I wanted to be open-minded. I wanted to embrace Fire Station 1, Silver Spring’s newest bar. I wanted to write a good bar review. So I hit them Friday night, two hours after they opened their doors for the first time.
From a marketing perspective, good bar reviews at GS are poison. I write a bad review for 8407, and it’s as if I confessed to sodomizing the historical society’s president’s grandmother. But the dozen or so bars I’ve given a good review to go without comment. You all want to hear me go off. You all need a touchstone for your rage.
So I figured Fire Station 1 was a great opportunity to thwart you. How can it go wrong, really? They’ve spent a fortune working on the old fire station for the last year, they’ve been training their staff for weeks, the location is simply worth killing for, they have more outdoor seating than seems decent, they’re family friendly, they have two bars, and they just seem…cool.
But it can go wrong.
The best way to start out is by comparing them to Silver Spring’s other gala opening, the infamous 8407. Grand openings are tough for bars. I went to 8407 on their first night and was met with clumsy waiters, confused bartenders who had never seen liquor bottles before, and bad food. My surreptitious stops in there since have shown me that training is not a priority. Classic mediocre gastropub shit. The staff are not trained to serve, they are trained to be warm bodies.
Fire Station 1, however, has impeccably trained staff. Opening night with them and, pretty much, everything was broken. The beers on tap weren’t working, the menu was hobbled, the kitchen was slow and clearly troubled. But we all knew this. The staff were friendly and honest about it. We joked about it. They made us feel like we were part of the opening night – the unexpected family members at an overbooked event. That is: Good training. Customer motherfucking service. Which is what it’s all about, really. The food can suck, the beers are fucked, but, man, bartenders, and wait staff are all grabbing your arm and saying, shit, we didn’t expect more than ten people tonight. We’ve only been open for two hours. So sorry.
Fire Station 1 is, clearly, run by pros. And if you can actually swallow fucking Hook & Ladder beer, then it’s a dream.
But it’s a kind of Nightmare on Elm Street dream for the rest of us. This amazing location – 180 seats, plus the outdoor seating – in a historic building that just screams for you to pull over and stop by for a beer is missing something. But only for certain people.
If you swill Corona and eat bad pizza and have a passel of spoiled fucking kids and a goddamned whining wife who’s suspiciously skinny, this is the place for you. If you’re the yuppie transplant I constantly rally against, then this is the place for you. If you’re an imbecile goatherder, then…this is the place for you. Well, if Galaxy Billiards is closed, I mean. An imbecile goatherder would be out of place at Fire Station 1, to be fair. I’m sorry. I’m off topic. For a moment there, I thought I was in Olney.
Here’s the thing – there’s nothing wrong with Fire Station 1. It’s a cookie cutter “brew-pub.” You know the type. The brew-pub that doesn’t actually brew beer or serve their own labels. The generic fucking dime a dozen brew pup created by people who are so rich and so solipsistic that they don’t quite understand that there’s a world past their front porch, let alone knowing the simple definition of “brewery,” “brew-pub,” or “brewing company.”
But that’s not fair, either. Fire Station 1 was supposed to be a Hook & Ladder pub. They pulled out at the last minute…or…something. I don’t really care enough to research what happened. But, at one time, they were going to be a proper brew-pub and not just a generic sports bar in a stunning location.
See, that’s the problem. You can’t hold anything against them. FS1 is the star-crossed family sports bar of Silver Spring. Everything about it is weirdly perfect and, somehow, totally wrong. Every beer you have there is like paying money to participate in some unimaginably grand collapse of someone’s dream. It almost feels like you’re intruding on some sort of family tragedy.
So, first impressions. We approach the old fire station and see the plethora of outdoor seating. On opening night, the patio tables had only a few scattered customers. Thunderstorms threatened and, as I write this, it’s midnight and 85 degrees with 75% humidity. So, yeah, fuck outdoor seating.
