Bar Pilar: Raising the Bar

I remember the first time I strapped my now 24-year-old son into a car seat and drove to the mall. It was exhilarating to discover that I could still have a life, even if all that meant was the freedom to shop.  I was raising the bar, even if the bar wasn’t very high.

I was reminded of that feeling the other night when I hopped on the metro all by myself to meet a friend for dinner downtown.  Times have changed.  I now have to call my son to ask which stop is closest to my destination, since he’s far more experienced on the metro than I am.

It’s easy to get complacent in suburbia.  I like to come home after work, particularly on a dark cold night in February and get cozy in front of the TV.  But I fight the urge and head to Bar Pilar, in the 14th and U Street corridor of DC.  As soon as I step off the U Street Metro stop I am actually proud of myself, as I join the throng of mostly twenty-somethings, urban professionals, and city dwellers.

Bar Pilar has been on my list for a long time. When I’m in the area on a Saturday night or going to the theater with a group, other restaurants have taken precedence.  However, it becomes the perfect destination for meeting a friend for a casual weeknight dinner.

I have eaten at my share of small plates restaurants lately.  Most of them have focused on Mediterranean or Middle Eastern food.  Bar Pilar features American food, which is a refreshing change. I particularly like the small plates concept with two people.  You can share a few dishes AND enjoy something all to yourself.  It’s the best of both worlds.

Our 6:30 dinner means that we can take advantage of happy hour.  I am definitely happy about paying $4 for a glass of wine.

I like the feel of Bar Pilar. There are exposed brick walls and an eclectic mix of decorative items.  I recognize the fact that its early, and I would probably feel out of place in a couple of hours.

We start our meal with a butternut squash soup and roasted beets with mixed greens, walnuts, citrus, and goat cheese.The soup tastes like any good butternut squash should, which I guess only makes sense if you eat as much butternut squash soup as I do.  It’s so rich that two of us don’t finish it.  That is not necessarily a bad thing. We simply want to save room for other dishes.

The salad ingredients are fresh and I particularly enjoy the creamy goat cheese.  But I am starting to think that I need to force myself to order something other than beets and goat cheese sometime soon.

I have the pappardelle pasta with bolognese sauce and pecorino all to myself.  I find myself wishing for pepper but I don’t want to stop the conversation to ask for it.  It’s a good dish, but pepper would have elevated it. My friend enjoys the grilled calamari with basil tomato sauce.

My favorite two dishes are the vegetable sides.  The crispy roasted potatoes with malt aioli are perfectly crisped with a sprinkling of coarse salt coating the top.

The “exotic mushrooms with braised leeks” do indeed seem exotic.  Like the potatoes, these seem to have a fair share of salt.  I don’t mind at the time.  On the way home, however, I find myself somewhat desperate for water.

Despite the salt factor, Bar Pilar is exactly what we want it to be for this occasion. I wouldn’t hesitate to visit again, particularly for an early dinner with one or two other people. 

My friend and I part ways and I head back to the metro and begin my trek back to my car in Rockville. 
Again, I experience a sense of freedom and pride in my willingness to travel downtown all by myself for dinner. 

I am aware that applying the term “raising the bar” to a weeknight dinner outing in DC is a bit shallow.  But everyone’s bar is set in a different place.  For now, mine is at 1833 14th Street.


Bar Pilar
1833 14th Street NW, Washington, DC
My rating (on a 1-5 scale):   3.4

Zagat Rating:  21

Washingtonian Review

Bar Pilar on Urbanspoon


  1. Not only all of that, but the owner is a great guy. He and his partners were pioneers opening one of the first serious restaurants in the neighborhood in Cafe St. Ex which he and his partners also own. He organized a compactor and trash management plant among the businesses in the neighborhood and is always looking for sustainable/recyclable alternatives.

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