The latest product of M Street’s constant turnover rate of shops and restaurants is the new Bar à Vin, a discreetly located wine bar near the waterfront at 1035 31st St. NW. With no noticeable sign outside the establishment, Bar à Vin is attached to Chez Billy Sud, the beloved French eatery that opened just last year. Despite its hidden location, Bar à Vin excels with its extensive drinks selection, warm atmosphere and impressive food menu.
As suspected from its name, Bar a Vin’s interior and menu draw strong inspiration from France. It has a dim — though very elegant — interior of dark wood panels, bricks and old-fashioned wallpaper. The chandeliers hanging from the ceilings, candles on the tables and the fireplace surrounded by cozy armchairs bathe the bar in warm light.
The bar menu includes an extensive wine list of mostly French imports, with whites, reds, roses and champagnes by the glass. In addition to the wine, Bar à Vin offers a short — mostly French and Belgian — beer list, traditional French aperitifs and a cocktail list, many of which are gin-based. To complement the drinks, there is also an accompanying food menu featuring hors d’oeuvres, fromages and charcuteries — cured meats.
On a Tuesday evening, the 50-seat bar was about half-full, mostly with professionals either in groups or by themselves enjoying a drink. My friend and I were certainly the youngest clients. The menu prices also reflected this older clientele, as the prices were much steeper than those of a typical college student’s budget. Nevertheless, the quality of the offerings did not disappoint.
We ordered a plate of smoked duck prosciutto ($10) and a plate of la cachet ($9), a “provencal goat cheese, honey, olive oil, lavash” cheese that our server recommended. The meat and cheese came with bread, and we each paired the food with a glass of red wine. I ordered the 2011 Domaine de la Côte de l’Ange from the Côtes du Rhône region of France ($13) while my friend ordered a 2011 Pascal Granger Gamay Noir from Beaujolais ($9).
The food came first. We indulged in a plate of eight thick slices of prosciutto, four pieces of bread, a small bowl of crackers and the goat cheese, which had a soft, hummus-like consistency. The prosciutto was fresh, soft and somewhat chewy with a mild smoky flavor. However, the highlight was definitely the goat cheese, which made a very nice medium between meat and bread as a spread. It had a slightly sweet flavor from the seasoning without overpowering the taste of the fresh goat cheese.
My friend and I agreed that our glasses of wine were both excellent, even though the quantities were far from generous. Having studied abroad last semester in Lyon, France, I often drank Côtes du Rhône wine from the region, but the glass I had at Bar à Vin was probably better — albeit more expensive — than any of the Côtes du Rhône wine I drank at restaurants or bought in grocery stores while I was there. The wine was very dark red — though smooth in the mouth — with fruity undertones and a note of sweetness. My friend described the Beaujolais as being slightly spicy, not very dry and containing a somewhat acidic aroma.
Afterwards, I also decided to try one of the European beers. I initially opted for the Brouwerji Van Steenerge draft wit (wheat) Belgian beer ($7). However, the server quickly returned to inform me that the tap was not working, and instead offered a bottle of a similar wit beer ($7) that was not on the menu. The beer was a soft amber color and had a fairly light taste, which left me desiring a heavier Belgian beer after the rich wine and meat. However, the beer menu seemed to be dominated by light beers and did not leave many options for darker flavors. With the limited selection and apparent problem with the tap, customers would probably be wiser to sticking to Bar à Vin’s specialty of wine. It is additionally noteworthy that Bar à Vin offers a few selections of wine flights and several pages of bottles. Yet, with prices starting around $30, my friend and I decided just to stick to single glasses.
While the prices are obviously not the cheapest in town, Bar à Vin offers very high quality wine and small plates in an impressive setting. Thus, for students above 21 seeking a more refined alternative to the typical Georgetown options, this wine bar provides a sophisticated setting for a get-together with friends, a sure way to impress on a date or even a calm place to go study with a nice glass of wine.
For anyone looking to expand their wine palette, it is definitely one of the best locations in the neighborhood, if not all of D.C.