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Posted at 8:30 PM ET, 12/28/2010

Brickskeller reopens tomorrow as Bier Baron

By Tim Carman
dave alexander_opt.jpg Dave Alexander left a cache of beer for the new owners. (Michael Temchine for The Washington Post)

Perhaps it's only appropriate that the Brickskeller, the once storied beer institution off Dupont Circle, will assume an air of royalty in its next life. The new owners of the historic saloon have renamed the place Bier Baron, which officially opens for business tomorrow at 6 p.m.

Dave and Diane Alexander closed The Brick following service on Dec. 18, leaving behind a wealth of memories. They also left little time for Megan Merrifield and her husband to give the old tavern a good scrub and a fresh identity before reopening prior to New Year's Eve.

"We've scrubbed and scoured and dusted," Merrifield says. "We've got brand new linens in. The bathrooms are much nicer and in more sanitary working order."

So why did the new proprietors decide to rush into the beer bar business?

"Our take on the situation is that any time you leave something closed for an indeterminate amount of time, people forget about it," Merrifield told me this afternoon. "The Brickskeller is definitely the focal point of anyone that cares about beer in Washington, D.C. at this point. And if you stayed closed for two months to make everything exactly perfect, I think people find new haunts."

Merrifield and crew had only a scant few days to ready the Bier Baron, requiring the owners not only to sacrifice the Christmas holidays but also to get a quick education on beer suppliers and distributors. Fortunately two former Brick employees decided to stay on, and they've helped the new owners in their crash-course in the beer business. For opening day, the Bier Baron will have 500 beers to choose from, Merrifield says, as well as "300 beers that Dave [Alexander] left behind and that's in-house and ready to be served."

"It was quite philanthropic on his part," Merrifield adds about Dave Alexander. "He was kind enough to leave them. He didn't have to."

So there's enough stock to satisfy the demand on every one of those 800 beers?

"The 500, absolutely," she says. "The 300, that's kind of on a first-come, first-served basis because it's the blow-out stock of the Brickskeller."

Those beers will be broken down into two separate lists, and whenever one beer is sold out, it will be crossed off the menu, Merrifield notes. What's more, the old Brickskeller approach of cataloging brews will be history.

"The menu is no longer going to divide the beers by country," she says. "It's going to divide them by flavor profiles essentially. It's going to be IPAs and lagers and stouts. So that makes it more approachable for anybody that comes in. We're going to have a gluten-free section. We're going to have a section for the girls that don't want beer so much, you know kind of some fun lambics and some flavored ales. So we're going to try to make it a much more approachable beer list for everybody, not just for beer connoisseurs. As it is right now, it's a little bit daunting for folks that aren't necessarily extremely well-schooled in beer."

The food menu will be a work-in-progress, the new owner says. The Bier Baron will open with some minor changes, like higher-quality bacon on the burger, high-end Wisconsin products on the cheese plate, house-made desserts (like a red velvet cheesecake), and fresh Uptown Bakers breads. The larger menu revamp, created by PS 7's pastry chef Zak Miller, won't debut for another three weeks, Merrifield says.

"We have a terrific idea of exactly what we're going to do," she says. "But we've got to take a little bit of time to bring in exactly the right ingredients. We've got to do a few tastings to get everything just so and then get our kitchen staff up to speed. We're going to make most of our things in-house from now on. We're going to make house-made pretzels. We're going to make house-made dips, house-made pizzas. We're going to make some kind of fun Cajun popcorn for appetizers. We're going to do a lot of really neat things, and almost everything will be house-made."

But will the old Brick kitchen support such enterprise?

"The kitchen's actually in reasonably good working order," Merrifield says. "We're going to purchase an apparatus that helps us do house-cut french fries, so we're going to make those from scratch every day. And we're probably going to purchase...a commercial grade mixer that's not necessarily present at the moment. Beyond that, we're quite good. We're quite well-equipped."

If you're wondering how Merrifield and her husband (who prefers not to see his name in print) landed on the name Bier Baron, it had nothing to do with a public contest to rebrand the saloon. A family friend from Austria suggested the Bier Baron.

"It's a name that's very easy to roll off the tongue. I think it's a name that's easy to remember. I think the two 'b's together are very agreeable," Merrifield says. "And I think they lend themselves quite well to the name for the hotel as well," which is going to be Hotel Baron.

"We heard literally thousands of names, and it's one of those things, even when you're naming your child or naming your puppy, something just kind of fits and kind of hits you the right way."

And for those of you still fishing around for New Year's Eve ideas, you might also be interested to know that the Bier Baron will be open for business on Dec. 31. Even better: No cover and free snacks. (Incidentally, the Bier Baron will absorb The Brickskeller's old telephone number.)

By Tim Carman  | December 28, 2010; 8:30 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs, Restaurants  
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