expensive. But I can see how it would get crowded very quickly upstairs. I would make it an early in the evening kind of place.

    • I went during the snow too. Really put me off.. Waitress said they were closing early (blizzard, fine) in about an hour. I ordered 5 beers for my friends. She brings beers and says, actually we decided to close in 30 mins and started threatening to take beers. After a night of drinking we were left to “chug” 5 high % beers and stuck with the tab. Haven’t been back since.

  • Been to the Church Key twice. It was crowded both times. I would have liked to sit at the bar, but that was packed solid. The beer selection is great, but my one complaint is their five temperature zones gimmick. Call me uncouth, but the beer I serve at home is one temperature, cold, and generally if I’m served a warm beer when I’m out, I send it back. Warm beer is in at the Church Key.

    • just like most other good drinks cold is not always (actually rarely) good for good beer. sure have your bud, miller, or coors cold as ice, but a real beer should not be ice cold. so for those love to taste a good beer this is actually a huge plus of ck

      • agreed. At most places I usually end up hugging my Guinness with hands to warm it up, or at least take the fraggin’ subzero edge off it. Haven’t made it to Churchkey/B&B yet, but the promise of some temp.control will be a definite draw, for me anyway.

        • Way to perpetuate the myth that Guinness should be served warm! In Ireland they actually pour it “extra cold” from special taps.

          • Um, no. They only started doing that in some bars for tourists, but they also usually have another tap that pours it at room temp. The “extra cold” taps are a fairly new addition and by no means are the norm.

      • Agreed – good beer should be served relatively warm (50F and up for most beers). It brings out the taste.

  • I had dinner at Birch and Barley twice – I don’t recall anything I ate besides the pretzel rolls that came in the bread basket, which were incredibly tasty. I’ve never succeeded in drinking or dining at Churchkey because it’s always such a mob scene.

  • I’ve been to Churchkey a few times for both food and drink and Birch and Barley once during restaurant week. I’ve had good experiences both times. The food is delicious, though a little pricey as some have already noted, and it gets pretty difficult to try to make a reservation at B&B if you don’t plan well ahead. I’ll definitely be going back many times. I appreciate not only being able to get the 4 ozers for tasting, but seeing new things on the beer menu every time I go. As a beer lover and willing experimenter, I find that my beer experience is different every time I go which is great. It does get really busy, but I’ve found that if I can get there straight from work (about 6:15 at CK), I can usually find someplace to sit.

  • Have been to Churchkey a bunch, but dinner at B&B only once. While I loved my dinner (pork cheeks) the arctic char appetizer had no flavor (could have used the juice of something a little more citrusy instead of yuzu – grapefruit would have been nice) and while the rest of my party enjoyed their food, my choice was the only one we raved over. The desserts were spectacular though and I’m planning to go back soon for brunch.

    Churchkey is awesome, if mobbed 99% of the time. That said, I’ve never really been stuck standing, but it certainly required a little advanced planning. But the flatbreads are insanely good, and their by-the-bottle list for wine is impressive for a beer place. (by-the-glass is just sort of “eh”) I am a big fan and will continue to return often, even though I hate crowds and am not a big fan of the general busy-ness of that part of town.

  • its a bit loud and crowded, but as a Cologne native i have to love this place since it has Koelsch on tap.

  • It’s completely not worth going to, mostly because of the crowds. It’s also starting to smell a little. Maybe if they decided to scrap the restaurant idea (I don’t see it very crowded often) and expand the bar space, it’d be a more enjoyable experience. I was driving past at about 10pm on Saturday and the line was about 30 deep in a part of town where there’s really nowhere else to go afterwards.

    • I agree that it’s crowded, but if you go at the right time it’s still enjoyable.

      But I completely disagree with there being nowhere else to go afterwards. Walk just a few blocks north and you’ll hit Bar Pilar and St. Ex, and then you’re at U St. Or walk a few blocks west and you’ll hit bars on P St.

    • One of the great things about the restaurant is that it isn’t overly crowded. They intentionally ensure that they don’t pack it full and that they don’t overlap reservations and that’s the way it should be when you are paying those amounts for your dinner. The whole concept is bar/restaurant.

