Today, I am in Midtown and walking quickly down J Street toward Ninth. I am paying a visit to the folks at Blackbird Kitchen + Beer Gallery, to see how the re-opening is coming along.
Unexpectedly, I well up with anticipation. I strangely feel like I am going to see a friend that left town abruptly and without explanation. The kind of friend that is enigmatic and knows all of your vices. The Dr. Gonzo to my Raoul Duke-too weird to live, and too rare to die. So with that, my emotions are a mix of curiosity, desire and a bit of danger. I wonder to myself how the restaurant may have changed.
Approaching the door, everything appears as usual aside from a banner covering the entry, reading: “Neighborhood Eats” & “50 Beers On Tap”. Judging from the signage the restaurant has changed, indeed. Where before, the concept had an edginess that was unapologetic. Now it seems there is a peaceful compromise. This is not to say that the original concept has been dumbed down. Quite the opposite. The general theme is elevation, by exciting and perhaps educating the beer and cider lovers in this town. The pumped up bar menu has items that pair well with the suds, such as an Oyster Po’Boy, a Grilled Steak Sandwich and a Burger with “Awesome Sauce”. I was a bit fearful that Carina’s seafood mojo had been subjugated but I had no need to fret. Her lovely bits from the sea are still represented nicely, with mouth pleasers such as Seared Arctic Char, Penn Cove Mussels–and YES, she’s still making her mythical Chowder!
As I walk through the doors, I quickly scan the room for any changes. I notice they are subtle yet deliberate. Before, when looking in from the street, Blackbird appeared to be an upscale bar. Now, the lower level has a long bank of upholstered benches lining the right side of the room accompanied by small tables topped with redwood, creating a more welcoming vibe for both imbibers and diners alike. The bar is still intact with the addition of a gorgeous slab of gray quartz that has been sandblasted with the recognizable Blackbird exodus. This will be home to the 50 California-centric beer taps that will rotate on the regular. The old raw bar will feature the 6+ ciders on tap. And at the very back of the space there are two community tables crafted by Rob Risucci. The tops made from the wood of the Claro walnut tree and one that is native to Northern California. Artist Matt Brown is creating and procuring the art for the space, and has his own studio in the basement of the restaurant. I got a quick tour and it was cool and frightening simultaneously, with artists’ apparatus everywhere and a projected movie of barbies using a can of S.Pellegrino as stripper pole-I think. After a photo with a pair of gilded deer antlers on my head we went upstairs to partake in family dinner. Lobster and wine.
Get your first look at the (new) Blackbird in our photo gallery below: