Union Street Public House – An Old Town Icon
By The Gastronomes
With summer’s heat upon us we decided to take a different approach to dining out and write about a cool place for lunch and a good sandwich in particular. This led us to Union Street Public House on Union Street (imagine that!). Union Street (as we all call the restaurant) has a double claim in Old Town as one of the oldest restaurants and one of the newer (sorta). Let me explain.
When I came to Old Town in 1977, where Union Street sits now – contrary to what many have published in the past – was an upscale, fine dining restaurant called Kings Landing, not a warehouse. It was said that Kings Landing was Frank Sinatra’s favorite restaurant when he came to town. The late 70’s and early 80’s were also bringing change to Old Town. The rather small restaurant with the nice front yard was torn down and Union Street maximized the space and built the restaurant out to the sidewalk. The new place had it all…a beautiful Tap Room, Whiskey Bar, a casual Oyster Bar on the ground floor with a large, beautiful dining room upstairs and a balcony looking down on Union Street. The building was designed by renowned Alexandria architect Bob Holland. It is truly a beautiful restaurant.
The very first day Union Street opened there were lines to get in. Back then, there were lines at most all restaurants and bars because Old Town was so small and most of the action was within three blocks of the waterfront.
From day one Union Street was known for their large selection of draught beer, fine whiskeys and great food. Locally sourced, their food was always very good and plentiful. Union Street was also home to some of the best bartenders in the DMV – including the infamous Bruce Wytucki who has been holding court behind the bar for well over 30 years. Our bartender the day we dined was Luis who always has a smile on his face and is eager to please.
On our visit I decided I would try a sandwich that Union Street is famous for – the “My Bar My Rules” Steak Sandwich. A little history…Carlos Myer was one of Union Streets all-time great and loveable bartenders and he ran a tight ship. As was his character he developed this iconic edible! On a slightly toasted, rather large English muffin, they stack a cut up 4 oz. petite filet, sauteed onions, Swiss cheese, arugula, and garlic aioli. This is not only a good sandwich but a fun sandwich to eat. It is stacked so high that it tends to fall apart when biting in but that is what the setup with the steak knife is for. I ate half of the sandwich with my hands and the other half with my fork. The sandwich also comes with thin cut fries (reminded me of McDonald’s – which is a good thing). They were very good but only problem with fries is: you have to eat them fast before they get cold.
My partner decided to go with a good cold sandwich and picked the Italian Grinder. Served on a soft sub roll, it is packed with Provolone cheese, capicola ham, salami and peperoncini topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and dressed with a tasty oregano and red wine vinaigrette. It is pretty good sized so she took half of it home and had it for dinner later. Instead of fries, she opted for the house salad as a side. All sandwiches come with your choice of fries or salad.
The sandwich menu at Union Street is pretty extensive and fun. They start the list off with a Grilled Veggie Sandwich and a Shrimp Po’boy. They offer four burgers…USPH Cheeseburger, Fried Green Tomato Burger, Bacon Bleu Burger and the Badazz Burger which is loaded. The list ends with a Pulled-Pork Sandwich and the Chicken Salad BLT.
The Tap Room is a popular gathering place. The large bar accommodates plenty of people and spacious booths are scattered along the walls. Two tops and four tops dominate the large space in front of the bar and behind the wall to wall windows looking out onto Union Street. For a nice cold draft beer you will find what you want with a dozen beers on tap and the prerequisite seasonal craft cocktails won’t disappoint. The have a pretty impressive back bar and the wine list is fairly extensive as well. Happy hour runs from 4 pm-7 pm Monday through Friday and Brunch is served on both Saturday and Sunday and the Brunch menu is very impressive on its own. They have daily specials for both lunch and dinner. Watch for a new menu coming soon – there is a new “Chef in Town”.
It is summer time and the sandwich is king. Stop by Union Street Public House to cool off and enjoy a “bite” of historic Old Town!
Union Street Public House
121 South Union Street
Old Town Alexandria