Time Flies Vol. 21 – Meridian Pint is Turning 5! Was Almost A Coffeehouse on 14th St. A Brief Look Back

Former Bi-Rite building at 11th and Park Road, NW in 2008

Well this crept up fast – Meridian Pint is turning 5 years old on July 1st. Remember the table taps excitement? It’s hard to explain how excited folks, myself included, were for those things. Remember the old broken down Bi-Rite grocery store? Remember DC Brau’s launch party?

I kinda take them for granted now but Meridian Pint was one of the first pioneers that helped nurture the craft beer explosion in DC. In my opinion without Meridian Pint, Birch and Barley/ChurchKey among a few others – it’s doubtful we’d have seen such a rapid growth and appreciation in DC for craft beer and especially in local craft beer like DC Brau, Three Stars, Atlas etc. What’s on almost every bar’s tap handles today (from dive bar to hotel bar) was a rarity back then. The beers get a lot of, deserved, attention but I wanted to look at it from a different angle. So I sat down with Meridian Pint owner John Andrade to ask him what it was like opening up a craft beer bar in a very different Columbia Heights (PBR, Tecate, Miller High Life), hell, in a very different DC five years ago.

Jon Andreade Meridian Pint
Meridian Pint owner John Andrade

Here’s a few notable remembrances – well ok here’s a few things I can remember and read from the notes I took. Before settling on Meridian Pint’s current property, Andrade had plans to open a coffeehouse in 2007 similar to Tryst in Columbia Heights closer to 14th Street. (Andrade comes from the former Asylum, now Smoke and Barrel, in Adams Morgan and knew how successful Tryst was.) Fortunately, for beer drinkers, Andrade lost interest when DCUSA was built and he didn’t like the vibe. About six or eight months later he was walking up 11th Street and saw a for lease sign on the old Bi Rite building and said to himself “we can do something here.” But the original plans were not for craft beer either. He thought of setting something up like the old Grog and Tankard – with a stage and live music and Coors light. But this all changed in 2009 when he took a bicycle trip/brewery tour in Belgium. At first he thought he’d focus on Belgian beers but had a sorta eureka moment “why not just focus on really good American beers?”. Why not indeed? Though, it is worth noting, Andrade credits The Reef (currently home to Roofers Union) in Adams Morgan with exposing him and much of DC to the emerging craft beer scene.

Alright more random memories – at first Meridian Pint was gonna be called Park Place (being on Park Road and all) but it reminded him too much of an apartment building’s name. Ed. Note: The apartment building at Georgia and New Hampshire today is called Park Place. So anyway he was surfing the web (ed. note: does anyone say surfing the web anymore…?) in hopes of learning more about Columbia Height’s history when he stumbled on some info about the Prime Meridian and Meridian Hill Park. At first it was going to be called just Meridian but a Meridian opened up elsewhere so then it was gonna be called Meridian Point. Then Andrade was at a bbq and wrote down Meridian Point to show to a friend who misread it and said “Meridian Pint that’s a cool name for a beer bar”. And there it is.

And here’s just a random fact. The DC Brau launch party had a sustained line to get in 5 hours deep all night long. That has never been replicated but that was the moment when Andrade realized – opening a bar focusing on American (and when possible DC) craft beer wasn’t such a bad idea.

Since I’m always curious about what’s next – I’ll leave you with two possibilities (nothing in stone but possibilities) – one day we might see a Capitol Pint or maybe even a Union Pint. When thinking about future locations Andrade won’t rule anyplace out because: “Great beer, great food in a casual environment with great people. Who wouldn’t want that in their neighborhood?”

Stay tuned.

11th and Park Road, NW Today

30 Comment

  • Two interesting things to think about: first, craft beer was an idea who’s time had come in DC. MO is definitely central, but if not for them it would have been someone else. Pizzeria paradiso had a great selection and wonderland has had racer 5 ipa for a long time.

    Second, I think this really show the importance of management. Brikskeller was really poised to capitalize on the craft beer explosion but totally blew it. MP is priced just right to be making money, has a solid and consistent menu and kitchen, and a good selection of events.

    MP has been a great asset to the neighborhood and I look forward to seeing their next project.

    • justinbc

      The biggest problem with Brickskeller was that they were almost always out of whatever beer people tried to order. Having a thousand item beer list is pointless if you’ve only actually got 100 of them on hand. 100 was still a lot for the time, but the frustration of constantly being told “we don’t have that” definitely drove a lot of novices, who might have been turned on to the idea, away. A few others who helped usher in the movement prior to MP: RFD, Black Squirrel, The Big Hunt, and Rustico (NRG’s precursor to CK). Heck, I’m pretty sure there was even a Dogfish Head Alehouse out in VA before then. MP is without a doubt one of the better beer bar options in the city today, but I would categorize them more as capitalizing on an already growing trend, rather than pioneering it.

      • I think Bier Baron has done a better job in the old Brickskeller place than they did.

      • Brikskeller did have inventory problems, but that was just one of many many issues.

