Capping off 2017, I tried two newer wine bars in DC – both in the Shaw neighborhood. One cheeky, one engaging, both welcoming in small, street front corner spaces, perfect for stopping in and trying a few new wines.
December was Merry Meritage month at Maxwell Park. The small corner wine bar was shoulder-to-shoulder people early on a Saturday evening for a drink before (or with) dinner. J and I weren’t sure we’d make it to a seat, but the amiable hostess assured us that a couple at the bar was just paying their check and the large party milling around them was about to leave. Both happened, just as she said, and there we were with two seats and two wine menus, exploring the meritage offerings. Bill Murray exclaiming “Murray Meritage” was emblazoned on some of the bartenders’ t-shirts, echoing the web site’s tongue-in-cheek, where “Wine” incites, “Trust me, You Can Dance.” The bar is clean lines and serious wines, but the wittiness assures a wine experience that is lighthearted and fun. Maxwell offers select bar snacks, with a few “mains” if you want to stay for a full meal. J and I enjoyed the thick slice of truffle-honeyed butternut squash with pine nuts and feta while we tried a couple of glasses of the meritage selections.
I made it to La Jambe on New Year’s Eve after reading their web site declaration to come by and ring in the New Year on Paris time! I was lured in by the opportunity for an early toast at a neighborhood wine bar I’ve wanted to try with no over-priced NYE set menu. La Jambe welcomed us, and later two friends, into a stylized modern bistro. The massive mural covering half the rear cement wall set a cool edgy tone softened by marble top bistro tables. A chalk board hanging on a cement pillar in the middle of the u-shaped bar announced specials. Strings of Christmas lights and a lighted tree in the street-facing corner windows gave off soft and twinkling light throughout. J and I chose from the menu a cremant rose from the Alsace (Cremant Rose Jean Claude Riefle) – dry, light, with a hint of pink – beautiful in color and taste. We shared as part of this aperitif a charcuterie and cheese plate, “Le Surprise” (with a very flavorful goat cheese), a basket of crusty bread, pickled vegetables and black olives.
La Jambe and Maxwell Park are two of a number of new wine bars (and bakeries and coffee shops) popping up in newly constructed or renovated buildings around Washington, DC, but offering happily unique atmospheres not dependent on older buildings layered in years of character.