Image: Glasses behind the bar.
Last Updated: 6/5/2021
Current Status: Maxwell Park has opened up seating at both locations. The food menu is limited at Shaw to snacks and grilled cheese. Navy Yard location has a few more items including sandwiches and dessert. They continue to offer 30% off the wine list for to-go sales.
Before Times Review:
Last Visited: January 2020
If you were to imagine an ideal wine bar it would be warm and inviting. It would be staffed with passionate people who would know when to geek out and when to just suggest a big pleasing red. They could do either without putting on airs. It would have enough good food available to make a snack or a meal (but would not cross over to becoming a restaurant). It would have a large by-the-glass program that allowed guests to bravely explore or offer a refuge in the familiar, depending on that night’s disposition. It would be the kind of place where everyone seems happy but no one seems drunk. It would be the kind of place where the owner cares, the staff cares, and those who live nearby care about it.
I’m not sure I would have come up with that list of requirements before Maxwell Park opened, but now that it is a fixture it is difficult to think differently. It is named for a park in Detroit where owner Brent Knoll grew up. After a peripatetic series of positions in D.C. restaurants, Knoll decided to open his own place with two other established D.C. sommeliers, Niki Lang and Daniel Runnerstrom. It took off immediately.
Upon sitting down, you will be given a series of menu sheets on a clipboard (be careful flipping the sheets around open flames). The first page will be the monthly set of 25 or so wines that are built around a theme. One of the bar’s traditions is to have a t-shirt made for the themes. Some examples include the famous first one styled like an AC/DC concert t-shirt with the initials AB/PG (anything but Pinot Grigio), and a later PG/PG (Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris) to balance it out (there is no TV, but you can scroll through their Instagram account while drinking to see some of the others). The next page is a less frequently changing by-the-glass list to choose from that will please most palates. The third page is dominated by fortifieds – Sherry, Port, Madeira. Beer and cocktails are also available. The last page is food. There is also a bottle list with 500 or so entries.
The food has gone through some ups and downs over the years. It has now settled into a very good spot. On a recent visit, the mushroom tart is arguably better than the one a few blocks over at Le Diplomate. That is one of a handful of small plates offered. There is also a burger and a grilled cheese option; toasts (from Bread Furst) with toppings; and cheese and meats served on a board. The menu can tide you over, blunt the ABV of some of the wines, or be made into a full meal.
The space is a corner spot in Shaw. There are about 20 seats at the bar, some high-top tables for groups of two-four and a couple other seats. On off-nights, you can probably snag a seat, but on weekends it might be packed. There are some outdoor seats, weather permitting (with heat lamps on merely chilly nights).
If it is not clear, this place is special and worthy of its accolades. We suggest that you will find a trip to get there worth the effort.
Other Guidance: It is a neighborhood-type place that is casual – jeans/yoga pants and t-shirts are fine, though there will be some dressed a little better than that looking to impress a date. The menu is bread heavy – so GF options are limited. Vegetarians are also limited in options, but can do ok as long as cheese is not an obsactle. Access is at street level with no need for stairs or ramps.
(NOTE: we have yet to visit the Navy Yard location, but no doubt it is worth your time).
Rating: Worth Paying for Cab
Shaw – 1336 9th St NW, Washington, DC 20001
Navy Yard – 1346 4th Street SE, Washington, D.C. 20003
Washington Post: The Post wine writer Dave McIntyre did a piece when they opened. Recently it was listed as a cozy and classy spot for a first date (though I’d go on an off night if you want to sit and talk).
Washingtonian: Wine-Bar Guide
DonRockwell.com – no thread, but mentioned in response to a request for a wine bar suggestion for someone who cares about wine.
Esquire: One of the Best Bars in America 2019, “I started off at the fire pits with a sparkling wine from Brazil, and things got even more esoteric from there.”
Food & Wine: Named owner Brent Knoll a sommelier of the year in 2018.