Young and Hungry

Birch & Barley Slated for Summer Opening. Maybe.

For reasons that don't bear close scrutiny, I found myself last week wandering the streets around Logan Circle on an unseasonably warm afternoon. Like others in the 'hood that day, I pressed my face against the window of the old Dakota Cowgirl space, hoping to see how far construction crews were on the forthcoming Birch & Barley/ChurchKey gastropub on 14th Street NW.

Not far, as it turned out. From my limited viewpoint, all I could see was drywall, trash, and exposed walls. One of the most highly anticipated watering holes in recent memory seemed nowhere near opening, despite the fact that it's almost a year after the first announced launch date. So when, exactly, will the Neighborhood Restaurant Group (Rustico, Vermilion, EatBar, etc) open its first D.C. property, which is promising 50 draft lines, 500 bottles, and two different menus crafted by chef Frank Morales?

The Post has reported three different birthdays—starting with a projected launch in April 2008, followed by an October 2008 lift-off, and culminating with an early March arrival. As you can imagine, Michael Babin, co-owner of NRG, is not that interested in teasing a parched public with more launch dates, but he was good enough to take a moment this afternoon with Young & Hungry to explain why there have been so many delays.

There are two main issues, Babin says. One is the building itself, which is not in the kind of shape that NRG had hoped. Almost everything has needed an upgrade—the electric, the plumbing, the HVAC system, you name it. Compounding the troubles has been NRG's decision to build a rooftop deck, which has added a whole new layer of bureaucratic wranglings and historical reviews.

Well, I hate to ask, but would you care to venture another opening date, Mr. Babin? Even a general time frame? Summer? Fall? Winter? Next year?

Babin believes he can have the place open by summer, though he quickly warns that you never know what could happen. Crews could knock down a wall and find a whole new problem, which could cause further delays.

But Babin feels your pain; he's frustrated by the progress, too.

"We're more eager than anybody to get this thing open," he says.

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