The origins of “tavern” are a little rustic, first described as “a booth, or stall made of boards” and as “a place where liquors, beer, etc. are sold to be drunk on the premises.” There’s nothing rustic about Logan Tavern.
It’s on newly bustling P Street NW between 14th and 15th streets, across the street from Whole Foods (formerly Fresh Fields). All sorts of alcoholic beverages are indeed “drunk on the premises,” and “booths made of boards” range along one side of the tavern. It’s exactly what you want a Washington tavern to be: casual, attractive, serving good food and libations.
The large space is evocative of a warehouse, with exposed black-painted ceiling pipes and, lining the walls, blowups of photographs of Maj. Gen. John Alexander Logan’s equestrian statue and the reliefs on its base in Logan Circle, a half block away.
The man the tavern wa named for is perfect for Washington, with all its conflicted loyalties. Logan was an Illinois man who was a Southern sympathizer before the Civil War, but he fought well for the Union and was James G. Blaine’s running mate in the presidential election of 1884. He could have been a contender. (Grover Cleveland and the Democrats won.)
The tavern’s large bar, designed for eating as well as for drinking, is surmounted by a large faux clock opposite. Windows and doors open onto P Street and a handful of outdoor tables. Butcher paper covers the inside tables, and wine is served in tumblers.
The Logan takes its role as a tavern seriously, and there’s a good selection of wines by the glass and numerous brands of beer, as well as martinis and specialty drinks, including mixtures of champagne with fruit purees for weekend brunch.
The food is fine: no greasy spoons here, but fresh, well-prepared dishes with a few daily specials. Starters include a soup and eight salads, ranging from simple mixed greens and jicama to seared tuna with tropical fruit and spinach.
Arugula with peaches (or sometimes pears) and prosciutto is a good combination, dressed with a tangy vinaigrette. (A word of caution to the kitchen: Be careful not to overdress salads, which makes greens soggy.) Grilled asparagus on a bed of Boston lettuce, topped with crumbled mild Greek cheese and orange slices is another excellent combination, although the asparagus could have been simmered just a minute of two longer.
A special appetizer one recent evening was a mix of chopped eggplant and peppers in a tart vinaigrette. This resembled eggplant caviar and was delicious.
Aside from the salads, first courses include baked Greek cheese with tomato sauce, mussels in garlic and wine, flash-fried calamari, stuffed and grilled portobello mushrooms and grilled baby squid.
Four delicious, perfectly grilled scallops with a balsamic glaze on a bed of cooked spinach, although a starter, easily could serve as a small main course. The balsamic glaze gives the scallops a lovely hint of sweetness, counterbalanced by the slight bitterness of the spinach. It’s a dish worthy of any of Washington’s most expensive restaurants.
Main courses include several noodle dishes, such as farfalle with prosciutto and asparagus, shrimp piccata over linguine, pan-fried noodles with beef and vegetables and scallops in a spicy Amatriciana sauce over linguine.
Pan-sauteed crab cakes, either a single cake as an appetizer or two as an entree, are good but contain too much filler and not enough crab. The cakes come with a fine tartar sauce. Grilled tuna or salmon are better choices. The tuna is thick, like a steak, and it and the salmon are moist and cooked as ordered. Like the crab cakes, they come with garlicky mashed potatoes.
At lunch, salmon is also served as a club sandwich, a delicious combination of perfectly cooked warm salmon on a buttered hamburger bun with a slice of tomato and crisp bacon. The horseradish mayo mentioned on the menu was omitted on my sandwich.
Main courses also include roast pork in sweet Asian mustard, wasabi-crusted meatloaf, Southern fried chicken, grilled sirloin steak and filet mignon stuffed with blue cheese. The kitchen prepares a grilled vegetable platter for vegetarians. Main courses are accompanied by mashed potatoes or jasmine rice and are served with a mixed green salad.
The list of sandwiches at lunchtime incorporates several of the dinner items, such as meatloaf, roast pork, steak and cheese, and fried chicken. As becomes a tavern, the restaurant serves hamburgers at any time, whether a plain grilled 9-ounce burger or hamburgers adorned with blue cheese and sun-dried tomatoes; with Monterey Jack cheese and roasted red peppers; or with sauteed onions, mushrooms and provolone cheese.
Weekend lunch or brunch items include the usual omelets, bagels and lox, French toast, and bacon and eggs, but also smoked salmon frittata, crab cakes Benedict and steak and eggs. Classic eggs Benedict with ham on an English muffin are first-rate: The poached eggs are soft but not undercooked, and the hollandaise sauce is smooth and fine without thickener.
A house-made mango key lime pie is a superb, slightly tart conclusion to a pleasant, casual and comfortable meal.
Wines and beers are listed on a blackboard beside the bar. At night, the restaurant is crowded and noisy. Except for parties of six or more, reservations are not accepted, but there’s a communal table for eight in the center of the room, and it’s almost always possible to find a place there. The large wooden table, decorated with tall white candles dripping on candles past, is great for single diners as well as couples or even small groups. Dining at a communal table can add a festive touch to an evening out.
Lunch is served on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays only. Lunch is a good time to try Logan Tavern; it’s not as noisy as at dinner, and the light streaming into the windows along P Street illuminates the interior of the restaurant, revealing the photographs and the spacious atmosphere.
The waiters are friendly, helpful and knowledgeable; and the atmosphere of conviviality, like the food, invites a return visit. It’s the restaurant and bar every neighborhood needs. The general, who was a convivial sort, would approve.