The actual "big board" at The Big Board on H Street NE, where customers can follow fluctuating beer prices in real time.
A new bar in Northeast D.C.’s H Street Corridor is presenting a new, novel way to buy beer. The Big Board offers burgers, brews and the chance to drive your own price.
As co-owner Eric Flannery explains, the fluctuating beer prices come from a special algorithm which “changes depending on how many people are here, what day of the week it is, what type of beers are being ordered.” But the bottom line, he says, “is the more type of beer that somebody orders, the lower the price goes.”
Hanging on the wall next to the bar is the actual “big board”: a flat-screen TV showing a chart that resembles a stock page. The first column lists the “Product”: i.e. the rotating list of draught beers. Each beer has a symbol, since Mark Flannery – Eric’s brother and co-owner – says “we have envisioned that scrolling under each one of our TVs will be a ticker. So [customers] don’t necessarily have to look at the big board; they can look at the bottom of the TV that they’re watching whatever game they’re watching.”
The board also shows the Market Price – i.e. the current selling price for each beer – and the Base Price.
"And this is where maybe we differ from the stock market, where the stock market hot commodities raise in price,” Mark says. “Our hot commodities lower in price, and the base price is what we’ve decided that no customer will ever pay more for a beer.”
The market regularly resets itself, so every hour, the game starts all over again, with the Market Price fluctuating from the Base Price, in real time, according to customer demand.
Mark, Eric and big brother, Doyle, founded The Big Board with longtime friend, Dave Drain. Mark says as they grew up together in Northern Virginia, the guys always dreamed of opening a neighborhood restaurant and pub. As for the specific idea behind The Big Board, he says they’d “love to be the ones that invented this idea, but our buddy Dave saw the one in Barcelona, and we thought that would be a great idea.”
What makes the premise work here is that the guys take special pride in not just their beer, but their burgers. The brothers Flannery say all the burgers share one thing: their father’s flank-steak marinade. Admiral Flannery directed the National Military Command Center at the Pentagon, and as a single dad he’d stay up late and wake up early to cook for his sons. When the boys grew up and moved away, they’d ask him for the recipe and he’d email it to each of them.
Admiral Flannery passed away a few years ago, so as Mark tells it, when he, Eric and Doyle decided to recreate their dad’s marinade for their new chef, “Doyle says, ‘Well, it’s two tablespoons of this, a teaspoon of that,’ and Eric said, ‘No, no, it’s a tablespoon of this, and two tablespoons of that,’ and then I chimed in and said, ‘You guys are wrong. That tablespoon you’re talking about is not even in there!’”
When the brothers consulted their emails from the Admiral, they realized they had three different recipes. “He kept the secret recipe with him,” Eric says with a laugh.
But they managed to work out some amalgamation of the three, and now, Eric and Mark say their burgers are selling like hot cakes. Their beers are selling like hot cakes, too – albeit variably-priced hot cakes.
But Mark says those ever-changing prices are just another way to achieve that friendly atmosphere he and his co-owners are seeking. Because after all, if you turn to the strangers sitting next to you, and convince them to help you drive down the price of your favorite brew, who knows? You just might be brewing a lasting friendship.
[Music: "Time" by Red Hot Chili Peppers from By the Way]
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