Images courtesy of GTM ArchitectsImages courtesy of GTM ArchitectsAfter evaluating multiple locations, this restaurant/brewery designed its newest store to match the neighborhood and clientele.

Lots of hospitality operations have started with a tight budget, but it’s hard to imagine starting with a tighter one than Crooked Run Fermentation.

In 2013, Crooked Run co-owners Leland Rogan and Jake Endres had just $20,000 to open their brewery in Leesburg, Va., about 45 minutes northwest of Washington, DC. With such limited resources, they could only spring for a 600-square-foot space and did much of the buildout themselves.

“I’d go on the weekend and build furniture or add drink rails or paint. We’d add paneling or scrape the floor and repaint it,” Rogan says.

Thanks to outdoor seating and locals who appreciated the brewery’s shoestring budget-feel — and of course Crooked Run’s beers — the Leesburg location was a success. A few years later, Crooked Run opened a second space, this one in a 7,000-square-foot warehouse in Sterling, Va. This location was given a crisper look and some unique design elements, but it was still built on a tight budget.

In fact, Crooked Run didn’t put real money into its brewery design until it opened its third location, in Washington DC.

The wood-style finish on the underside of the canopy came with the building but aligned with the wooden finishes Crooked Run wanted in this new location. The company added a matching finish to its recessed entryway.The wood-style finish on the underside of the canopy came with the building but aligned with the wooden finishes Crooked Run wanted in this new location. The company added a matching finish to its recessed entryway.

Why DC?

The move into Washington DC was a natural one for Crooked Run, says Rogan. The company was distributing closer and closer to the capital city, so this was just the right next step forward for the brand.

The company looked at several options for its DC outpost, including pop-ups and leases on various spaces, but the partners found the landlord restrictions too limiting. Eventually, though, they found a place in Washington’s Union Market neighborhood, an up-and-coming area with shops specializing in everything from high-end cookware to hand-crafted dried floral arrangements to elevated dining options.

Moving into this type of area, Rogan says, meant Crooked Run needed a new type of look.

“We knew we had to bring our A-game. If we had [the Leesburg] vibe in Union Market, knowing what else is in the area, we would quickly look like a grungy, not-so-nice place.”

According to Rogan, he had a general idea for the new look — something crisp and modern — as well as a wish list of design elements. With a background in construction management, he was also able to create an initial sketch of the space’s floor plan. What he didn’t have was a way to bring everything together. For that, he turned to GTM Architects from nearby Bethesda, Md.

According to Mary Cardello, an associate at GTM, the Crooked Run design team took Rogan’s design ideas, and then found additional inspiration from two sources. Scandinavian design influenced the colors and finishes, including warm wood tones in the furniture and copper tones elsewhere. German and Belgian beer houses inspired the general flow and open feel of the space, as well as key lighting elements.

Another major influence: Gallaudet University, the nation’s top university for the deaf and hard of hearing, which is located practically across the street from Crooked Run. To appeal to the students and staff at Gallaudet, the space incorporates principles from DeafSpace Design Guidelines, such as clear sightlines and muted colors that contrast well with all skin tones to reduce eye strain.

The Crooked Run team, noted Rogan, also had the advantage of not coming to the project with a penny-pinching approach, something Rogan had to do when building the company’s first two locations. “I knew in DC I needed to not be involved [as deeply] because my mindset for the last seven years was to do it as cheaply as possible,” says Rogan.

Even with a bigger budget and professional design team, the task wasn’t so simple. In this case, the biggest complications involved supply chain and procurement issues. Construction started in the middle of 2022, when postpandemic costs were still spiking and lead times hadn’t shortened.

Many materials were more expensive than budgeted for and took longer than expected to ship. Often, product alternatives with shorter lead times had even higher prices. In the end, the project team made several changes to the design, balancing cost and speed as best they could, but with speed a slightly higher priority, Rogan says.

“I had a deadline for when I had to start paying rent,” says Rogan. “That’s a lot of money putting us in the red, so we needed to be open by a specific time. The project had a timeline. We did the best we could with procurement and budgeting.”

The bar area, with wooden slat ceiling and dramatic barback, is the focal point of Crooked Run DC's design. The bar area, with wooden slat ceiling and dramatic barback, is the focal point of Crooked Run DC's design.


The DC Crooked Run location opened its doors in January 2023. Since it is located on the ground floor of a mixed-use development, certain elements of its exterior were set by the landlord. These included a black canopy with wood–style paneling on its underside.

Fortunately, this look aligns with the tones and finishes Crooked Run wanted for its interior. The match is so good, in fact, that Crooked Run added a similar element to the top of the operation’s recessed entryway.

When guests walk though that entry, they first encounter a pair of large fermentation tanks. These are working units. Crooked Run brews the wort — an alcohol-free precursor to beer — in its Sterling location, then sends it to DC for fermentation. Putting these tanks up front, says Rogan, helps establish Crooked Run as a real member of the neighborhood.

“We didn’t want to be seen as an outsider trying to take advantage of the market and expand into an area where people could very easily say ‘this isn’t a brewery, it’s just a bar that only serves their own beer.’ We wanted to make sure we differentiated ourselves by having the capacity for fermentation on-site.”

