Bedrock management runs some of Washington's most popular bars, including Penn Social, Buffalo Billiards and Rocket Bar, and most of the properties share common threads: They're large underground spaces with few windows but plenty of diversions, including pool and shuffleboard.
The new Highline RxR, which is opening in Crystal City in early February, takes the opposite approach. Located in the former Bailey's, a second-story space above McCormick and Schmick's, Highline's most prominent feature is a wall of floor-to-ceiling windows that can slide open to let in the breeze on a summer day. The ceilings are 22 feet overhead, giving the two rooms an extra-airy feeling.
Bedrock partner Peter Bayne admits that the group was hesitant when real estate developer Vornado approached them about taking the space last year, given that Crystal City's not exactly known as a happening destination. But the growing number of tech companies arriving in the neighborhood changed his mind. "There's a younger feeling on the streets," Bayne says. "I'm seeing more people in their 20s and 30s." Highline was supposed to open last fall, but there were construction delays, including "taking out an entire wall to make the window wall, which took a while," Bayne says. "There were a lot of moving parts."
If all goes well, Highline will serve its first guests on Monday, Feb. 2. Here's what you need to know about the new arrival.
The entrance to Highline involves climbing two long flights of stairs, designed to evoke climbing up to train tracks. (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)
Yes, it's designed to evoke that other Highline.
Since Highline is on the second floor of its building, most customers will climb a tall set of stairs before entering the bar. (There's also an elevator.) The staircase walls are covered in weathered tin, found in an old Virginia tobacco farm, to create the illusion that "you're climbing the staircase to a highline," Bayne says. Paintings by D.C. street artist Kelly Towles, including a caricature of an engineer, cover the walls. Once you're inside, recycled furniture and decorations abound: windows from a disused Philadelphia warehouse hang behind the main bar, which is fronted with reclaimed wood; tables are topped with wood from bowling lanes; the front "window wall room" is filled with vintage beer garden tables. One nod to the 21st century: There are numerous electrical outlets along the bar fronts for phone charging or to plug in a laptop.
There's a stage, but …
Some of the early buzz about Highline was that it would be a music venue. The owners did apply for a permit allowing live entertainment. But while they received permission, and the bar has a stage and sound system, you might not see a band when you show up. "We don't mess with music too much [at other Bedrock venues]," Bayne says. "We're going to let the people of Crystal City tell us what they want. We don't know if they want bands, or if they want DJs and dancing. We want to be able to adjust and pivot." The only booking so far is for a band at Highline's Fat Tuesday party.
The Highline team is soliciting ideas through its Web site, highlinerxr.com, Bayne says, so you should write in if you're interested in supporting live music. Bayne says the response so far has been "a huge desire for something new and cool, that's not a chain restaurant. We've gotten 'Please have a great happy hour.' 'Please have craft beer.'"
Current entertainment plans include a weekly trivia night with District Trivia, which runs the games at sister bars Buffalo Billiards, Penn Social and Carpool.
Highline's front bar receives an abundance of natural light. The windows slide open in warm weather. (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)
Look for craft beer, draft wine and plenty of whiskey.
The custom-built draft system has 22 beers and two ciders on tap, plus four red and white wines. The selection will be heavy on craft beer, with a strong Virginia component, though you'll also find Stella Artois or Negro Modelo for the more casual drinker. (Craft fans might want to head for the front room, where eight special taps will have "rare and limited" beers not available at the main bar.)
Abby Sexton, formerly of Mockingbird Hill, put together the beverage program, and she promises there will be at least 38 bourbons, ryes and Scotches, including some specially ordered varieties that aren't easily available in Virginia, thanks to the state's alcohol laws. "I want to get beyond Macallan and Glenfiddich, though we'll obviously have those," she says. Each week, a different selection of whiskies will be discounted to encourage sampling.
Unusually for Bedrock, Highline will also have a cocktail program, overseen by Sexton, with a mix of "some craft cocktails and some classic cocktails. I don't want to adhere to any one approach." She envisions putting a traditional Hemingway Daiquiri on the menu next to a Paloma variation that uses grapefruit-flavored Stiegl Radler instead of the usual grapefruit soda.
It's not just a bar.
Because it's across the street from the Crystal Tech Fund, which hosts and invests in startups, Highline is going to open early to sell coffee and snacks. The ambitious coffee program will feature beans from D.C. roaster Zeke's, with a cold brew on tap, two different single origins coffees and one blend, with the selection changing every few months. "We have 150 tech entrepaneurs across the street," Bayne says. "We want to let them get out of the office, drink coffee and get work done."
For fuel, the menu consists primarily of sandwiches and snacks at the moment: Think beer and cheese soup, BLTs and bacon nuts (a mix of seasoned walnuts, pecans and almonds cooked with bacon.) Healthy options include salads and veggie dishes, including a few vegan items. Food specials will launch four to six weeks after the bar opens, and provisionally include Taco Tuesday and a weekly fried chicken offering to go with the bourbon deals.
Highline's front room, with its "wall of windows" is separated from the main bar by a wall of glass doors. (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)
You might not see any TVs, but they're there.
Bayne is not a huge fan of TVs behind a bar just showing SportsCenter or a news channel, even though he's a proponent of watching sports on large screens. At the same time, he says, "You can never have a TV off in a bar. Customers always ask to put something on." Driven by the desire to "control the ambiance" at Highline, Bayne has a novel solution. The bar has four six-foot high-definition projection screens, and one eight-foot high-definition screen, all of which are retractable. They're lowered for big sporting events, and disappear when the game's over.
Looking for something to do besides staring at a screen? There are free board games to borrow, and a selection of arcade games, ranging from Ms. Pac-Man to Terminator: Salvation.
Highline RxR, 2010 Crystal Dr., Arlington. www.highlinerxr.com.