There are bars, and there are burgers, and there are bars that serve burgers. And then there are "burger bars." Confused yet?
While just about any bar or pub can serve up a drink and a burger, the ones that can lay claim to being experts in both are harder to find. In fact, despite the ever-expanding burger scene in the Washington, D.C. area, up until last year, there was just one restaurant here that fell into this very specific category.
Georgetown's Thunder Burger and Bar is the veteran on the block, specializing in both booze and burgers since it opened its doors in 2010. On the surface, the rock-and-roll themed Thunder may appear to be just another bar that also happens to serve burgers, but executive chef Ryan Fichter says it's a lot more than that.
"Other bars don't focus on burgers," Fichter tells Eater. "We do. And not just original
hamburgers." Though Thunder's most popular orders — Pig in a Cow Suit, Ventura Highway and its eponymous burger — are all beef, Fichter's lineup goes well beyond the cow. "Our focus is on gourmet meats in patty form," he says. Veal, boar, elk and bison burgers are evidence of that, as well as the potpourri of game dishes available during Thunder's "Wild Wednesday" promotion. Featuring a new creation each week, some of Fichter's past specials have included kangaroo, ostrich and venison burgers.
But just as important to Thunder's success as the food is the bar, says Fichter. "We're as successful as we are because of craft beer." A reflection of that fact, Thunder has a total of 23 tap lines and another 20 available bottles. "My favorite is a Thunder Burger paired with a Dogfish 60 Minute," he says. "The beer doesn't overpower the beef and vice versa. It's refreshing."
While Thunder's burger focus is on a variety of meat, Arlington's two-month-old Citizen Burger Bar puts the emphasis almost exclusively on beef. With a compact selection of seven speciality burgers, all of Citizen's creations use nearby Timbercreek Farms grass-fed cows which the restaurant proudly trumpets with 13 mentions of it on its menu. "I wanted to stay true to a burger," owner Andy McClure says of the all-beef lineup.
And unlike most other restaurants (burger bars or otherwise) Citizen offers up more than one way to prepare the beef. In addition to the half-pound, flame-grilled options, the Mini and Big Mini use quarter-pound, griddle-smashed patties instead.
But why burgers? McClure, who also owns three other restaurants in the Charlottesville area, says it all comes down to good old U.S. of A. eating. "American food is the best genre. It's approachable, successful, casual, easy," he says. So when coming up with a concept back in 2012, he asked himself, "How do you turn that into something extraordinary?" And thus, Citizen Burger Bar was born.
On the bar side, Citizen, like Thunder, is beer-focused with more than 110 bottles and cans available plus a rotating 10-beer draft selection. "That's one of our mottos," says McClure. "Burgers. Beer. And ballgames."
Another new entry into the D.C. burger bar scene is Plan B Burger Bar, which opened on Pennsylvania Avenue last November. It could be argued that Connecticut-based Plan B is the epitome of the concept, with a 21-burger selection that eclipses both Thunder and Citizen and a bar inventory that trumps many other, non-burger-centric watering holes.
With 14 rotating taps ("Everything is an 87 or higher on Beer Advocate," says manager Chris Sollom) and 50 bottles and cans, the beer lineup is impressive but its bourbon selection is even more so. The ever-changing lineup of spirits is 120 bottles deep and for special events, Sollom says it gets better, "We've got three bottles of Pappy that we're waiting to break out for the right occasion."
Despite the tripling of D.C.-area burger bar concepts in the past six months, it doesn't appear the saturation point for them has yet been reached. Plan B has already announced another location for Loudoun set to come later this year, the burger-and-wine-bar hybrid Zinburger hopes to open in Springfield Town Center this fall, and Philadelphia's PYT is targeting the area for expansion as well.