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Birth of a Neighborhood Bar: Kingfisher Opening in Logan Circle

Kingfisher, located at 1414 14th Street NW (underneath the Sav-on Liquor) is set to open in time for this weekend. It has been getting a lot of love from the local blogosphere, of which we are a part. Run by co-owners Daniel Williams, formerly the GM of Iron Horse and a good friend to this site, and Ben Sislen, of Big Chief in Ivy City, and managed by Sam Buis of Jackpot and Iron Horse, Kingfisher will aim to be a "neighborhood bar." The watering hole will feature beer-and-shot combos, all canned beers and wines, and some cocktails. Trivia will take place on Tuesdays and be hosted by Geeks Who Drink. There's a popcorn machine incoming with a whole array of seasoned salts in the works. Happy hour will happen every day of the week. You can find out more on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the good old Interweb. They're on-track, it sounds like, to be open for this weekend.

Last week I had the chance to sit down with Daniel, Ben, and Sam to hear more about how a neighborhood bar comes to be in an otherwise crowded nightlife neighborhood. What follows is a lightly edited transcript.

DCBeer: Alright, so, you guys are opening the first combination bird supply shop and bar in DC.

Daniel: Right, yes, but exclusively kingfisher birds.

Right, so it’s a very niche market, but it really fits in well with the high end retail in Logan Circle.

Daniel: They migrate here once a year.

You just need to add cider, and you’ll hit the trifecta of what’s hot in DC right now. So you’re opening a bar in Logan Circle. Why are you opening another bar in Logan Circle?

Daniel: We just didn’t think there were enough bars in Logan Circle as it is. And we thought, “You know what, there’s a ten foot wide piece of property that doesn’t sell alcohol. I see it as a huge waste.” The short answer is that Logan Circle isn’t going anywhere any time soon in terms of being a viable nightlife community. The space became available, and it was a really awesome opportunity, so we jumped on it.

How do you think this will be different? There are a lot of concepts opening up. You don’t want to be a concept? You just want to be a bar? You just want to be a place people can go to to drink beer?

Sam: I think the important focus that some people miss when they open a bar. It’s ultimately about serving the people. You’re there to provide a service to the people. Yeah, you’re going to make money doing it, but you want to be that spot that people actually enjoy coming to, and being some cliche is not going to get that done. We want to make sure that people can feel welcome and have a great time. That’s what I’m going for as a general manager, and I think that’s what Daniel and Ben are going for as owners.

Daniel: I think sometimes that having a specific concept can muddy the idea of what a bar really should be. There are some places out there doing a good job with a specific identity, and they build their menu options and their design elements around that specific idea. In some ways that’s really great. If you want to give someone that really specific experience, more power to you. I don’t have anything that specific in mind. I really just wanted to make a nice, comfortable place to go drink. And then let everybody sort of build the space into what it needs to be for them to enjoy.

Obviously you’ve learned some of these lessons from the other bars that you’ve been involved with. How long did it take to get to that point?

Daniel: Like over the idea of the concept?

Yeah. Although I guess the other bars you’re associated with aren’t really concepts either.

Daniel: Well, no. Continental has the modern pool lounge concept. Buffalo Billiards for a long time was done up like a hunting lodge where you could also watch sports and play billiards. I think you can put a lot of effort into it. Iron Horse is really, really cool with the old motorcycles and stuff like that, but I don’t know if that’s specifically why people drink there. They drink there because we put a great staff in and have a great beer selection. As long as the design elements weren’t horribly garish or offensive for some reason, I don’t think it would’ve mattered. So, I think up front for me, the favorite bars for me have zero major conceptual value to them. They’ve just been good places to sit and relax. Maybe with a good jukebox, there’s a couple of key elements there.

I feel like you, Daniel, in particular phase in and out of DC. You’ve seen DC punctuated in the past year or so. When you come back, what do you notice has changed about the scene in general?

Daniel: The shift in the neighborhoods. It’s interesting to see that Chinatown isn’t the powerhouse it was five years ago.

Neither is Dupont.

