I feel weird writing about a restaurant that doesn’t seem to focus a lot of time on being a restaurant, and which was mostly just ok. So if that’s all you take away from this blog post, maybe that’s enough? But why would I got here in the first place if I didn’t know what it was meant to be, or what it was really like? The answer is that back when I went with my cousin to see Mean Girls at the National Theatre, we needed a place for dinner in DC ahead of time. We didn’t want something too expensive, and we wanted something new. After searching around the restaurants within the immediate vicinity of the theater, Proper 21 came up as an option that seemed pretty good.
From what I can tell based on rudimentary googling, Proper 21 is not quite a chain, but it’s from the same people who created “Manhattan Proper” and “Proper West” in NYC. It opened sometime in late 2016. And maybe I should have paid more attention to the fact that it’s labelled as a “sports bar” in all the coverage. But you look at the menu and think, “Oh, that can’t possibly be a sports bar – look how nice the food looks!” Well, when the gimmick of your new sports bar is “upscale” and the food is “modern classics with a gourmet twist”, of course the food is going to look good.
The night we went to Mean Girls (and thus Proper 21), it was pouring rain. And despite having reserved parking in a nearby lot, I managed to be running a few minutes late because other people don’t plan as well as I do, and also nobody drives as well as I do (obviously). So my cousin had time to grab a glass of wine from the bar before I arrived. It was happy hour, and man was it PACKED. I believe she ordered one of the house reds, and wasn’t super impressed. Which isn’t surprising, because you can’t win them all, but still disappointing when a restaurant/bar is as stuffed to the gills with people as this one is. If you’re going to serve a low-cost glass of wine to entice people to drink more, it helps if it’s one that people will actually want to drink. [Note: all this is based on her testimony and taste since I haven’t been drinking, but I trust her taste]. The second glass she ordered once we had been seated was more to her taste, but not happy hour pricing. Probably worth it.
We were seated at a tiny table for two that was RIGHT NEXT TO THE BAR. I mean, I get that waiters on duty have specific areas to cover, but this table was barely big enough for both of us and all our things from the wet and cold. And it was so noisy. It was also election night, and another section of the restaurant area was roped off for some kind of results-watching party, so I get that perhaps the seating location of two diners (only one of whom was drinking) was not a priority. We both ordered pasta dishes that seem to have been switched out seasonally, but one was gnocchi and the other a different pasta dish (what kind? who knows? does it matter?), and they were both…fine? As you can see from the pictures above, they were very beige. But they tasted pretty good?
I don’t know guys. I think my “meh” feelings about this place are what have delayed my writing about it for so long. It also does not help that it wasn’t super inspiring for food, and was also very loud for someone who wasn’t even in the bar area. But maybe it was just my mistake in looking at the menu and thinking “restaurant” instead of reading the descriptions available online and not believing them when they kept repeating the word “bar”. I know it’s possible to have a place with a nice bar AND a nice restaurant, but one of the big keys is keeping those areas separate so that the overflow noise and people don’t spill from bar into restaurant.
So would I recommend Proper 21? Sure, if you’re looking for a bar. Or if you realize that the food selection is going to be limited, and if you go anywhere around happy hour time (4-7pm) or on a night with a big event of some kind – sports! DC sports! (that is, politics) – be prepared to fight with a lot of noise. But the big thing to be aware of is KNOW WHAT YOU’RE GETTING AHEAD OF TIME.