Prost, the new addition to Willy D's Piano Bar in the River Market, gets its name from a German word that loosely translates as “cheers.” As in something you'd say with a clink of a glass. Everywhere the word “Prost” appears in the bar — on signs, on the menu — a pronunciation guide sits below it in a parenthetical: “prost.” Other foreign words of pre-drink goodwill — slaandjivaa, pura vida, nqa — hide in light type in the foreground.
Inside, that show of boozy, German-lead multiculturalism does not, as we initially hoped, manifest itself in a beer hall with hundreds of international brews on tap, but rather a nouveau pub with a host of international drink specials and a menu dominated by sausage. Muddling the theme further, framed prints of famous works of art line almost every inch of the walls and hang from chains from ceiling at strange angles. There's a lot going on in Prost.
But so far, at least based on the handful of early evening trips we've made in recent weeks, there aren't many going into Prost.
It doesn't really shout out at you. Hidden across from the River Market's pavilions, on the rear corner of the strip of buildings that's bordered by President Clinton Avenue on one side and River Market parking and the river on the other, Prost doesn't make any effort to draw attention from President Clinton; there's no sign you can see, no sandwich board on the street. Officially, it shares an address with Willy D's, which sits prominently around the corner on President Clinton, though there's no sign on Willy D's promoting it. The bars meet through a passageway that winds behind Bath Junkie and the KATV studio, but it takes a bit of exploring to discover the connection.
Maximizing space is nothing new for Willy D's. There's long been a basement dance club — Deep — beneath the piano bar. It, too, doesn't get much promotion: only a small sign on the door to Willy D's. It's almost as if the brass at Willy D's consider its secondary outposts speakeasies, bars that carry a secret-club cachet even while the boozy weekend hordes stream into them. 'Tis weird.
The menu at Prost, at first glance, strives to be straightforward. Nothing but seven sausages, two pretzels and two sandwiches. But these, as it turns out, are not your standard brats and Italian sausages. All come courtesy of Chef Miles James, of the much-lauded James at the Mill in Northwest Arkansas (Willy D's also has a piano bar and nightclub in Fayetteville), and all come served in a roll and with recommended signature sauces that look nothing like ketchup or yellow mustard. Among those with some name recognition, there's bratwurst, chorizo, Italian sausage and a Nathan's hot dog. Less familiar might be the half smoke (a half beef, half pork combination popular in D.C.), the Angus link (trimmings of Angus filet blended with coriander, garlic, mustard powder, onion and paprika) and the chicken Fuji (a chicken and Fuji apple combo).
If all this has you salivating at the thought of a better sausage, dial back those hopes a bit. Prost's links do taste gourmet — full of spice and meat that tastes more like meat than most hot dogs or sausages. The signature sauces, too, add a welcome adventuresome kick — mustard made from a vinegar base, balsamic reduction, a sweet Moroccan barbecue sauce. But, on the other side of the ledger, all the sausages come a bit undersized — no bigger than a large hot dog — and in what's described on the menu as fresh-baked Focaccia, but looked and tasted to us more like oversized hoagie roll. When served, the rolls envelop the meats so much that every time we got our food, our companions immediately pulled back the curtains to make sure they hadn't gotten stiffed. More than anything, though, everything warm tasted as if it'd recently been nuked in the microwave. “Homemade” chili seemed less so in a small plastic tub, the means of delivery for all toppings.
We'll give it to Prost for this: It's a nice place to get a beer. Spacious, with old stained hardwood, an exposed ceiling and a giant bar top that spans the length of the space. There are also a handful of the requisite flat screens, several comfortable loungers and booths and that aforementioned art, just inviting some sort of art history drinking game. Here's an advance tip: That deranged looking man eating a small child that hangs near the entryway? It's Goya's “Saturn Devouring His Son,” and it's probably not what you want to be facing if you're going to get a sausage.
322 President Clinton Ave.
(Or, more directly, around the corner on Ottenheimer Plaza)
Prost offers nine “time zone specials.” For instance, when it's five in Prague, absinthe comes cheap. When Mexico City's celebrating happy hour (same time we do), Dos Equis is just $2. And so on. Monday is all night happy hour. And there are other daily specials as well.
4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Monday to Friday, 4 p.m. to 1 a.m. on Saturday.
Credit cards accepted. Typically a $5 cover on weekend evenings.