Daniel: Neither is Dupont. H Street is still blowing up. H Street seems to not be as far a trek for anybody anymore. Coming from Austin, where everything is a drive, it’s interesting to see that people in DC have gotten over H Street as some distant locale. Now that H Street isn’t a big deal to go to from here [Logan Circle], I think that opens up Brookland and Brentwood and all these other sort of far-flung locales. I’m interested to see what happens in Ivy City because people are going out there for the distilleries and breweries and all that. Hopefully it becomes a nightlife destination. It’s going to take a little more effort than H Street did, but it’s interesting to see the redevelopment of DC has gone super specific in terms of blocks. It’s, “We’re going to move to these ten blocks” rather than “we’re just moving to Southeast or Northeast.”

You all come from craft beer backgrounds. What does the beverage program, and I use that term loosely, look like at Kingfisher?

Sam: Like a lot of the other bars we’ve been involved with, we will be focusing on craft beer. We’ll have Narragansett as our light beer. We are focusing more on locally sourced beers than some of the other bars [we’ve been associated with], but at least initially we will have a lot of local breweries on. But we will change them up, so we’re not locked into these 15 beers that we’ll initially have on.

So it’s 15 drafts?

Sam: All cans. All canned beer. All canned wine. And we are going to have shot and beer combos that go along with some of those beers. And we’ll change some of those up as we change the beers up. Don’t look for it to be like Jackpot, which gets one keg of something and then switches it out, up to three or four a day, but we will change it up so it’s new and exciting for those who do like craft beer and do come in.

Daniel: Places that do draft are able to do those one-offs better than we’re going to be able to.

It doesn’t sound like that’s what you’re going for anyway.

Daniel: Exactly.

Sam: And the can scene is exploding. A lot more breweries are doing cans, which it’s helping us add a lot when it comes to picking out beers. We’re going to focus more on what we know are good beers rather than taking a chance and saying, “Well this keg is something that the distributor is hoping we’ll pick up so we’ll give it a whirl.” Which happens sometimes.

Happens a lot and has been happening a lot.

Daniel: Like one-off kegs that aren’t that great? Interesting.

Yeah. Beer bars pick them up and say, “Oh that’s interesting.” But then you go back two weeks later and it’s still there.

Sam: I saw that recently. It’s too unique, and then it’s expensive, so you’re selling it for $15 a glass and people are wondering why they’re paying that. I’d say our beers will lean more toward beers that have a bit of a following. If they’re canned, they’ve been out for a while, but they’ll be good beers.

You mentioned shot and beer combos. Will you get into shot-and-wine combos since you have these canned wines?

Sam: It’s something that has been on the table, but there aren’t any on the current menu.

A little Aperol Spritz action? Aperol, Prosecco, mix it together in your mouth?

Daniel: I personally love Rosé and Jameson.

Rosémeson? Changing a bit. Some neighborhood bars, the Friday and Saturday night crowd is different. It’s a neighborhood bar until the weekends, when it’s not. Do you think you’ll have that dynamic?

Daniel: I would expect so. Logan Circle has a ton of residential, but then it’s a “the freaks come out at night” thing on Friday and Saturday after 10. So I would expect, hopefully, that we’ll be packed. Obviously: everyone is welcome. I’m not worried about the weekends being anything other than a mad house. That’s fine. But we really are focusing on the weekdays; we want to build that crowd of regulars who are working here, or stopped here from work, or dropped stuff off at home and then came over. That really is what we’re going for out of the gate. But yeah, I bet Friday and Saturday will be nuts. When you first open, it’s always like that. A bunch of people come out.

A lot of people come out, and then some of them stay.

Sam: The good people will stay because it’s going to be a good spot. The folks who are looking for it to be a crazy shitshow of a bar will say, “Well, this is cool, but it’s not my scene.” And they’re going to leave.

Daniel: When you say “beer and shot” combo you kind of worry about who will roll in. But these are good beers, good whiskeys, it’s not just get drunk as fast as possible.

Best wishes to the Kingfisher team on their opening this week. Thanks for taking the time to chat.

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