Bar Hopping on 14th: Policy and Cafe Salsa
Two new after-dark destinations have joined the bustling strip of 14th Street between R and V, which already boasts some of the city's best lounges and nightspots. Policy is a restaurant and bar run by Omar Miskinyar, whose Soulstice Productions group ran events at upscale spots like Josephine and Spank. Two blocks south, Cafe Salsa is serving some of D.C.'s best mojitos. If you're doing a 14th Street crawl this weekend, here's what you need to know before stopping by.
Your first views through Policy's large windows are of the diner-style restaurant, where Chef Brian Murphy's menu includes madras curry lamb sliders and veal sweetbreads. I haven't made it to dinner yet, but I did drop in around midnight last Friday to find a party going full blast in the upstairs lounge.
If you want to check out Policy without dropping too much cash, Friday is the night to do it. There's no cover charge when you RSVP, and unlike most other lounges you can visit tonight, Policy's Sound Elevation party doesn't require an exorbitant minimum to reserve a table, though you do have to purchase something. "It's kind of like a restaurant in that ... people can sit as long as they wish after their meal but when demand for tables is high, it's considered respectful to vacate your seat in a somewhat timely fashion after dining," promoter Kevin L. Murray explains in an e-mail.
On Saturdays, however, Policy's minimum is two bottles for every four people at a table, and when bottles are a few hundred dollars each, that can add up. (4/7 Update: Omar Miskinyar sends word that the minimum is one bottle for every four people, not two bottles, as Murray had said.)
The space itself is attractive, with stylishly mismatched chandeliers overheard, low tables and a very busy bar. One wall is covered with graffiti by local artist Andrew Funk, and while it's really well done, it doesn't seem to fit in with the rest of the lounge's vibe. There's no dance floor, but the music is a key part of the night. DJs rotate every week -- Steve Starks, who spins electro-house and hip-hop at DC9's monthly Nouveau Riche and Kids events, is on the decks tonight.
Drinks are almost as affordable as everything else; a large Bombay Sapphire and tonic and a bottle of Amstel was $13, though I didn't find out until after I'd ordered that Policy requires a minimum tab of $25 if you want to use a credit card.
You can get on the guest list by e-mailing KevinLMurray@gmail.com. To reserve a table, call 646-457-0553.
I'm happy to report that the mojitos at Cafe Salsa are some of the best in the area. Just like the ones at the original location in Alexandria, these crisp, summery drinks have the right balance of rum, mint and fizz, and they're served up with thick sticks of cane sugar.
Your best time to try one is at happy hour: you'll get half-price appetizers and drinks ("pretty much everything but wine," the bartender told me) from 4 to 8 on weekdays. Since the mojitos are regularly $8.95 and the appetizers run between $8 and $10, this means you can get a drink and a filling snack for less than $10. Of course, you probably won't stop at one mojito, and I don't blame you. Wish I could say the same thing about the caipirinha, which fellow Going Out Guru Stephanie and I both thought was just okay when we tried it.
Food portions are fairly large -- Stephanie and I agree that three appetizers would probably make a meal for two. We enjoyed the arepitas (cornmeal cakes topped with shredded pork and guacamole) and on a separate visit, I thought the quesadilla, stuffed with chicken and peppers, was a treat.
The brightly colored restaurant has a long L-shaped bar with comfortable leather stools along one wall, a row of tables and a tall banquette that runs almost the length of the room. There's a small lounge area and more dining upstairs, but that space was empty when I stopped by earlier in the week. On a Friday, I don't think that will be an issue.
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