Jon Taver, the brooding reality TV star known for his sassy, no-nonsense approach to bar work, is as confident as a restaurateur as they come. He recently spoke on the phone from North Carolina, where he was filming new episodes of his ten-year-old Rescue Bar A makeover show, Taffer proudly sums up his first DC project in one surprising word: “Mainstream.”
It’s not his theme. It’s not trendy. There’s also no doubt that it’s his trademark, starting with a framed photo of a smiling, elegant Taffer holding whiskey over an electric fireplace upon entry (not to mention a swag sale and mosaic floor tiles spelling a large “T” after The Door). Taffer’s Tavern debuts on Thursday, September 1 (700 6th Street NW). It’s the second in the US, after the 2020 debut in Alpharetta, Georgia, with another opening near Boston next week.
“The environment is intimate and warm,” he says. “It’s the kind of place you enjoy every day.”
Diving into the mouthwatering menu every day will be quite a challenge. Pub fare includes bacon skewers, toppings topped with shredded beef and cheese curds, a rich mushroom béchamel sauce, fish and chips, and an enormous roast beef sandwich that rivals in size with a pile of fries. Wedge salads and savory flatbread lighten the load, and local ingredients like sausage and produce are used when possible.
Unlike the popular dining rooms and tasting tables around the capital, the fast-growing casual Taffer franchise is introducing bustling comfort food with the edge of smart technology. The meat is cooked sous-vide, a cooking technique favored by chefs because of its texture and flavour. The short entrance, for example, goes into an airtight bag before spending nearly 70 hours inside a hot water bath.
The sous-vide process is overseen in partnership with Northern Virginia-based Cuisine Solutions, whose chefs prepare the proteins off-site before delivering them to the Tavern’s Kitchen for finishing touches like sear, crunch and coating. The arrangement is part of a highly automated kitchen that eschews typical equipment such as the traditional stove in favor of more efficient methods such as infrared ovens.
“We do anything any other kitchen would do,” Taffer says. “We’re just doing it in a more sophisticated way.”
Taffer says the innovative setup cuts home labor costs by 50 to 60 percent, eliminating many of the staffing bottlenecks that plague other restaurants.
“Now we have the business resources to make sure the front of the house is really well equipped,” he says.
The polished bar looks a lot like what it could have salvaged in the past, winning points for its mustard-colored soft seats with back support, local beer poured into cups straight from the freezer, and bartenders handling attractive copper shakers with ease. The sprawling former home on Penn Commons got an old-world pub makeover with green velvet banquettes, brown patterned walls, and empty whiskey bottles repurposed into chandelier-shaped light fixtures.
The extensive cocktail menu features plenty of dried fruits and unexpected accents. A dangling little mermaid sign on a tropical Blue Mist is finished with a foamy ginger ale, while a mini sombrero sits on a smoky Boca Morada mezcal. Of course, there is ‘as you see it Rescue BarDrinks like Rockaway Resilience pulled from its rehab menu at Queens’s Bungalow Bar.
Taffer’s personal favorite cactus takes tips from the kitchen. Campfire starts with a base of rye whiskey wrapped in a sous-vide bag with brown buttercream. The mixture is closed and boiled for four hours before removing and refrigerating, allowing the butter to reach the top.
The boisterous hospitality vet, seemingly undeterred by his gaudy entry into D.C., makes a bold (albeit on branding) statement: “We don’t think there’s a nicer, sexier, or better overall cocktail program in town.”
However, he is humbled by the problems of the pandemic that continue to worry the hospitality industry in general.
“We have all experienced an event that changed our lives. This event left us with different perspectives.
Hygiene is a priority, as manual sensors are required to clear bacteria for staff along with frequent disinfection of surfaces. Curated station “Tavern TV” broadcasts random videos and facts on episodes like, “Because of Happy Meals, McDonald’s is the largest distributor of toys in the world.” Big screens will also show sports, one would hope, with the Capital One Arena next door.
The brunch menu will be rolled out as soon as the lunch and dinner service runs smoothly.
Taver’s opening advice to himself, while typical, goes back to the basics: provide consistent, professional food and drinks and service.
“When you start putting all these pieces together, you have something very special—that’s what Taffer’s Tavern is,” he says.
Taver Pub It is located at 700 6th Street NW. Business hours are Monday to Thursday from 11 am to 11 pm and Friday and Saturday from 11 am to 1 am