We sat down with the masterminds behind Service Bar to talk shop. We were delighted by our experience at Service Bar, a cocktail-centric spot on the corner of 9th and I, and now we’re here to tell you all about the new cool kids on the block (aka U Street.)
For those of you who don’t know, the menu changes regularly based on availability of fresh ingredients from local farmer’s markets and farms. There are new drinks and ingredients every week. We love farm-to-table fare and now we have the perfect spot to get our farm-to-glass bevs.
The masterminds behind Service Bar, Glendon Hartley, and Chad Spangler, developed the interesting concept from their years of experience in the food and beverage industry and their many travels abroad. Whether you want just a good drink after work or the perfect place for a celebration, Service Bar has everything you need.
Tell us about your culinary/mixology background. How did you both start working with each other?
Chad: We began working together eight years ago (2009) at Founding Farmers. Glendon was bartending, and I was hired as a barback–I was only 19 at the time. We worked together for a little while at Founding, until eventually Glendon went on to continue his path. I remained with the Founding Farmers family for almost five years. In 2011 Glendon, myself, and Josh T (who also worked at the farm with us, who now works at Service Bar and our consulting group) moved into a house together next to Shaw’s Tavern where we lived for three years.
I traveled and did a staging (basically working for free to gain experience) at Pour Vous & La Descarga in LA, Coquetta in San Francisco, and The Aviary in Chicago. I was approached by Thomas Park (now executive chef of Perry’s in Adams Morgan) to be the beverage director of a new consulting group with Chef Robert Gadsby and Chef John Leavitt (now he’s the executive chef at Water & Wall). I worked on a project with them for about nine months before the group dissolved. Meanwhile, Glendon, Kevin Rogers (Service Bar’s Maitre D), and JP Caceres formed The Menehune Group for beverage consulting. When I left Gadsby’s I joined the consulting group that Glendon and I have run for about two and a half years.
When I joined the consulting group I also began working with Ari and Micah Wilder to open Chaplin’s where I bartended for a year. The newly formed Social Restaurant Group (Provision No. 14, then Prospect, Bonfire, and soon-to-be Pamplona) then hired the consulting group for their projects. Glendon and I both worked and (still work with) there, up until opening Service Bar.
Glendon: I came to D.C. to learn alcohol. I worked at Founding Farmers for two years which is where I got the base of my knowledge. Afterwards, I worked with Rick Cook at Black Salt who taught me how to pair food and drinks. I did my first drink menu there. From then on, I learned a lot from a lot of great chefs.
What’s the story behind Service Bar? What inspired the concept?
Chad: Over the years Glendon, Kevin, and myself have worked for so many different people, opening different places, and played many different roles–and I think Service Bar is the result of us really figuring out what we like and dislike about bars and restaurants. Kevin always says, “It’s just a bar that we do our way.” We hope we provide really friendly, casual, and relaxed service, play great music, and serve a fantastic product for a reasonable price point. There are so many details that we have developed over the years (like writing on the bartop and table tops with dry erase markers to remember guests’ names, changing the menu every week, not having a true server position, having apprentices behind the bar) that come from experience–but two things really stick out to me when we were getting Service Bar together:
Regardless of the ‘product,’ what were our favorite bars or where do we hang out? We concluded that basic Irish pubs were some of our favorite, no frills or thrills places where we could spend hours. Because, we value:
- No pretension or judging.
- Very comfortable setting.
- Reasonable price points.
- Casual service.
We didn’t conduct typical employment advertisements, interviews, etc. We said to ourselves, “What bartenders/people would we go back to visit, regardless of where they were working or what they were making? Who has a personality that draws people in?” We made a list of potential candidates, met with them, told them our plan and why we were talking to them specifically–and that’s how we ended up with our team.
At the end of the day we hope we are more known as a really fun bar that serves great cocktails (and everything else) as opposed to a great cocktail bar.
What drew you to this location in D.C.?
