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