It can be nerve-wracking for patrons when a beloved watering hole such as Bullfeathers changes ownership. It’s easy to worry that prices will go up, a favorite bartender will move on and the whole place will just feel different.
Lucky for staffers, that doesn’t seem to be the case at this Capitol Hill staple, which recently reopened its doors. While the changes may seem drastic at first, the good news is that the heart of the bar is still fully intact.
The property, located a few steps from the Cannon House Office Building at 410 First St. SE, was purchased last year by a group of partners including Anthony Harris, Med Lahlou, William Walls and Jessica Mulroy, some of whom also own the Eastern Market stalwart Tunnicliff’s, Logan Circle bar Stoney’s and Ulah, a bistro on U Street.
The group decided to invest in Bullfeathers after seeing major potential in the space and location. The bar was closed in July and underwent lengthy and extensive renovations that included ripping out the dining room carpeting, opening up the kitchen and giving the restrooms a much-needed face-lift.
“It was in pretty bad shape,” Harris admitted.
While construction took longer than expected, they remained undeterred. “We wanted to restore Bullfeathers to its former glory days, back when it opened in the ’80s,” Mulroy said.
The haunt reopened about a week ago and appears to have achieved that delicate balance of being both improved and the same. Bullfeathers retains its identity as a great place to grab a reasonably priced drink after work, though the space is significantly more inviting.
The once-dark bar now boasts bright yellow walls and picture windows. And while patrons’ feet may no longer stick to the floor, the bar retains a “Cheers”-like quality as staffers and neighbors converse over $4 Bud Lights.
This is exactly how the owners envisioned it.
Harris explained that his team never planned to take the bar in “a different direction.”
“It’s just an updated version of Bullfeathers,” he said.
The bar, which was once known for greasy fare, now offers an extensive menu that includes more sophisticated dishes such as pork shank, meatloaf and grilled salmon. Of course, wings and burgers are also available. The dishes are served either at the bar or in a dining room separated from the bar by a long partition. This separation makes Bullfeathers feel more like a restaurant and less like a dirty college bar. It also makes the dining room available for events without shutting down the whole place.
The reasoning behind the new menu was simple. The bar is hoping to expand the types of patrons who find it appealing while also offering fare that is appropriate for lunch and dinner. Bullfeathers is hoping to continue to attract an after-work crowd yet also establish itself as a friendly neighborhood restaurant.
“Part of the reason we wanted to change the menu had to do with drawing in the neighbors,” Mulroy said. “There’s no reason people shouldn’t be coming here from the neighborhood.”
Bullfeathers seems to be doing a good job drawing the staffer crowd. In fact, much of the clientele since reopening has included interns, staffers and even a handful of lawmakers.
“Everybody’s invited,” Harris said. “What makes a bar great is the diverse group of people that come in.”
The people aren’t the only diverse thing about Bullfeathers. The bar now offers 31 beers on tap ranging in price from a $4 Rolling Rock to a $12 framboise. The list is equal parts intern favorites such as Budweiser and grown-up beers such as Hoegaarden and Leffe Blonde. In addition to drafts, the bar also offers flights of beers ranging from $8 to $12. Each flight includes four 5-ounce pours.
In the end, Bullfeathers may look different, but it is still very much a Capitol Hill bar: a place to drink on the cheap and mingle with friends and neighbors.
“We’re here to please people and make them happy,” Harris said. “Hopefully they leave happy.”