Come here for the ambiance. If you’re trying to run away from the real (rainy) world (or at least distance yourself), this is perfect hiding spot with sandwiches and booze. It’s not exactly a speakeasy (as nothing about it is secret), but it is tucked behind a deli freezer door—and that’s just fun to tell people about once you’ve gone.
I don’t know why, but the idea of the modern-day speakeasy gets me going. Like I want to walk into a bathroom stall, flush the toilet, and watch the wall shift to reveal a clandestine and classy craft cocktail bar full of well-dressed, well-mannered individuals (to be clear: I knew flushing the toilet would do this, so my pants are on, and I’m also well-dressed—the best dressed, honestly—in this fictional scenario).
I haven’t (yet) found a speakeasy like that one, but I won’t stop looking. When I heard there was a speakeasy behind a freezer door in a delicatessen that I regularly pass on my way to the grocery store, I had to see it for myself.
It was very unclear whether I needed to make a reservation to get behind that door at By the Pound in Capitol Hill. My friend who had already seen this “secret” bar said she just walked up to a door guy and was let in pretty much immediately. But online reviews mentioned making a reservation, and receiving a code for entry (wow, #exclusive)—and I was bringing a party of six on a Friday night, so I thought, better be safe than deal later with feelings of FOMO. I called, spoke to a friendly gentlemen who confirmed my reservation for two hours later, and received no password (#deflated).
Money Score: Okay
Much like you’d expect in a Prohibition-era-themed bar, the cocktails are pricey. I enjoyed a Ren McCormick, a bourbon-based cocktail that was delicious, but for $15, I want it to be so good, I’d bath in the drink. I’ll keep filling my tub with water for now.
Depending on the food you order, it’s pretty reasonable. Get the best bang for your buck during happy hour. From 6-7 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, enjoy $6 drinks and food. Considering these cocktails pack a serious punch, at this price you can certainly “battle the demons of your nine to five” like the menu suggests.
Consciousness Score: Okay
The menu mentions “locally sourced food,” but there aren’t any other details beyond that. By the Pound does have an all-gender bathroom, however, and while no one deserves points/cookies for doing the most sensical thing in 2018, I’m just happy we can all pee in peace (inclusivity is where it’s at).
If you pay attention to the news clippings wallpapering the bar, you’ll see RuPaul, Tupac, Toni Morrison, Prince, Kurt Vonnegut, Jack Kerouac—a good mix of revolutionaries, rebels, humanitarians and luminaries to spark intellectual, progressive conversations.
‘All the Feels’ Score: Good
Part of the downgrade in the score here is that it’s not really a secret bar. You can make reservations online through OpenTable, and there’s a (freezer)door guy. If I hadn’t known about it, I would have turned to this guy upon ordering a sandwich, and said, “yo what’s with manning that freezer; I’m sure your perishables aren’t going anywhere.” To which, I’m sure, he would have told me about the bar because it’s no secret.
Once you open the door, it does reveal a cozy nook lined with bound books (one next to me titled, “How Not to Die” caught my eye…), art deco chandeliers and beautiful bar stocked with lots of liquor. I do love that they played hip hop music in the background at a comfortable volume for booth dancing and maintaining conversation without having to yell. That’s hard to achieve.
There are only a few booths and a bar for seating, which did feel a little exclusive, but considering how easy it was to make the reservation on a Friday night, I’m guessing they aren’t slammed with guests. Many patrons stood around or near the bar (is this for the people who don’t make reservations?) and lingered a little too close to our table.
You know what really impressed me? (Spoiler alert!) There’s an actual secret room in this “secret” bar behind a false bookcase. My party caught glimpses of a group back there. How does one get back there? What does it look like? I’ll report back when I find out.
I was disappointed that my un-fig-and-brie-lievable sandwich (I said it aloud three times to the server who did not seem impressed with my impeccable pronunciation) didn’t automatically come with any side for $11, but it was large and loaded with black forest ham, tangy fig jam, creamy brie, and served warm, so it hit the spot.
You can order salad by the pound, so a small portion of the Brussels Wilson salad (a friend said it was underwhelming) and loaded potato salad (two people in my group enjoyed this!) is about $4 and $2.50, respectively.