The owners of Bar Pilar are cashing out of their Hemingway-themed mainstay on 14th Street in order to focus their attention on their next project just across the Maryland border.
Erin Edwards and executive chef Jesse Miller have teamed up with Passion Food Hospitality alum Garrick Lumsden on an all-day comfort food spot called Pennyroyal Station, which will open in Mount Rainier, Maryland, by late spring or early summer.
Edwards and Miller are handing over Bar Pilar to the RNJS Hospitality Group that owns months-old Union District Oyster Bar & Lounge in NoMa. RNJS plans to acquire the business and grow the brand as part of a deal expected to close over the next 30 days.
The new ownership group is expected to rename Bar Pilar to just “Pilar.” RNJS will also have access to two unused floors above the two-story venue. Those could turn into two separate new ventures.
“We are very excited to keep the same patrons, staff, and integrity of Bar Pilar,” says Nate Perry, a Washington resident for 16 years. “14th Street is amazing — it’s one of our all-inclusive neighborhoods of all genres, genders, races and backgrounds. A place where everyone comes to visit.”
Perry says business will likely continue as usual while the current shell spaces are renovated over the next year. RNJS is also taking feedback from Bar Pilar’s staff to change the look of the existing bar, which will get more of an open format in the front.
“We are hoping to keep the bar trendy [with] all ages, great brunch, and food,” says Perry, who’s close to naming a new chef for a refurbished menu. “Our first concern is it’s a seamless and non-affecting transition for employees to make sure they don’t miss a paycheck.”
Meanwhile, Pennyroyal Station is preparing to open in a refurbished 1920s-era property at 3310 Rhode Island Avenue. The long-delayed project, which involved a time-intensive overhaul of a V-shaped property, has been teasing diners with a “coming soon” status since 2017.
Examples of the hearty plates planned for Pennyroyal Station include fried chicken biscuits stuffed with ham as well as chanterelle mushroom manicotti topped with black truffles. One of the appetizers in the works is a plate of crab deviled eggs with Old Bay and pickled corn.
In 2013, Miller took over the kitchen at Bar Pilar from Justin Bittner, his best friend whom he first met while working at Elkridge Furnace Inn.
Bar Pilar has always prioritized drinks. But its devotion to creative small plates — soft, melty “cheesy poofs” and sesame dip with house chips, for example — has kept the spot relevant in dining circles despite the influx of competition between Logan Circle and U Street NW.
“We put money into getting it going after it expanded to the second floor, but now we are moving on,” says Edwards, who partnered with Miller to buy the bar from its original owners. “It seems the smartest thing to do is pass on the torch.”
Their next venture took way longer than planned. Getting permits for the old building was a long process. The nearly century-old site has sat empty for 20 years.
“It’s a total rehash and had to go through special requirements that’s taken longer in the final stages,” Edwards says.
The new neighborhood spot will serve breakfast, lunch, and dinner out of a basement kitchen. The space, which seats 73 inside, is a combination of two old buildings. There are 60 seats on a patio facing where a trolley station used to be. One building, which will house the bar, was a former bank. The other will encompass the dining room. The partners are trying to retain its original vintage and rustic industrial design by keeping distressed walls in place.
“They’re works of art on their own,” Edwards says. “The building itself has so much character.”
Pennyroyal’s neighborhood was founded by landscapers from Seattle, hence the name Mount Ranier. The pennyroyal is Washington state’s flower and blooms specifically in the mountainous region. The flower won’t serve as the inspiration behind any menu items; the bud can be poisonous if ingested.
Miller, who studied art in a former life, is creating a series of paintings for the space that are inspired by old street cars. Bittner, who moonlights as a woodworker, is making the tables and furniture.