Ware House 518 celebrated its first anniversary in October with a rebranding of sorts. The restaurant side remained the same, but its back bar area was renamed the Louie Bar, a nod to the Mount Vernon location's former occupier, Louie's Bookstore Cafe.
For owner Ezra Tilaye, creating two different sections better utilized the building’s large space. The dinner crowd focuses on food, with earlier closing hours and more streamlined drink options, while Louie Bar patrons can relax long after the kitchen closes, with cocktails that take more time and care to prepare. It’s a setup that makes sense, especially when you’re inside the restaurant.
But is it actually different than the bar I reviewed, positively, in December 2014? Or is it simply a different name slapped on the same bar?
A recent Saturday night visit revealed tweaks to the old Ware House 518 bar, though I expected a more drastic change. (A transformative makeover this was not.) Still, there was a new menu to explore, and most important, the same high-level execution that charmed me that winter. If anything, consider this a reminder that some of downtown’s tastiest drinks are housed here.
Let’s get minor aesthetic changes out of the way: Paneling and bookshelves were added to the back wall and around the bar space, and the family tables in the floor’s center were moved to the back wall. In their place are more high-top tables to promote mingling, Tilaye said.
Otherwise, the Louie Bar looks a lot like Ware House 518’s bar. It’s dark, quiet and surprisingly cozy.
That slight disappointment — who doesn’t want to be bowled over by a fresh redesign? — dissipated with one look at Louie Bar’s menu (all booze, no food). To reflect the bar’s vague literary theme, a pompous message in the menu’s top left corner reads: “This is our commitment to the fine craft of fancy mixing. Though we are heralded as raconteurs our best tales are the ones told by the glass.”
After the visit, I asked Tilaye to decode the mission statement. Essentially, Louie Bar houses the cocktails that require more time to craft. To keep dinner service rolling, Ware House offers cocktails that can be made in a few steps. At Louie Bar, they can show off technique.
The staff backed it up, too. (One of our bartenders was Perez Klebahn, who spearheaded the Louie Bar menu and was a co-owner of Mr. Rain’s Fun House until it closed in 2014.) They smacked herbs to wake up scents before garnishing, and tasted components of mixtures with straws for quality control.
They even flexed artistic muscles. The light and delicious Success From Scandal ($11) — made with Greyling Modern Dry Gin, Suze bitters, housemade arugula-honey syrup and egg white — was detailed with a faint star symbol, from the bitters, on top of the egg white’s foamy finish. It elicited appreciative “ahhs,” like a whimsical pattern floating atop a latte would.
Just like my visit to Ware House’s bar, every cocktail my friends and I tried were winners. The Wallflower ($9; Maryland’s Sloop Betty honey vodka, ginger syrup, Casoni Aperitivoliqueur, lemon and honey) tapped into our nostalgic love of sweet-and-sour candy in a sophisticated way, while the Eve’s Habit ($9; Tanqueray Gin they infuse with bell peppers, Grand Sapins liqueur, honey and lemon) had a spicy finish that soon turned addictive.
I later learned Louie Bar, which is technically a weekend bar, has extended hours different from Ware House 518’s. (The former closes at 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, while the restaurant closes at 10 p.m.) That isn’t clear on their website, and would have been nice to know ahead of time. We left expecting last call to soon follow, but would have happily stayed at Louie Bar for the night, because the setting is comfortable, and the cocktails are that good. At least we know for next time.