        • Brikskeller is a great example of what happens when families disagree over who should take over the business. There was a big dispute between the founders as to whether it would be handed to the kids, sold to the kids, or sold to someone else, and this dispute led to the place being run into the ground. Bier Baron was the result of it being bought out, but they sadly couldn’t keep the Brikskeller name. I remember talking to an exchange student from Scandanavia who specifically wanted to go to Brikskeller and was devastated that the owners had left.

      • I don’t think that there are 4 people more responsible for craft beer in DC than Brian Harrison, Thor Cheston, Greg Engert, and Jeff Wells.

        Brian came to DC from the mountain west and brought a love of beer with him. He curated the beer list at the Big Hunt and made it a craft destination before anyone knew craft beer. He carried that with him to Bedrock Billiards and then to The Reef. When The Reef opened in 2002 it was the ONLY place that sold all craft beer on draft and no bottles. That was something no one had seen in the city.

        Thor started the beer program at Paridiso. He then went to the venerable Brassire Beck and polished his impecible credentials. He now owns one of the best beer spits in town in Right Proper.

        Jeff Wells was the only person in town pushing craft beer for over a decade. His love of beer and knowledge help put his beers in enough places to get exposure. Some think that the biz passed him buy on the way to its pinnacle but there is little doubt that he helped get it there.

        Engert is the one who brought it all together. He earned his chops at the old brickskellar and learned by drinking all of their old stock. He then took his knowledge to Alexandria and the Neighborhood Restaurant Group. While curating their groups program he came up with the idea for Churchkey/Birch and Barley. He is the person who had the talent/knowledge to teach the masses about great beer at a time that they were thirsty for the information.

        All of this is obviously my opinion but I am in the business and have watched all of this happen from the front row. The bottom line is that the huge distributors carry great local craft beer right next to the macros which is what makes it all available.

        • +1 on the Reef. From the get-go 10 years ago, Brian always had unique and interesting beers on tap and was eager to give tasters and talk about them. RIP, Reef.

        • justinbc

          I wouldn’t disagree with any of this. I often forget about Beck, which is unfortunate because it’s always been an outstanding destination (and similarly so has Granville Moore’s, which pre-dated it).

        • Where is Brian these days? Surely he’s resurfaced someplace else, after the unfortunate events that led to the Reef’s closure.

      • Prince Of Petworth

        Ah Big Hunt – that is a good call too!

        • The Big Hunt doesn’t get as much credit for being at the leading edge of the craft beer movement, probably because it was always seen as a dive bar first that happened to have a few good options on tap. I recall distinctly going to a show in the stifling hot basement in the mid-to-late 90s and drinking warm pints of SN Bigfoot barleywine (!!, that was a poor choice). The Brick will always get props as the tragically flawed grandaddy of DC beer houses just because they were around for soooo long and doing it way before anybody else. I had bigger hopes for RFD, but they succumbed to the Verizon Center crowds. I bet they serve more Miller Lite/Bud/Yuengling than any other bar in that area these days. Do they even have the British firkin program any more? That was great. Thor was the first one to really put it all together at Paradiso, a focused and well thought out list of taps with seldom seen European styles, and doing things like driving a truck to Indiana to bring back kegs of 3 Floyds. These places were the oases in the beer desert that DC was 15 years ago.

  • Anonynon

    what is the space ontop of meridian pint used for?

  • As my life has evolved over the past 5 years they’ve gone from being my go-to beer bar to my go-to kid-friendly restaurant. Very glad to have them within walking distance.

  • Thanks for the interview! I think that Meridian Pint is special in that it focuses on American craft beers, and not just gravitating away from typical macro beers, like Pizzaria Paradiso and others have been doing. I also appreciate them for having a good range of food options, from veg and vegan to bar food to nicely composed more formal dishes. And that they clean their tap lines weekly!

  • Happy birthday to the Pint! I remember its opening night, sitting across the street at Red Rocks and marveling at the crowd. Went there plenty, and are so glad it’s an option now with our toddler. They make it easy with kids, we love getting there for an early dinner, enjoying a good beer, and still come back every once in a while to partake when we have a sitter.

  • Others had mentioned hit but Brickskeller, Big Hunt, and Pizza P were way ahead of MP. The pint has been great though. Wish i made it over there more often

  • I can’t believe it’s been five years. Do they still have the tap tables? The food was always hit or miss from the beginning, but they always had one of the best tap lineups in town, without fail. I just never go there anymore, now that there are so many more good bars that are more convenient to me, perhaps a product of their success.

    • Can’t say I’ve ever had that experience with their food. Always on point elevated bar food in my experience.

  • Happy Bday Meridian Pint! Such a great place! For the future… Might I suggest Petworth Pint!

  • I LOVE that “before” photo. I’ve only been in CH for five years (like the Pint!), so it’s amazing to see how different it looked even just a few years ago.

  • ChenChen

    Love MP… friendly service, great beers, yummy bar food.

  • As the building owner/developer I want to say thank you to John A. and the Columbia Heights neighborhood for making all this happen. In 2005 when we purchased the building some people thought we were crazy. Now it seems like it would have been a no brainer.

    11th Street has become what we envisioned and I’m proud!

    Thank you!

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