First Call: Sea Me, Beer Me

Walking the plank, Captain's Tea in hand, at Captain Blacks.

The Watering Hole: Captain Blacks (129 Belmont Ave. E., Capitol Hill, 327-9549), a 9-month-old boozery on Capitol Hill next to Half-Price Books.The Atmosphere: Totally nautical. Not, as bartender Heather Cullen points out, piratical. Gone are the eye-patched, buck knife–chewing pirate bust that once adorned a stereo speaker (it fell on Cullen's head and shattered) and other assorted swashbucklery; a fleet of model sailing ships and framed paintings of sailing ships remain, hung beneath ship's-wheel chandeliers. An enormous anchor weighs in out front by the sidewalk. Given Captain Blacks' spacious front and rear decks—the latter with a great western view and long afternoon sun—the initial trend here was seasonability: All that outdoor seating made Captain Blacks a summertime hot spot. Turns out its small A-frame interior, dimly candle- and flatscreen-lit on a recent Wednesday night, feels suitably cabin-like for winter imbibing.The Bartender: Cullen, 24 and affably surly, also pours at Chop Suey, where she had to fend off stinkbombs during a recent Spits show. She's been at Captain Blacks since the beginning (June '09); it's her Nuggets-inspired playlist of vintage R&B, bare-bones punk, and bluesy garage rock that fills the gaps in conversation.The Drink: Captains Tea: sweet tea–infused vodka, muddled lemon, and soda water over ice in a pint glass. "My favorite thing to serve is Rainier in a can," Cullen says, "but you should probably drink this." It's utterly refreshing—sweet but not too, intensely lemony, strongish on the vodka. Like Captain Blacks itself, Captains Tea initially seems tailored for sunny days on the back deck. But even inside a dark bar on a cold night, drinking one of these is a one-way ticket to Margaritaville.The Food: Captain Blacks is a chicken-and-waffles joint—soul food in the heart of Capitol Hill. The fare used to be a disappointing novelty: underwhelming, overpriced, and too long in arriving from the tiny kitchen. But new chef Joel Alicia, originally from Puerto Rico, makes it work. Par-baked, buttermilked, breaded, and flash-fried, the chicken is crispier and spicier than before. The thin, Eggo-like waffle could still use some work, but paired with Tabasco and maple syrup, the dish is a winner. Alicia's added a few other specials to the menu; tonight's is arroz con pollo, a reimagining of Captain Blacks' red beans and rice. The tiny bar is thus suffused with the landlocked scent of frying—blessedly, temporarily Call is a weekly feature on our food blog, Voracious (, in which we ask a bartender to make us his or her favorite drink.

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