Chevy Chase drinkers can now saddle up to a dimly-lit streetcar bar to sip Prohibition-era cocktails as Al Capone looks on from above. Turncoat, the last piece of the Heights food hall project, is only accessed through an outside door tagged with a tiny emblem (5406 Wisconsin Avenue, Chevy Chase, Maryland).
“A little bit of mystery, but not enough that people can’t find it,” says Chad Sparrow, founder of Common Plate Hospitality. “The Chevy Chase neighborhood is a bit lacking in bar options, and we’d like to bring the speakeasy experience to the neighborhood.”
Once inside the hidden hideaway, Turncoat evokes the 1920s with murals of infamous gangsters like Capone and Charles “Lucky” Luciano, a bar resembling a real Rock Creek Railway streetcar, golden decor embracing the grandeur of the era, and custom cages filled with a curated selection of liquor bottles. Turncoat operates Wednesday to Sunday from 5 p.m. until midnight, which isn’t that late by speakeasy standards but certainly is for Chevy Chase.
“When we originally did lease on the food hall, we didn’t realize this area was included,” he says, of the former PF Chang’s bar behind the kitchen. “Immediately it struck us that it was perfect for a speakeasy-style space.”
Turncoat pays homage to the neighborhood’s racy past, when street cars used to tow around illegal booze up and down Connecticut Avenue NW. “We zeroed in on that and designed our bar based on actual pictures,” says Sparrow.
As for the name, rumor has it that railway conductors may have used a subtle “coat-turning” signal to discreetly offer prohibited purchases. The railcars’ storied legacy manifests in the form of a train ticket for a menu and names of drinks and food.
Common Plate beverage director Dan Marlowe turns to spirits of that time to create a list of throwback cocktails. As an ode to bygone bathtub gin, Turncoat fills a mini claw-footed tub with gin and (tonic) foam to riff on soapy bathwater.
The Red Carpet plays with a torch and Tenth Ward absinthe atomizer, while the Tranquility Cup combines Suntory Toki whisky with root spice syrup and lemon juice. The show-stopping Black Gold, made with Virginia Highlands single-malt whisky, is complemented with chocolate bitters, pure maple syrup, and a gold foam rim.
The full bar also sells beer and wine, as well as no-booze options. Cocktails are priced $16-$19, beers average $8, and wines range from $10-$20 a glass, with bottles available for $40 and up.
The lounge compliments drinks with rich bar bites, including a “Sleep With the Fishes” order of wonton tuna tacos, “Run a Fowl” crispy chicken thigh sliders, foie gras and duck fat-buttered popcorn, deviled eggs with candied pork belly and caviar, and New England-style lobster rolls.
The attached Heights food hall opened first in December, granting the historically sleepy upper Northwest neighborhood an influx of lunch and dinner options all at once. Anchoring the food hall is the third location of Urbano, Common Plate’s sit-down Tex-Mex eatery in Merrifield and Old Town. The Heights bar up front joins eight stalls serving a variety of offerings, from local favorites to brand new eateries.
Lauded chef Kevin Tien, who just reopened his modern Vietnamese restaurant Moon Rabbit in Penn Quarter, sends out sushi, nigiri, and crudos at Doki Doki. The second location of Union Market’s Yasmine also finds a home here, serving kebabs, shawarma, spreads, and dips. DC Dosa, a casual South Indian stall with dosas and all sorts of fillings, also expands from Union Market to the Heights.
This Deli of Ours, a sandwich counter with cheesesteaks, Italian subs, and pastrami on rye, comes from Sparrow and Common Plate. Mimi’s Handmade Ice Cream and Supreme BBQ, for Texas-style barbecue with Filipino influences, are also present.
Rounding out the vendors are the winners of Sparrow’s “Stall Wars” competition — Miami-styled snack bar Saoco and Thai street food stall Sky Lantern with drunken short rib lo mein, salmon poke, and rice bowls.
Common Plate is looking to expand seating with a year-round patio. The Heights hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.