Bar Pilar sailed into 2023 with a fresh cast of dishes and drinks that speak to Ernest Hemingway’s worldwide travels, notably his time spent sailing around the Mediterranean and Havana in the 1900s.
Named after the literary legend’s treasured boat, Bar Pilar opened over a decade ago when its now-nightlife strip was pretty desolate (1833 14th Street NW). Its longtime executive chef-partner Jesse Miller helped put the Logan Circle gastropub on the map before parting ways in 2019 to open Pennyroyal Station in Mount Rainier, Maryland.
Bar Pilar’s latest owners RNJS Hospitality Group turned to talent from downtown’s Eaton hotel to perform a menu makeover and re-energize the nautical destination for comfort foods and strong rum drinks.
Deke Dunne, beverage director at acclaimed speakeasy Allegory, consulted on the cocktails. And Adam Shata, an alum of chef Matt Baker’s lobby-level eatery Michele’s, designed the food.
Whereas the previous menu iteration honored Hemingway’s travels across Asia via bao buns and Thai mussels swimming in lemongrass broth, the reboot streamlines attention to the author’s traipses around Europe and Cuba.
There’s naturally a meaty Cubano, with a vegetarian counterpart engineered with on-trend braised jackfruit alongside Swiss cheese, pickles, and dijon (with the option to add turkey ham).
Other highlights include beef tartare dressed with truffle oil, Caribbean-styled shrimp skewers, mango shrimp or octopus ceviche, grilled rib-eye with chimichurri, koji-cured patatas bravas, and fried rockfish atop wild rice.
Cocktails celebrate spirits from the same countries Hemingway lived (and gratuitously imbibed) in. The Italian-influenced “The Good Lion,” billed as an Americano meets a Negroni, includes Hapusa Himalayan gin, Martini & Rossi Blend, Solerno blood orange, cardamom and soda.
The boozy “American in Paris” takes tips from the Sazerac, built with rye whiskey, ODVI Armagnac, grapefruit, herbs de Provence, and absinthe. Pilar’s Rum Blend, distilled by Hemingway Rum Co. in his main Key West home base, is the base for a daiquiri and Cuba Libre. Nitro espresso martinis are spiked with aged rum (or vodka) and Mr. Black Coffee and Faretti Biscotti liqueurs.
Bubbles from France and Spain, offered by the glass ($12-$22) and bottle ($48-$88), are listed on the menu near an appropriate Hemingway quote: “If I have any money, I can’t think of any better way of spending money than on Champagne.” Brunch with bottomless sparkling cocktails runs noon to 4 p.m.