I love a good sports bar. My teams really like to break my heart (I’m looking at you, Thunder), but the thrill of watching a big game at a bustling bar with a bunch of fellow fans can’t be beat. I’m always on the hunt for sports bars in DC that have a good amount of space, plenty of TVs and good food. When Proper 21 reached out to invite us to try their new Spring menu, I was excited to see how it would stack up.
We showed up on a Friday during happy hour, and the bar was definitely buzzing. I was happy to see dozens of TVs mounted all over the restaurant, in both the bar and the dining area toward the back. I can definitely see myself watching a game here.
Proper 21 is a NYC transplant, and aims to provide a more upscale bar atmosphere. Think dim lighting, sleek black tables and a not overly subtle homage to Don Draper. Channeling that vibe, we started out with a round of cocktails. I had the refreshing Garden of Eden with gin, St. Germaine, cucumber, dill and lemon juice that tasted just like Spring. Tom went with a classic Old Fashioned, which he said was very solid. Of course, they’ve got a solid beer menu along with a respectable wine list (if you like drinking $300 champagne while you watch football, this is your spot) and an extensive selection of whiskeys.
The food menu is large and covers all the bases. We were able to try a little bit of everything, starting with a couple of small and shared plates. Up first, an order of the proper truffle fries with Parmesan, scallion and malt vinegar aioli.
I can’t say much more than that these are some damn good fries. The truffle isn’t overwhelming, which often happens with truffle fries and the malt vinegar aioli was a nice touch, especially considering my deep and undying love for all things vinegar. We could easily have polished these off in five minutes flat, but in order to make it through the rest of the meal we managed to hold ourselves back.
On the lighter side, we also tried the tuna tartar with avocado, nicoise olives, cucumber, sesame oil and balsamic vinegar.
I wasn’t particularly taken by the presentation of this dish, but the flavors were nice. The tartar and avocado were both nice and fresh. The slaw on the side was a nice touch as well, though I’m not sure it made all that much sense when combined. The wonton chips were a good vehicle for the tartar, adding a nice textural contrast. While I’m not sure I would go out of my way to order this again, it’s a nice option for someone looking for a lighter meal.
On the complete opposite end of the spectrum, our next dish was as decadent as it gets – the four cheese truffle mac with orechiette, garlic and toasted bread crumbs.
I’ve stopped ordering mac and cheese at restaurants because I am always almost disappointed. The sauce is either bland and watery, the noodles overcooked or there’s just too much going on to mess with a classic. That wasn’t the case here. Although I don’t always need truffle on everything, again it worked in this dish and didn’t distract me from the cheesy goodness. If carb-loaded comfort foods are your thing, Proper 21 is the place to be.
Our final small plate was the stuffed meatball with a crunchy exterior, stuffed with a four cheese blend and served with red sauce and basil.
This didn’t really hit home for us. I was put off both by the crunchy outside of the meatball and the cheese on the inside. Tom liked it a little bit more than I did, but both agreed it was the weakest dish of the night.
Soon it was time for another round of cocktails. We were able to sample an off-menu cocktail to be released soon called the Proper Lady with vodka, St. Germaine, fresh strawberry and champagne.
Tom decided to try the Downtown Mule with cranberry apple vodka, ginger beer, ginger liqueur and lime juice. This was a fun take on the classic mule, though maybe a little bit sweeter than we usually prefer.
Up next, we tried a couple of larger dishes starting with the Brussels salad, a heaping mixture of shaved Brussels sprouts, onions, red grapes, pork belly croutons, grana cheese topped with a roasted shallot vin.
There was a lot going on with this salad, but I liked it. The pork belly croutons were an interesting touch, but the real star was the shallot vin. Not exactly a health salad, but a tasty way to get your greens.
For our final savory dish of the night, we tried the ponzu salmon with spicy ponzu broth, daikon broth and a crispy rice cake.
Anytime I don’t completely hate a salmon dish, I call it a win, and I didn’t hate this. The fish was cooked well, although Tom would have preferred if it had been taken off the heat just a few seconds sooner. The ponzu broth was a bit too salty, but did add help to jazz up the otherwise tame-in-flavor rice cake. We weren’t wowed by this at all, but it certainly wasn’t bad.
We didn’t have much room for dessert, but the show must go on. The chef sent out an indulgent s’more lava cake with fudge, graham cracker and toasted marshmallows and Not Your Father’s root beer float with vanilla ice cream and alcoholic root beer.
Both were quite tasty, but a little too much for me. Let’s just say if you have a sweet tooth, you won’t find yourself wanting at Proper 21.
Overall, we had a lovely time watching the Nats win over a tasty meal and cocktails. I can see myself enjoying many a Sooner or Thunder game with a beer and those amazing truffle fries. If you’re looking for a sports bar downtown with good food, Proper 21 is a great bet.
We were provided a complimentary dinner at Proper 21. As always, all opinions are honest and 100% my own.