My buddy was in town; therefore I was presented with an opportunity that I have only rarely encountered while living in The District: Happy Hour. Of course you shake your heads in wonder, disbelief, perhaps pity, Don’t. While I live in The District, I work in Maryland. As a result of this I have the much envied reverse commute. This means that I am rarely in a position to take advantage happy hour. We weren’t just looking for any happy hour; we needed an oyster happy hour: and so our quest began. On this particular occasion Google, Yelp, and the Washington Post all led us to a spot Blackbyrd Warehouse. Everything we read about this spot was promising from the reviews, to the promise of 1$.00 oysters, to $5.00 HH beers, and other splendiferous snacks.
Upon entering so many things seemed so so right about this establishment. The postindustrial design, the records on the wall, the caged booths all seemed to give off this “too cool for school” vibe. I’ll admit I was attracted to the decor. The bar is narrow compared to other behemoths I’ve seen around the city, giving the Blackbyrd Warehouse plenty of standing room. There’s an upstairs where old movies are shown on some nights. Simplistic Utilitarian Chic is right up my alley.
Now that I’ve admitted that I’m a sucker for a great environment, allow me to stand on my soapbox for a few minutes. There are two qualities that a restaurant must have above all others: great food, and great service. Those are the hallmarks of an amazing food experience, the basic building blocks of a successful restaurant. I’ve spoken with restauranteurs who own establishments that have never been renovated, where the china was purchased at the Salvation Army, and all of the chairs and tables are mismatched. The food at these places is legendary & the service is exemplary. Any foodie will adamantly preach the mantra of food first, service second, decor third.
Unfortunately Blackbyrd Warehouse does not adhere to this simple principle, at least not on my visit. My friend and I sat at the bar both ready and eager to order drinks and oysters. We were ready to order within 3-4 minutes. We would wait forever, or for what seemed like forever. While there were about 10 people at the bar and no one else in the restaurant at the time, the bartender seemed interested in only one customer. A glass of water and several pointed glances later, the bartender finally deigned to grace us with her presence. During our long wait, my friend and I adjusted out ordering strategy. It became obvious that we would only have one chance to order everything we wanted. While we were only in search of a small snack, a few oysters to be precise, there was a very good chance that the bartender would never return so we had to strike while the iron was hot. The oysters we got were okay, nothing special, but they hit the spot. After placing our order, we moved to one of the caged booths, were the service improved to tolerable. I couldn’t believe that a place so seemingly cool could be so bad. Determined to prove myself wrong I decided to try the macaroni & cheese topped with pork-belly. There were many things right about the dish, the pasta was cooked to perfection, the cheese sauce was creamy, and it was served in a cast iron pan. The dish fell short in the one area it could not afford to fail in: the pork-belly. While the taste was delicious, the texture was somewhat rubbery. All the beer and cool decor in the world wont make-up for rubbery pork-belly.
Obviously my experience at the Blackbyrd Warehouse was less than positive. With that said, I will be back. Reviews based on a single bad experience are next to worthless. Because I’ve been so candid about what was wrong with the restaurant, let me be equally as honest about this review. We only had appetizers, not entrees. Our experience with the bartender soured the entire experience, but a different night, a different bartender, a different server and my opinion might completely change. I didn’t even make it upstairs, which by the way, looks swank beyond belief. I’m willing to give this spot a chance to prove me wrong. If I am, there will be another post praising this establishment, recanting all previous libel. Let us hope that my next visit is a more rewarding experience than my first.