  • Like the decor / atmosphere, great beer selection obviously, but I thought the food at B&B was not good enough to warrant the prices. It was fine, but nothing spectacular. Then again, expensive, mediocre food is enough to draw mob scenes in this city … sigh … this place in a foodie town like NYC, SF, Chicago would be half as crowded, notwithstanding the good vibe and beer.

    • it took 18 responses before someon made the inevitable DC to NY/Chicago/SF comparison! Wow!

      • You’d prefer we were compared to Boise, Omaha, and Jacksonville, then? I prefer the company of NY/C/SF even if we “inevitably” come in fourth.

        • No comparisons necessary. If I wanted to live in a place like NYC, SF or Chicago, I’d live in NYC, SF or Chicago.

  • I tried to go to ChurchKey once for drinks and nibbles, but the place was packed like fudge! I had a nice dinner and drinks at Bar Pilar instead. I still want to check the place out though- hundreds of people willing to wedge themselves in that place for good beer can’t be wrong!

  • I love the beer selection, but I don’t think they’ve lived up to early promises. I recently came across an online article where the owners were interviewed before the place opened. They went on an on about how they were going to have top-notch customer service. But the times I’ve visited, I haven’t seen it. The people working the door have always been surly and the wait staff has be inconsistent. I’d say they failed on exemplary customer service.

  • no one goes there anymore – it’s too crowded

  • its as good, if not better than any place in Omaha!

  • Service, food and beer were among the best I’ve had in DC. Loved the space. Can’t wait to go back!

  • I’ve read the reviews and some are fairly accurate. Churchkey’s beer selection is spectacular. I love beer and travel quite a bit for work and in every city I search out the best beer bars. I don’t care what city you choose to use Churchkey stacks up favorably. The people who claim NYC I dare you to name a place and I know that their selection doesn’t compare. The bar staff is more knowledgable that I’ve encountered in many cities. At Churchkey they actually seem to know, and enjoy, beer. They are not there for show. The only problem is the crowd. I personally find it disheartening that there are always so many people in there because they feel its the place to be. Every time I’m in Churchkey and I hear someone say I’ll take a lager, any lager or I’ll take a vodka and tonic my heart drops and I want to direct them to a bar down the street where they can get their crappy beverage of choice. In the end I’d say that its worth a visit but that if you can’t get there early enough to get a seat then its not worth braving the crowd.

    There isn’t much to say about Birch & Barley other than you can get every beer from upstairs there. The food is delicious aldeit a little expensive. I’d recommend the pork cheeks. The worst thing I can say is that I’m disappointed that they switched to this all day brunch menu on Sunday. You can get one or two selections off the regular menu but that’s it.

  • Been to Churchkey once, really liked the atmosphere and actually enjoyed the crowd. However, I really didn’t think that the food was that good to command those prices. Moreover, what’s with the 2 kitchens and the inability to serve food at the same time? Sure the server warns you that your food might come out at different times, but that’s not enough to make it ok that I got my meal a good 15 minutes before the person I was with. That’s one bizarre feature that I really don’t like about this place. Will go only for drinks from now on.

  • At Birch & Barley, I would recommend splurging on the chef’s menu. My BF and I did that the two times we ate there, and found the service top-notch (better than anything anywhere on the 14th St corridor, by far) and the food quite tasty. If you’re going to spend a lot on food anyhow, might as well go all the way!

    At Churchkey, I would recommend getting there early. I agree with the critiques about the crowding and the noise, which I find insufferable. But when I have been there right when they open, it’s not crowded and I love the vibe.

  • To quote Yogi Berra: “Nobody goes there anymore – it’s too crowded.”

  • Service is slow and the food is mediocre. Flatbreads? Come on. When will DC tire of flatbreads? (About the same time they tire of deep fried mac n cheese, I’m guessing.)

    This is not a cutting edge menu, people, nor is it done particularly well. You go for the beer, and that’s about it.

    DC has such a low bar for restaurants, it’s depressing.

    • its a good thing dc has a low bar for things people find depressing.

      but i like cold beer, what do i know? and i love flatbreads.
      god, i must be depressing.

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