Liberty Tavern

I was really hesitant to even try Liberty Tavern. The flashy, green neon sign, the proximity to the Clarendon Ballroom, and the word “tavern” in the name led me to assume that there was no way it would please my palette. But, the menu posted on-line kept me intrigued. It appeared to have a lot of exciting and unique options. So, I gave it a chance, and I’m glad I did because most every visit since has been enjoyable. However, I have noticed a steady decline in the attention to food on recent visits.

Let me start with my original take on it:

It is American food. But, what makes it different is that it’s upscale, elegant comfort food that’s been infused with other cuisines. A pot pie here is made with lobster! You can see hints of Italian and French in their pasta selections. House made gnocchi is delish and changes seasonably. On one visit, I had the tiny, soft pillows of gnocchi with chanterelle mushrooms and butternut squash, and on another night, I had it with sweet potatoes, brussel sprouts and duck confit. I don’t know which I liked better. Their pasta selection changes constantly. They even had a wild boar pasta. Unfortunately, I missed that one :( Pastas such as gnocchi can be ordered in half portions as well. That leaves more room for their equally appetizing entrees. They serve up a duroc pork chop that is the most tender, juicy pork chop I’ve ever tasted. They change the presentation of the pork chop as well, once serving it up corn pudding, trumpet mushrooms, and smoked ham. The pizza selection is also commendable. My favorite is the Vermont pizza, topped with a super sharp Vermont cheddar, granny smith apples, caramelized onions, sage, and crispy prosciutto. The combination of flavors is divine. It’s great to get as an appetizer to share w/ friends. I didn’t care for the “Classico” pizza, topped with tomatoes, mozzarella, and basil. It was rather bland. If you want a classic margherita, go to 2 Amys. Liberty Tavern also serves some great American Farmstead cheese. I’ve become obsessed with their Vermont goat cheese, Bonn Bouche and the Firefly Farms goat cheese, Buche Noir. Both cheeses are beautifully creamy and mild. For vegetarians, they usually offers a pasta selection, and one entrée. I’ve never tried it, but it looks tasty.

I like how Liberty Tavern can appeal to different moods. The restaurant is separated by a lively bar on the main floor and a nice, elegant dining room upstairs. So, if you are in the mood to eat a 3 course meal in a more private setting, you can do so upstairs. If you are in the mood for a few nibbles, and some really eclectic libations, the bar area is great. I’ve enjoyed both settings. The bar menu is actually one of the better ones I’ve seen. They have warm paninis, meatball sliders, and also the pizzas. The full dinner menu is also served at the bar. I want to point out that the bar area does get really rowdy and packed with young professionals during the evenings. If you plan to eat at the bar, try to get there a little early so you can snag one of the high tables, or even some seats at the large communal table. There’s also a comfy lounge area at the bar. The owners allow you to reserve this space for big parties, and it can easily fit 30 people.

The drinks also sets this restaurant apart. The bar serves up some really creative concoctions. My favorite was a refreshing cocktail of fresh muddled berries, mint, and vodka. They add new treats to their cocktail menu almost weekly. I’ve never had the same drink twice. The beer menu is also impressive, and right in line with Neil’s taste. They have magic hat and dogfish head, two of his favorites. The wine list is diverse and they carry a decent amount in the $30 range. They sell a great Rioja by the half bottle, for only $15.

I have yet to try a dessert. That’s because the dessert menu looks a little "blah". I’m usually too full by that time anyways, and would rather go to the bar for a fun drink to end the night. Do get the French press coffee after dinner though. It comes from the nearby Murky coffee. I didn’t actually have any, but my friend did and the aroma was so wonderful.

I think Liberty Tavern has really hit the bull’s eye with their venue. It’s really hard to find a place that has a fun bar and decent food at the same time. Those are two elements that in my experience don’t work well together. They have friendly and attentive service, even at the bar! And did I mention that Liberty Tavern is also very affordable? Yes, some of their entrees can be pricey, but you can work with the menu to fit your needs. Half portion pastas, pizzas, etc, can make for a very inexpensive, yet very satisfying night out. For locals, Liberty Tavern has “Liberty to Go”, which is a separate entrance on the side of the restaurant. I hear they plan to open up outdoor seating this summer!

Recent take:
My past two visits haven't been as enjoyable on the food front. There doesn't seem to be as much focus on the quality of it anymore. A gnocchi I ordered had some vegetables that weren't cooked enough. The skirt steak was too tough. The duroc pork chop wasn't as tender/flavorful as previous visits. A seabream dish was flavorless and needed a lot more sauce. The vermont pizza didn't have enough toppings as usual. Crabcake sliders tasted like fish cakes instead of crab. Maybe the restaurant is finally getting overwhelmed with trying to be a "bar" and dining establishment at the same time. I'll give it another chance, hoping they go back to what they use to be.

Liberty Tavern
3195 Wilson Boulevard
Arlington, VA 22201

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