Chad: Location. Chris Willoughby used to own Jin Lounge on 14th Street for a number of years, and he was basically retired when the location came onto market (he had a personal relationship with the landlord). He thought Glendon and I would be ready so he reached out to us and we came and saw the space. Ten months later we were open!
Glendon: Our original concept was going to be on the Southwest Waterfront. The developers kept pushing back the opening date for the third year. So we started reaching out to other people and locations. We eventually found our place in Northwest because of Chris.
Tell us about the Snug Room.
Chad: Glendon traveled to Ireland last year, where they are a little more common. Originally designed to ‘hide people’ in bars such as politicians, police officers, and most notably, women. Glendon thought it would be a fun idea, which we all agreed, to have a privatized table that can be served directly from the bar. Currently, we take reservations for our snug room, which fits 4-8 people. Reservations are for 1/2 menus… the Cocktailery menu is $35 per person and includes two drinks per person (and we usually include a few fun freebies) or the $75 per person which has five-drink courses (starting with champagne). Time slots are 5:30, 7:30, 9:30 p.m. and we cater each service to the particular group (for instance we had a group of whiskey/gin drinkers last night… a few nights ago we had Tequila fans, etc.) Reservations can be made through emailing me at email@example.com (or anyone from our team) or can be made in person.
What inspired the food and drinks on the cocktail menu?
Chad: We wanted casual food–great drinking food, amazing fried chicken. Simple.
For the wine and beer we have a smaller selection, but some really amazing stuff that we try to keep fun and fresh. For example, we have Delerium Tremens 16 oz cans, 7 oz Rolling Rock ‘ponies’ that can be a ‘pop & pony’ for $7, Chappellet Mountain Cuvee for $12 per glass (part of our Dope Wine of the Week Program).
For the cocktail menu there are three parts.
All Day–classics with modern techniques and done our way for $7. For example: Old Fashioned with raw sugar, brandy & bourbon, Daquiri with liquid nitrogen chilled glass, Mint Julep with mint powdered with liquid nitrogen and sprayed with creme de menthe, and a force carbonated Tom Collins on draft that is perfectly clarified in our centrifuge.
We wanted to encourage people to order funky and unique drinks and offer them at a lower price point. We hated going out and always having to pay at least $26 for just two drinks.
Hyper seasonal–a lot of local options, all seasonal. This changes a little every week. We get some items from the city’s farmers markets, others from our local suppliers from area farms, and some we do source globally for fun ingredients in season. For instance, right now we get all apples, pears, and cranberries locally–but the blood oranges and our other citrus fruit comes from California or Australia.
The Rest–a lot of our favorite drinks from our past sorted by category. These were inspired by our pasts and what we’ve worked with the most and loved the most. We took what we learned from our past experiences and made it our own.
All in all, we offer about 35 cocktails at a given time on the menu, basically all originals.
What’s your favorite drink on the menu and why?
Glendon: I don’t have a favorite–I drink the Italian bubble coat the most though. It’s so unique.
Chad: I love the baked apple pear gin and tonic–it’s been around for a while now. It gets better every time we make it–super seasonal. I drink our Tom Collins the most though.
If there’s one drink or item that someone should try, what is it?
Carrot margarita–some people are either really excited or not sure. It’s interesting and fun to see people try it and love it. It has just a hint of carrot by the way.
Bloody Marys or mimosas?
Mimosas for both of us. They’re more fun to play around with and you can manipulate them easily.
Brunch in or out?
Both: Definitely out!
What’s your favorite brunch item?
Glendon: The Royal’s arepa ranchero. It’s fantastic. And bacon. Just bacon.
If you could five people to brunch, who would they be?
Chad: Five people–assuming it’s not people we would not actually get brunch with. Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Emma Watson, Elon Musk, and Leonardo DiCaprio.
Glendon: Jay Z, Ronaldinho, Christiano Ronaldo, Claude Monet, and MC Escher