Anyah Dembling, Checks Out Smith Commons on H St, NE

Anyah Dembling, an energy writer by day and gastronomic explorer by night, lives and eats on H St, NE.

I like a good dive bar as much as the next girl.

I like them for their playlists and for their smarmy bartenders, who I’ll charm all night just to steal a crack of a smile. I like dive bars for the variety of cheap, frosty cans of beer at my disposal, including the occasional microbrew still poured at bargain prices. And I like that it’s perfectly acceptable to barrel through a dive bar’s doors, maybe without even a proper bath, sporting a dirty t-shirt and cutoff jorts, perched idly until the wee hours of the morning—so long as your server is tipped accordingly (read: generously), of course.

That said, what I truly love—and consider even more of a soul-quenching rarity—is the establishment that values its exquisitely crafted cocktails, beer and wines in the bar equally as important as the chef’s perfectly executed creations in the kitchen. If a restaurant can manage to achieve this delicate balance, all the while cultivating the lighthearted and sometimes unruly atmosphere of a dive bar, that is—for me— the synergistic crux of a neighborhood gem.

Smith Commons (1245 H St, NE) is in no way a dive bar. But it absolutely attains that coveted equilibrium and has been a welcome addition to the Atlas District, raising the [neighborhood] bar with its original and well-prepared
food and drinks in a comfortable, fun and relaxed setting.

Continues after the jump.

The Smith Commons cocktail list is a mix of the traditional and creative, featuring seasonal and fresh ingredients, even including a daily concoction posted on the specials board. After telling the bartender that bourbon was my liquor of choice for this particular Friday evening, he whipped me up a Tarboro Viking, a refreshing combination of Wild Turkey, club soda, ginger syrup, lime juice, and bitters, served in a surprisingly tall glass (which caused my dining associate to suggest he’d potentially have to carry me home should I choose to order more than one).

The bartenders at the Smith are no joke; they cannot be perturbed by an impatient customer, they know how to have a good time, and they shake a mean martini with just the right amount of over-the-shoulder muscle. As if to reassure me, throughout the evening, I watched as other H Street bartenders trickled in, sitting at the bar or making a pit stop for a quick drink presumably before starting their own shifts. A bar that other bartenders want to go to: if I didn’t know it before, I knew it with certainty then…I was occupying a much sought-after seat.

I’ve eaten in the “Smith” of the restaurant—the first floor main dining room—a handful of times now and have yet to taste anything disappointing on the menu. On this steamy evening at the bar, I ordered the scallop appetizer, which consisted of two large, perfectly cooked seared sea scallops, dusted with ginger powder and served over creamed corn and peppery arugula. The hanger steak was a generous portion, sliced thick, grilled to a perfect medium rare, with just the right amount of seasoning, accompanied by wasabi polenta and a smoky pepper sauce.

The upstairs of the restaurant has an open patio with outdoor seating, as well as another bar and lounge furniture facing a large open window to H Street.

This week, Smith Commons is participating in beer week and restaurant week. For more information, click

60 Comment

  • soul quenching?

  • the atmosphere at smith commons isn’t anything like a dive bar.

  • H Street scores again.

    The food really is quite good, but I usually choose the Atlas Room in this price range. The beer list is fantastic. I’ve heard only good things about the cocktails as well.

  • andy

    I wince when I see phrasings like “perched idly,” “synergistic crux,” or “coveted equilibrium” in this context.

    Anyah’s writing needs to be a little less creative. An editor could also help.

    I am sorry to be mean.

    • She was just trying to create intuitive content and give the feeling of a synergistic relationship to forge a strong paradigm while driving viral mindshare in her chose vertical market.

      Or something like that.

      • Talk about writing style. Did you graduate High School?

      • Joe, this made me chuckle. Thanks! 🙂

        It seems to me that the writer has good ideas but is trying too hard… and ignoring basic grammar in the process.

        From the construction, “perched idly” appears to modify “barrel through a dive bar’s doors”… but you can’t barrel through doors while idly perched. You have to barrel in FIRST and then find a bar stool (or something) on which to perch.

        “Smarmy” has a negative connotation. I don’t know if the writer meant something else or if she really thinks that the bartenders are “marked by a smug, ingratiating, or false earnestness.”

        From the way the sentence is constructed, the “As if to reassure me” modifies “I watched,” although it’s meant to modify “other H Street bartenders trickled in.”

        The introduction of “that coveted equilibrium” (“it absolutely attains that coveted equilibrium”) is confusing. _What_ coveted equilibrium? Equilibrium between what and what? I’m guessing she means that Smith Commons finds a nice balance between “dive bar” and “fancy restaurant,” but it’s not clear.

        I don’t mean to be too hard on the writer. I applaud her for her enthusiasm and for taking the time to write and submit this piece. However, it would be good for her to work on clarity and proper syntax.

    • This is the standard writing style for “gastronomic explorers” who have just discovered

    • Yup. I am mean too, don’t worry.

    • I like her writing style. To each their own.

    • You are just envious that you can’t write creatively!

      • I’m sorry, but other than ‘perched idly’, the other ‘creative’ writing quoted is pure bullshit writing, culled from business/marketing consultese.