Two valet guys stand uselessly on Silver Spring Ave, greeting everyone with a smile. To have valet parking is…I don’t know. Retarded? I mean, why? This is Silver Spring. There’s one parking space, free after 7pm, for every single citizen in Maryland. You can park within a block of FS1 at any time, no matter what. Seriously. Like, if Obama were eating at FS1 and buying beers for anyone who showed up, then maybe you’d have to park three blocks away.
The front door is currently obscured by construction shit. But that’s okay, that stuff will be gone in a few days. Once it is, then how to actually get in will be slightly more intuitive. You won’t have to go to all the various locked doors and have the valet guys laugh at you.
Once inside, the place is beautiful. Downstairs is the typical roadhouse sports bar – TVs, noise, bright lights, assholes, bartenders rushed off their feet. I sat at the downstairs bar for 15 minutes and nobody even looked at me. One of the floor managers (I think) – Jerry – actually brushed past me to shake hands with his imbecile goatherder friend and pulled a waitress off the floor to serve this asshole a bottle of beer. (And, by the way, he left after that one bottle and I stayed for three beers and an appetizer, so…nepotism doesn’t pay, Jerry.)
I quit the ground floor bar. But, again, I wanted to write a good review. I wanted to give FS1 as much slack as possible. I went to the upstairs bar, which was dark, cozy, and somewhat empty. Kevin the bartender was a consummate customer service professional and, quickly, I forgot about the ground floor horror. Everything was great upstairs. The only choices were boring bottled beers – Hook and Ladder, Sam Adams, and the usual pantheon of suspiciously urine-like beverages. But that’s fine. FS1 had only been open for 120 minutes. So, whatever. Kevin – or was it Keith? – was capable and funny and just all around wonderful.
I ordered the crab dip. My family’s been in this area since the 1600’s, so my out of state friends always shrink away from me whenever I order a crab dish. Because I do that thing that Marylanders do when crab’s on the line. Getting bad crab is kind of like pulling aside a Star Wars fan and saying, hey, was Han Solo sleeping with Greedo? Because that’s what I got from that scene where Greedo shot first.
The dip itself was not bad. It wasn’t good. I suspect it was imitation crab, but I’m not really that crazy about crabs, so, that’s fine. I wouldn’t order it again, but I wasn’t offended by it. What distracted me from the tasteless imitation dip was the fact that the pitas served with the dip were stale. If you just opened for the first time two hours ago, how can you possibly have stale pitas? How can any of your food be stale? That was the big shocker with 8407’s dinner – you’ve just fucking opened. The food should be fresh.
This sticks with you. Bad food. There’s no excuse. We’re paying through the nose for these dishes, you’ve just opened your doors… And yet you appear to be serving surplus food from some closed restaurant that’s been in your mom’s deep freeze that lost power for 72 hours during the February snowstorm.
FS1. It’s thumbs down. It’s a big, flashing red, “avoid” sign that I hang over their shamed heads. If you’re some fuck with a family and you want to get toasted while your kids gorge on Chuck-e-Cheese grade food, then it’s a great place. But that’s it.
There’s a movement in Silver Spring that preaches a Zen-like forgiveness for places like FS1. Renewal, revitalization, at any cost. But, here’s the thing – Silver Spring is vital. It is alive. A few feet from FS1 is Pacci’s, with amazing pizza and equally comfy outdoor seating. A block south is Jackies, Sidebar, and Lotus Café. Good food, good drinks. North and you get the best beer and bourbon bar in the state at Quarry House. Go across the street and you get the craziest theme pub I’ve ever seen in Piratz Tavern. Zig-zag across the street again and you get the chains. Faux Irish, yuppieville fucktown, sports hell, and sad southwestern. Wander another few blocks and you get crazy Greeks, or drinks served in coconut shells.
We have the vitality. We have the diversity. And we have gifted restaurateurs. So much so that these middling places are a weeping wound in our sides. A step backwards. Too simple. Too boring.