Saying “Goodbye” to “The Brick”

18 12 2010

Photo credit: WTOP.com

Today is a sad day for beer drinkers everywhere, especially me. It is the final day of The Brickskeller, that venerable Washington DC institution and mecca for beer lovers everywhere. After more than 54 years, The Brick (as it is lovingly called by its fans) will close its doors for the final time.

The Washington Post has a very good update and interview with its owner, Dave Alexander. It is an especially sad day for me. I worked at The Brickskeller for almost a year. And it is what inspired this blog. I met some of my best friends there (both human and beer alike) and I am so very sad to see it go.

Depending on whether or not you believe the hyperbole, the Brickskeller helped set the tone for modern beer culture. They claim to have been the first to host beer tastings in the late 1980’s and their final tasting was last week. They claim to have given such young upstarts as Sam from Dogfish Head the boost up they needed to become great. And nearly every beer bar on the Eastern Seaboard has at least one alumnus of The Brick on their Staff. Greg Engert of Churchkey DC is one of the most famous of the former Brick employees. His quotes have been in the Washington Post, The New York Times and on NPR. He once said that he respected The Brickskeller for being a “liquid library” teaching him everything he knows about beer. I would agree. After one year working at the Brick, I still had not tasted everything on the menu (the largest in the world according to the Guinness World Records), though I tried my damnedest.

There are a lot of reasons why the Brick went under. And I am sure no one knows exactly why. It would be easy to blame the slow economy. Others would blame mismanagement by the owners. I would like to think the Brick was done-in by its own success. When I moved to Washington DC in 2007, there were very few bars with a quality beer list. You could find some places with a couple good beers on tap. And most liquor stores and corner stores would carry the usual macrobrews. But by the time I left earlier this year, a new restaurant or bar was not taken seriously unless it had at least a dozen beers on tap. And they all had to be quality. Churchkey, with its over 30 beers on tap and six cask ales was hailed for its list. Pizza Paradiso had a beer list longer than their pizza menu. The Black Squirrel has worked to become the third brewpub in DC. The Biergarten on H St. has over a dozen German beers on tap. Meridian Pint only serves American craftbrew. And that doesn’t even count the dozens of new bars and others that have stepped up their game since I have left. Corner stores, liquor stores and grocery stores have all picked up their game as well. It is common now to find Magic Hat, Dogfish Head, and Flying Dog replacing tall boys and 40s in up and coming neighborhoods. All this in less than 3 years. When I first started at The Brick in November of 2009, DC was considered a “beer wasteland” that was starting to “get better” by a visiting brewer. By the time I left in the following Summer, Ken Grossman of Sierra Nevada said that DC was a “world class beer city”. Greg Koch of Stone concurred by adding “no city in California has the quantity and quality of beer that DC does.”

And so, it is with a heavy heart, I say “goodbye” to the “Brick”. The new owners have promised to keep it as a beer bar with a trimmed down menu and an improved ambiance. But the name stays with the Alexander family. I wish them the best of luck and toast the loss of a good friend.

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