From the same maestro that capably tunes the beer collection at TheCraftBeerGuru favorite, Churchkey, is another hit among enthusiasts, Rustico in Alexandria, Virginia.
Greg Engert (PDF link) is the beer director at both Rustico and Churchkey. Relative to nearly all other bars, especially those within the D.C. Metro area, Rustico is outstanding. Unfortunately, it falls just ever so slightly short of attaining the rarefied air upon which Churchkey’s status exists.
Rustico achieves success with its deluxe beer selection...
...and enticing Happy Hour specials.
Direct your attention to the bottom line of chalk text.
It fails (and only relative to Churchkey, mind you) in ambiance and knowledge of staff.
Conveniently located not further than a mile from the Braddock Road station on D.C’s Metro Blue/Yellow Lines, Rustico may be reached by a short walk. The jaunt entails skirting a bit of neighborhood that appears rough, but is likely more bark than bite; and, in either case, mostly avoidable. One major highway must be navigated, but is made easily passable by a smartly placed crosswalk.
Thankfully Rustico’s interior is more inviting than its somewhat frightful all-brick façade.
Modern, open décor, decidedly industrial, marks the interior. While Churchkey’s dungeon-like dark shadows evoke thoughts of a speakeasy, Rustico is bright and inviting. Walls are southwestern American with a rough, rocky appearance. Frankly, a bit rustic as the name rightly suggests. Ceilings are high, and the bar area seems fresh with large open spaces. A small patio area beckons patrons to enjoy the spring weather.
Much of the beer menu is shared with Churchkey. A very good thing. Beverages are served in glassware and at temperatures best suited to each. Prices are reasonable, and made better by a satisfying Happy Hour special: $2.00 off drafts, and $3.50 craft beer in cans, nightly, from 4-7:00 p.m. Patrons may choose from full pours or 4 oz. tastings. Two of TheCraftBeerGuru’s most preferred offerings were available on draft: Great Divide’s Chocolate Oak Aged Yeti, and On The Wings of Armageddon from D.C. Brau.
So velvety smooth. The Yeti reveals itself.
During Happy Hour, food choices are limited to a restricted menu. “Snacks” as Rustico refers to them. Two deep-fried deviled eggs, though, were a solid choice. Their subtle crunch provided a needed and savory, warm time-out during a dedicated beer session.
A worthy "snack," indeed.
So, in which ways is Churchkey superior to Rustico? Mostly in beer-knowledge, both that of the staff and the patrons. Churchkey is like water in a craft beer desert, drawing the District’s advocates to congregate, imbibe, and converse intellectually about beer culture. Rustico is more of a “spot.” It is too much a product of its suburban location. While the service was friendly, at times the barkeep seemed a bit unfamiliar with the product available. A sin likely not tolerated at Churchkey.
Moreover, the crowd here was of a different sort than that expected of Churchkey; more "hip", than hip to beer culture. While Churchkey warmly embraces its uniqueness, something about Rustico is all too familiar. It suffers slightly from a cliche character remindful of a chain eatery.
Rustico’s minute flaws are only apparent to the most snobbish of beer fans. Because of its pedigree, judgment of Rustico is measured in degrees of excellence. Minor missteps delineate levels of greatness. While Churchkey succeeds throughout, Rustico has instances (though, few) of shortcoming.
It lacks the spirit of the craftbeer community that so passionately drives the essence at Churchkey.
Yet, it's definitely worth another visit. Upon the first, Rustico receives 3.5 (of 5) stars from TheCraftBeerGuru.com and a certain recommendation. Take advantage of the Happy Hour and tell them TheCraftBeerGuru sent you. And, if your travels take you into the heart of the city, be sure to visit Churchkey as well.