Chef Jeremiah Langhorne and beverage director Alex Zink always knew they wanted to open some sort of wine bar inside The Dabney. But The Dabney Cellar is so much more than that.
“Upstairs, we’re chefs. Chefs manipulate food,” says Jeremiah Langhorne, the chef and owner of The Dabney in Washington, DC.
“We get great produce, but you make sauces, purees, whatever.”
“Upstairs” is The Dabney, Langhorne’s ode to the mid-Atlantic’s bounty (and resourcefulness) with its entirely wood-fire-powered kitchen and extensive pantry of pickles, vinegars and other experiments. It’s earned him a Michelin star for a reason. But downstairs, in the basement of the early 1900s-era rowhouse, is The Dabney Cellar, a 30-seat or so tavern equipped with an induction burner and all those hams and cheeses Langhorne is so fond of—and hopes his customers come to love, too.
When Langhorne and co-owner and beverage director Alex Zink were first opening The Dabney two years ago, they always had the idea for the cellar in the back of their minds.
“This space was just perfect for a little wine bar or something,” says Zink. “We knew we wanted something extra casual—walk-in only with a raw bar program.”
However, don’t let the word “casual” confuse you. The two are deliberate in how they put together the menu, pulled from relationships with producers and an appreciation of their expertly made goods. There are thousands of little oyster companies around the Chesapeake, according to Langhorne. Some with big marketing budgets. Others without. But Langhorne and the team use the blackboard behind the bar to introduce customers to the little guys they love, like Sloop Points from New Jersey and Hatteras Salts from North Carolina. Then there’s the ham.
“Edwards country ham,” Langhorne says excitedly. “They had a fire two years ago and burned down. Now they’re back and running with their surryano ham. They’re really incredible, and we love to show them to people.”
As for the wine, you’ll find a dozen or so by the glass constantly rotating from Zink to pair with the food, naturally. “Muscadet from the Loire Valley that’s briny for oysters,” he says. But they’re also selected to vibe with the season, the day, the moment. “As the weather gets freezing, southern Rhône to warm your soul,” he adds.
But as technical and precise are Langhorne is with tending to the fire and Zink with manning the floor and selecting wines at The Dabney, the unfussy mix of raw products, minimal cooking and craveable wines is just how the pair wants to eat and drink on their time off. And that’s just what they’re doing at the cellar. They’re not the only ones.
“It’s the evolution of dining in general,” says Zink. “People change their minds or plans change; it’s just based on your experience or cravings. As cities develop, especially DC, you’re going to see people adding more dining options to fill these holes. We’re doing whatever to make The Dabney Cellar as accessible as possible, whether you’re stopping to get wine on your way home or a snack before dinner.”
“Or you’re a restaurant worker, and you want to grab a glass of wine after your shift,” adds Langhorne.
It’s been barely a week since The Dabney Cellar first opened and they’re packed, with industry folks and food lovers. Looks like they’re not the only ones who like to dine like this—simply, thoughtfully and spontaneously.