Service Bar co-owner Chad Spangler thought the casual cocktail bar on U Street NW would shelve its plans to collaborate on a fried chicken sandwich with A Rake’s Progress chef Opie Crooks while D.C. enforces a dine-in ban to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. But a quick-turnaround decision to let bars sell to-go drinks has been a bit of a saving grace, and Service Bar has been sending out 32-ounce al pastor margaritas and saffron gin and tonics anyway, so Spangler decided to start selling the Opie’s sandwich last night.
Crooks, who leads Spike Gjerde’s wood-burning Mid-Atlantic restaurant in the Line hotel, came up with a sandwich that covers the chicken in a hot sauce butter made out of butter, cream cheese, and the “Snake Oil” sauce from Woodberry Kitchen that’s made from aged fish peppers. The sandwich ($12) also gets dressed in chile oil, herby buttermilk dressing, dill pickles, and greens. Crooks was supposed to bake sweet potato brioche rolls for the sandwich, too, but restaurants wanted to limit their interaction right now, so it comes on a sesame seed bun.
Customers can order it online for takeout or free delivery (within a 1.5-mile radius) seven days a week from 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. The sandwich is the third iteration of a rotating “FRIED” series that started with Kevin Tien’s Sichuan hot chicken sandwich and revived a doughnut chicken sandwich from Salt Line Chef Kyle Bailey and Buttercream Bakeshop’s Tiffany MacIsaac.
To-go cocktails include quarts of burnt orange sours ($50) and spicy palomas ($45). Tropical drinks are the top sellers right now, and Spangler theorizes that people are looking for an escape. He emphasizes that the bar’s ability to churn out high volumes of fresh juice, and to clarify juices, brings cocktail aficionados a service they can’t perform at home.
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The Margarita Al Pastor is BACK (Along w/t Spicy Paloma ) for all the tequila lovers out there! Order one today for pick-up or delivery . . . . @hatchetteats . . . #servicebardc #acreativedc #cocktailsofinstagram #bythingsdc #dcbars #imbibegram #eaterdc #dcdrinking #edibledc #cocktailbar #dancing #music #worldsbestbars #bestbars #igdc #drinkstagram #snuglife #sbdc #neighborhoodbar #bartendersofinstagram #tastethisnext #cocktailoftheday #dcbartenders #cocktailery #tomfoolery #punchdrink #thingstododc #driiiiinks
Service Bar is continuing to operate in an attempt to break even and pay its employees a “survival rate,” Spangler says. A huge amount of D.C. bars and restaurants are doing the same, but several high-profile places have shut down completely, insisting that running any kind of business is too risky for employees and customers who could potentially catch COVID-19. Spangler says continuing to serve drinks and bar snacks also helps people on both sides of the counter find some relief and enjoyment while nonessential businesses and on-site dining shut down for at least another month.
“If you feel like you’re not doing something of value and something of worth, it can really tread on you,” Spangler says.
“Now that it doesn’t really look like the end is in sight, I think we all need some new exciting stuff in the food world to experience anyway,” he adds.
The 3-year-old bar has paid off its investors, Spangler says, and applied for a small business microgrant from D.C.’s $25 million emergency fund. Spangler has been performing whatever managerial duties from home after recovering from symptoms he suspects were related to COVID-19 (fever, coughing, intense body aches). He’s now appearing in YouTube videos for Service Bar that offer mixology lessons and directs viewers to a PayPal link for an employee relief fund.
“Staying open just so we could break even and pay our employees is worth it to me,” Spangler says. “We’re losing money right now. I don’t think if things continue the way they are we’re going to do this very long.”