  • Looks like a nice place but I decided not to step foot inside when I realized they are one of those extraordinarily wasteful establishments that leaves their aircon blasting with the front door wide open all day!

    Is this the trendy bar/restaurant thing to do?

    • I completely agree. I hate it when places do this. Stores in Georgetown seem to be the worst about it. Apple Store, All Saints, Rag & Bone etc. I know they want it to be as inviting for people to come in as possible but still it’s frustrating.

    • Looks like they’re doing it in the photo as well

  • “soul-quenching rarity” Really?

  • Smith Commons is a great place for the rich. Or people that like to rack up credit card debt.

  • I’ve visited Smith Commons for brunch a couple of times. Their menu is usually an interesting reinvention/interpretation of classic offerings.

    The comments about the bartenders being on point are definitely true, and the Tarboro Viking was a good drink, though I’m not particularly a fan of things with bitters.

  • I know bartenders.

    I know H St. bartenders.

    Bartenders do not pay for overpriced cocktails.

    H St. Bartenders definitely do not pay for overpriced cocktails.

    H St. bartenders do not drink at Smith Commons before, during or after their shifts.

    What this individual saw was the bartenders’ on shift having their friends drop in.

    Nothing against Smith Commons — I am glad it is around. But it is no neighborhood bar — people from NW come there to eat and drink.

    And no, even at a dive bar, you come in wearing Jorts, you are going to be scolded. This is not 1995, and that type of behaviour is not acceptable in public. 🙂

  • is this a review of rouge24?

  • I don’t know if I can really agree with this review. From what I have seen ordered the food seems is over priced. I will have to agree with the previous poster who said you’d be better off at the Atlas Room.

    Also, not only have I known someone who has gone to this bar and have had their credit card misplaced, I’ve seen it happen to other people when I have been there as well.

    They’re draft list is nothing to write home about.

    With the amount of other bars in the immediate area to choose from I don’t know why I would choose this place.

    • Agreed. I live a block from H St, go out probably 2 or 3 times a week, and have only been to Smith Commons maybe 3 times. It’s decent for what it is, except that their price point is just a little too high. Liberty Tree has just as good a menu, if not better, with larger (read: meal-sized) portions for the same price, or less. Atlas Room has fantastic craft cocktails and a true gourmet menu at the same price. Queen Vic fills my neighborhood hangout needs quite nicely with great food, drinks, service, atmosphere, and price. Pug makes a nice divey experience when I just want to drink and relax. Other venues have great music and specialty food. Smith Commons is, sadly, for the NW tourists.

  • what does it mean that they “cannot be perturbed by an impatient customer?”

  • As an H St denizen,I’ve eaten at Smith Commons several times. I have yet to have a meal that left me wholly satisfied. The problems seem to be different every time I go there. On one occasion, the valoute soup tasted like the mushrooms had not been cleaned. So much grit that it tasted like I was eating a bowl of mud. Other times, I am simply amazed at how small the portions are. The small portions would make sense relative to the price if the chef was doing something remotely innovative with the dishes. But, for the most part, the menu is standard American fare done mediocre.

    It’s a cool looking place. And, I suppose, that may be enough for it to be successful.

  • Should retitle this: “H Street Scenester Reviews H Street Scene: Our Dive Bar Cocktail Lounges are Soul Quenching Rarities.”

    • “H Street Scenesters” don’t go to Smith Commons. It’s more of a place for the bridge and tunnel crowd.

      • That’s pronounced “bridge and circle”, and refers to everyone on H street on the weekends. Fastest colonization of an up and coming neighborhood by douchetards from the ‘burbs I’ve ever seen — it was like American Ice Company, but for an entire strip.

      • Anyone who uses the term “bridge and tunnel crowd” is not originally from around here anyway. Go on back to New York/Jersey…

  • I had a terrible experience with them. Their event planner, Anh, had promised me a private room and then when I called to finalize all of the details 2 weeks out she casually let me know that she gave it to someone else. The she asked if it was it ok to just move my event to the day before or the next weekend. No apologies, no heads-up, nothing. Take your business elsewhere on H street!

  • Before this article, I had never heard of jorts. Had to look it up: “Jean shorts. Worn mostly by children and douchebags. Jorts are perhaps the easiest way to recognize people you will not like. If you wear jorts, you probably don’t talk to girls. The term “jorts” does not apply to jean shorts worn by black people, as those are entirely acceptable.”

    As a black guy, I wonder what’s so cool about blacks wearing jorts??

    • article/blog

    • Are short dark jean shorts ok on a young, slender woman? With the right shoes and top I think they’re perfectly fine in a semi-casual place, and I’ve never been criticized for them. Or are those not even considered jorts?

      • I don’t know, I would need to see a picture. Too many variables otherwise; are the shoes you consider ‘right’, actually ‘right’? Is the top suitable for the particular jorts you plan on wearing? Ask PoP to post a picture.

      • why risk it?

      • I have a pair of shorts that are dark blue and are sort of a lightweight denim.

        They bear no resemblance to the kind of jean shorts I had in high school in the early 1990s.

        Are all jean shorts an object of derision? Or only the kind we remember from the 1990s?

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