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Reese Gardner on Copperwood Tavern's First, Dog-Friendly Year

Welcome back to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one year anniversary.

Reese Gardner
Reese Gardner
Sophie Pyle/Official

To say that Reese Gardner has had a big year would be an understatement. In addition to celebrating the one year anniversary of his Shirlington hot-spot Copperwood Tavern, he just announced plans for a second location of the tavern in Ashburn. Just in case that's not keeping him busy enough, Georgetown residents are eagerly awaiting the opening of Orange Anchor on the waterfront next month, and the NoMa neighborhood will see a new fine-dining restaurant from Gardner called Union Social later this year.

For this edition of One Year In, Eater DC chatted with Gardner about his loyalty to Shirlington, the design concept behind Copperwood Tavern and the importance of cool windows and customer freebies on the one-year anniversary.

How did you come up with the concept, both design and menu, behind Cooperwood Tavern? It seems to be a mixture of Irish pub meets "down south" cuisine.

People ask me this all the time, actually, and it's kind of a combination of all of my favorite places and restaurants. Blue Duck Tavern has always been one of my go to spots because of the scratch kitchen, Bourbon Steak is on my weekly list of places I eat because I love the menu design, service and quality of the dishes. Add in places like the Quill in the Jefferson which I feel has the best cocktails around and ChurchKey because they do beer the best.  Combine those four spots, add some Lydia Mountain charm topped with some Moonshine and that's Copperwood.  That may only make sense in my brain, by the way.

Copperwood Tavern is your first upscale venture into Virginia. Why the decision to cross the Potomac (after Wilson's closed)?

I've lived in the Shirlington Village for almost 15 years and have been a patron at just about all of the establishments on a regular basis. I knew that there was a want for a concept like Copperwood and it was just a waiting game for a space to open. It was also me being selfish because it's truly my dream spot in this perfect little dog-loving community.

Why did you choose Shirlington Village for Copperwood? Are you surprised at the success of Copperwood in an area so densely populated by restaurants?

Like I mentioned before, it's the perfect demographic of people who love great food, cocktails, beer and wine. Plus their outdoorsy, dog-loving nature is a a perfect match for the concept.

Do you notice any difference between your customer base in Shirlington versus Washington D.C.?

There are subtle differences, but nothing too outlandish. Mostly it's people trying to adjust to a higher price point because the "farm to table/ scratch kitchen concept" is new to the village. I think we've done a great job educating our costumers on why ticket times are a little longer or things are just simply seasoned.

If you could change one thing about Copperwood Tavern, what would it be?

Store front and window technology gets cooler and cooler every year and I would love to redo the front in all large window panels that open up.

Will there be any big changes to the bar program in Copperwood's second year?

No, we really feel that our bar program was a huge success this year. We will be doing some more barrel aged cocktails and some infusions now that the liquor laws have changed, but our seasonal approach has been a hit with patrons.

Are you planning anything special for the Copperwood 1 year anniversary? Maybe something special for your team as well as customers?

We are doing free small bites and champagne all day for our customers [on Monday, Oct. 6], and I'm very proud to say that almost 100 percent of our staff is still here. I'm sure there will be some checks written because with out them there would be no Copperwood.

—Shayla Martin

Copperwood Tavern

4021 Campbell Ave. Arlington, Va.


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