Update from the Bitches: The Passenger is now closed.
The Passenger is suffering from multiple personality disorder. But I think it’s comfortable with that—and its customers are, too.
When you walk in, you think, oh, laid-back hipster bar … let me saddle up in my skinny jeans and order myself a PBR. But then you scratch the surface a bit, or perhaps walk further back towards The Columbia Room, and you realize that there’s much, much more to the place than you originally thought.
The split might be because it’s owned and run by two brothers, who have each put their own very unique stamp on the place. Tom is at the front of the house, with its cracked old booths and refurbished wooden bar. Derek is the master of the back of the house, or The Columbia Room, an upscale 10-seat cocktail club in a dimly lit private room that requires reservations way in advance.
Together, the brothers have quietly turned the creation of ingenious cocktails into a science. And The Passenger is their laboratory, complete with self-made cordials and bitters, and hand-carved ice.
And then there’s the brunch, which isn’t served in The Columbia Room (c’mon Derek, give us a Columbia Room brunch and I might just die). Instead, it’s in the main part of the restaurant, and is a self-proclaimed “hangover brunch,” meaning they don’t even open their doors until 2 p.m. It also means the cocktails are strong enough to destroy even the worst of hangovers.
I should have been really, really hungover to properly experience this brunch. And Lord knows I usually am at brunches. The irony—I spent that morning sober, working out, doing laundry, and generally being rather productive. So I was surprisingly alive when downing these “Hair of the Dog” cocktails.
For nostalgic reasons, I ordered the Sherry Cobbler. My grandmother drinks sherry, and when I visit her in England, she urges me to have some, and serves it in tiny crystal sherry glasses. But when not appeasing grandma, I’ve generally avoided the stuff. It’s just not my favorite. But then the Passenger suggests it makes a good cocktail, and so I can’t resist. For this drink, they’ve made it like a sangria, with orange juice and fresh fruit bobbing about. It was completely refreshing, and didn’t taste of sherry much at all.
Cori Sue went for the most mimosa-like of the cocktails, the South 75. It was served in a champagne flute, but the bubbly was mixed with grapefruit juice and gin. It was slightly sweet and had a berry at the bottom. Delicious.
Being very manly, Saro ordered the Aperol Spritzer, which was a bit bitter, but the most mellow of the cocktails. In addition to those we tried, there’s also the Danish Mary, a Red-Eye (beer and spicy tomato juice), and the Corpse Reviver, which is reputed to rise the dead. And in addition to the actual brunch cocktails, there’s also the ever-revolving list of unique daily cocktails that are on the chalkboard by the bar.
The hangover brunch itself is tiny—only six things to choose from, one of which is vegetarian. We started off by sharing the biscuits and gravy, which was actually only one biscuit in a bowl of gravy. But our disappointment at the size of the dish was quickly replaced by satisfaction when we actually tasted the stuff.
That pork gravy was warm, tasty, and had big chunks of pork throughout. By far, it is one of the tastiest biscuits and gravy I’ve had in D.C.—I just wish they served this as a full dish with more biscuits.
The single vegetarian option was the Chilaquiles, or Javier’s hangover cure, as touted on the menu. Cori Sue, of course, went for that. It was crispy, spicy tortilla chips, served with avocado and a fried egg.
Cori Sue loves herself something spicy—take note, future Latin lovers—and really enjoyed the chili-dusted strips. However, the whole plate was a mess of chips with one meager egg and a few avocado slices. There just simply wasn’t enough avocado to go around—and soon enough she was left with a plate of spicy carbs and no real food.
Never fearful of carbs (or cheese), we then opted to dig in to the black-truffle mac and cheese, one of the finest in the city. Cori Sue has eaten a lot of mac-n-cheese, and even makes a dish that’s better than sex, but this truffle concoction is definitely one of the best.
It’s served in an iron skillet and baked so there’s a gorgeous layer of crusted cheese on top. It’s not on the brunch menu, but you can order plates from the bar menu during brunch if you’d like.
Angie’s Birthday was two pancakes, or bacon jacks (cooked in bacon grease, how pancakes should be), with an egg sunny side up. It had fresh berries on the side, as well. Saro ordered this, and was fine with it, though it wasn’t anything special.
The Waffle Sandwich (sounds amazing, doesn’t it?), was two waffle quarters with bacon, egg, and cheese sandwiched in between. Like the biscuit and gravy, this dish was so delicious I wanted more. Why can’t I have the whole damn waffle as a sandwich?
On the side, there were fresh berries, and of course a saucer of syrup to pour on the waffle sandwich. We didn’t try the Corned Beef Hash or the Pork Belly Bowl, as they were a bit too carnivorous for our liking that day.
The restaurant was just named one of the 50 Best Bars by Food & Wine magazine—and you can see why. If you’re too hungover to eat, I would suggest just sitting at the bar and nursing yourself with hair of the dog. It’s such a neighborhood joint, you wouldn’t even have to worry about being bothered by tourists.
In fact, the place is so very D.C., down to the three-starred flag weaved into its logo on the front windows. Great music is always pumping through the speakers, and there’s very little decoration besides some time-lapse photography of the city, and of course the beautiful curved wooden ceiling—made from reclaimed wood from the building—in the back room. It’s clearly the product of the Brown brothers, even if they have such different personalities.
The Bitches say: A. Amazing cocktails, great food (though we wish some of the best dishes were a little bigger), and a true D.C. neighborhood bar, with dual personalities that make it both upscale and down.
1021 7th Street N.W.
Washington D.C. 20001
The Passenger serves brunch on Saturdays and Sundays.