Chef Mike Cordero replaces A-Town with another party in the center of Ballston.
The pastrami spring rolls are better than the pastrami-corned beef Reuben at Bronson Bierhall. But that doesn’t matter. You’re here for the beers. For the fast-friend-making ability of the communal tables. For the scene. Because if there’s one thing Mike Cordero can do, it’s create a scene.
“Arlington wasn’t ready for what we brought,” says Cordero of his previous restaurant-turned-club, A-Town, which is where Bronson is now. “We brought a Vegas party on Sundays and it turned out to be such a great success. I remember giving directions to people calling from Baltimore and Richmond.”
A-Town closed in Arlington at the beginning of the year. It was arguably the most insane, riotous Sunday Funday in Northern Virginia: sparkler-topped magnum Champagne bottles, dudes dressed in head-to-toe bear costumes and little people driving miniature cars around the expansive dining room, all to the background of thump, thump, thump. Outside, it was daylight.
A-Town was also a darling of the blogs, giving ARLnow much fodder: Incidents included one where “at an employee-only party, police say one man slashed another with a broken beer bottle in the face and neck,” and “a wild fight outside” the restaurant “resulted in two suspects being tased by police, including one man who was brawling while wearing a Pikachu onesie.”
But like all good parties … Cordero didn’t want to re-sign the lease after seven years. He thought it was overpriced. He renegotiated with the landlord, chopping $15 off each square foot and rebranded to a more neighborhood-friendly beer hall. Cordero is used to these talks: He owns nine restaurants—from G.O.A.T. in Clarendon to Rockwood in Gainesville—with the newest being Taco Rock. He hopes to open four more of the fast-casual taco operation next year.
Bronson feels big and open with a modern industrial look of concrete floors with tile accents, oversized light fixtures, light wood, exposed brick, dartboards and TVs in every direction. It’s still a party here—it was almost hard to find a spot for a Tuesday night dinner—but now, there are highchairs instead of keg stands. (OK, there might not have actually been keg stands at A-Town.) The food borrows from American bar culture and European traditions.
Of course, a giant pretzel is the way to start. At 1 a.m., an hour after the restaurant closes, someone is there rolling out pretzel dough, enough for over 100 orders. It’s huge, more bready than crackly, and comes with a mild cheese sauce and a grainy mustard. The pastrami spring rolls might be the best thing on the menu: meat tucked in with cheese, sauerkraut and spicy mustard—and fried. Pierogis open to reveal a mash of potato with a touch of bacon. Sausages are made in-house, and the bratwurst is a perfectly acceptable version, flanked by potato salad and a tangy sauerkraut.
A beef stroganoff is rich and filling. It’s best to find bites with potatoes, mushrooms, cipollini onions and gemelli, because the actual cuts of meat can be tough. Fish and chips, the former soggy, the latter under-salted but otherwise slim and crisp, is better being ignored altogether.
But this is all beside the point. The beer list features hometown cult-favorite Aslin and German imports and other suds just right for a party. // 4100 Fairfax Drive, Arlington; Open daily for lunch and dinner; Small plates $7-$16, entrees $10-$17
A buzzy Oktoberfest for any time of the year.
German-import beers, giant pretzel, pastrami spring rolls