I can’t figure out the Haines brothers. Matt and Fred continue to confound. Simultaneously they put out some of the best and worst food in the city, have some of the coziest and ugliest dining rooms, make me smile like a dolphin on E and feel like punching a baby seal.
Their new venture, Spin Burger Bar, is a perfect microcosm of the Haines Conundrum.: the food is good, the service lovely, the atmosphere ridiculous, and the vibe out of a cringeworthy junior high dance. The space, on 16th and K, formerly housed Bistro 33. And with a sagging economy and the whole 33 franchise a little long in the tooth, the thought must have been “Hey, Mahan is doing gangbusters with his bike themed pizza joint in East Sac, let’s do the same in Midtown…with BURGERS!”
Let’s take this one step at a time:
Â A) Burgers: they’re decent, they’re tasty and generous. They’re also unexceptional, which, in the current market, is not going to attract the burger buck. There are a few “off-the-grid” offerings, like the lamb and sausage burger with brie, that are totally delicious. But there are only a handful of similar creative offerings. The rest of the menu (bizarrely printed on the back of ’80s LP covers by the way)Â is based on a basic burger with a list of optionalÂ toppings longer than Preet Kalrai’s list of stalkers. Seriously, when I want a burger, I don’t have the time or energy to decide whether or not I want blackberry ketchup, peperonata, and crumbled blue cheese on my burger, or instead might fancy going with fig jam, crunch potato, and manchego (which I still contend is a made-up cheese). In fact, I don’t want to spend some geological time frame chatting with my server and having her explain to me exactly what a peperonata or crunch potato is. (Not to say anything against the servers. The last one we had was great, and my lovely companion and I both agreed she had perhaps the finest skin tone we’d ever seen on a real live human being.) What I’m looking for is 5-10 burgerÂ options, where you, the restaurateur, put together combinations that you think will be spectacular, unparalleled, even unmatched in the local restaurant scene. I want you to out-cheese Squeeze Inn, or out-beer Burgers and Brew, or out-wild Flaming Grill, or ignore the competition and just do something exceptional. Problem is that theÂ focus from the outset seemed to be about style, with the food takingÂ up residence in theÂ back seat (or back of the pack if we want to consider the ridiculous bike motif of the place… speaking of which)
B) Bikes, bikes, bikes- I own a bike. I ride my bike. I like my bike. I am by no means a cyclist. But I know some, and I’d have to assume that they’d find the bike motif at Spin to be one thing, pandering. That’s right, it feels like a cheesy sports bar decked out with a few clever bicycle touches — handlebars for doorhandles, bicycle gears running overhead, stationary bikes available for tomfoolery — that feel totally artificial. Most of the seating is on high, bare metal chairs that look like the least appealing thing after a long bike ride, or even a short bike ride, or even no bike ride. The place just feels uncomfortable.Â My question is therefore, who was this place designed to appeal to?
C) Audience- Maybe Matt and Fred were aiming at the crowd that packs DeVere’s and The Park and Mix. They definitely weren’t aiming at the neighborhoody group that Mahan gets in his warmly inviting OneSpeed every night, or even that same crowd that the Haines Bros themselves get at the original 33rd St Bistro. They’re definitely not aiming at actual bike enthusiasts. And they’re not aiming at burger fanatics. Everything just feels forced and faked, from the cheesy menus to the old-fashioned red and yellow squeeze bottles on every table. They all feel like conversation starters, like that picture of you and Paul RodriguezÂ you keep on your desk just so that someone will ask you about it.
So, the final thought is this. Spin is totally satisfactory when held up against its local competition of CPK, PF Chang’s, and Petra, but it’s a far cry fromÂ what the Haines brothers have shown themselves capable of over the years.
Spin Burger Bar- 1020 16th StÂ Â Â Â www.spinburgerbar.com
Food **1/2 Service *** Atmosphere *