Immediately past the fermentation tanks is the host stand. The designers made this piece mobile to allow for operational flexibility.

Guests’ eyes are then drawn to the bar, which is the centerpiece of both the operation and the design. This L-shaped feature has about a dozen stools and runs along the back wall. The bar top is a solid surface, and the bar face is a wood-look tile.

The bar area aligns closely with a garage door-style window at the storefront. While the building’s pillar system didn’t allow for complete alignment, the designers were able to create a clear view from the street/sidewalk directly to the bar. “Everything is oriented around [the bar],” Cardello says. “As you start your experience from the exterior, from the sidewalk in the neighborhood, we really wanted to capture and draw you in.”

The bar draws attention with more than just a clear sight line, of course. One of the key design elements of this space is the backbar. With no liquor to display, the space is clad in white picket tiles oriented vertically. “We used a combination of gloss finish and matte finish for those to create the subtle texture and movement throughout that backbar area without it being too much or too overbearing,” says Cardello.

Decorating this space is a Crooked Run logo that is lit with color changing LEDs. This element stands out in the evening hours.

Also highlighting the space is the ceiling area above the bar, which is decorated with wooden slats running front to back. This element starts on the bar’s back wall, runs above the bar like a dropped ceiling element, then goes vertical once again. The design feature ends when it meets acoustic panels that comprise the rest of the ceiling.

The acoustic panels serve multiple functions, says Cardello. The space has 25-foot-high ceilings, leaving plenty of room for mechanical elements like ductwork and piping. The panels help hide those elements while bringing the space down to a more human scale.

Notably, the panels were designed to be easily removed so the mechanical elements above could be serviced. A few inches were also left between each panel, allowing lights to be hung from above. And, of course, the panels serve acoustic functions. Residential units are just above the bar, so the panels help keep the peace with the neighbors. Well-controlled acoustics also control reverberation, which is a key element of the DeafSpace design guidelines.

Also key to DeafSpace design are clear sightlines, which can provide hearing-impaired guests a sense of control and comfort by allowing them to monitor an entire space. To that end, says Cardello, Crooked Run has basically no obstructions that aren’t structural. That means no curves, no pony walls and no booths. It does have a number of other seating (and standing) options for guests.

Those who want an indoor/outdoor experience can sit on stools at a drink rail by the garage door-style window. Another drink rail, this one with a few stools and extra room for standing guests, is located along the right wall.

The bulk of the dining area, though, is made up of floating tables and chairs. The tables themselves are mostly four- and six-tops, which can be pushed together to accommodate parties of different sizes.

DeafSpace Design guidelines influenced the use of clear sightlines and acoustic ceiling panels to help control reverberation.DeafSpace Design guidelines influenced the use of clear sightlines and acoustic ceiling panels to help control reverberation.Additional options for guests can be found to the left of the bar. While the bar itself runs along most of the back wall, this area didn’t have a clear purpose in the initial floor plan. The designers, then, found ways to highlight it.

Here customers have two options. One is a small banquette upholstered in green. This provides additional variety by being the only soft seating in the restaurant. The other option is a high-top table with no chairs. This is a standing section for crowded nights or for those who just want to mingle more easily.

This area also includes Crooked Run’s primary pieces of artwork. One is a vinyl wallcovering that sits above the banquette and wraps around a corner. This piece features famous scenes from movie history, but with pints and pizza slices snuck in.

Closer to the standing table are framed pieces designed by Crooked Run’s in-house graphic designer. These pieces are all riffs on the Crooked Run logo. The designs mesh well with the space’s crisp, clean look, says Rogan.

When the company was starting out, “We learned that our style could be unique by being simple. Bold lines, solid colors and maybe having some gradient separated by bold lines. That became our thing for our labels and all of our artwork,” says Rogan. “Our new graphic designer was able to adjust our logo and come up with those unique pieces.”

This area also stands out for how the designers treated the floor and ceiling. While most of the Crooked Run’s floor is simple stained concrete, the area to the left of the bar includes a green dye, making the space feel like a distinct part of the operation.

Similarly, while most of the ceiling is made of acoustic panels or wood slats, the ceiling and one wall in this area has a copper tint. This element runs the width of the space, Cardello noted. Guests at the bar can look up and see it through the wood slats, while the color reappears clearly to the right of the bar.

Like its counterpart on the left, the section to the right of the bar fills a special purpose. It includes two reach-in coolers for guests who want beer to go, along with a small retail space for T-shirts, hats and other Crooked Run gear. Both the reach-ins and the retail space are built into a custom millwork piece.

With the newest Crooked Run location open for about one year, the design is performing well, Rogan says. It’s functional and gets good feedback from guests.

Notably, though, it’s not necessarily the look Crooked Run will use in its future locations. The company’s DC outpost was designed to blend in and be a part of the neighborhood. As the brewery continues to expand, it will likely take this approach when moving into new areas and neighborhoods, says Rogan. “[The Washington DC location’s] look definitely is something we enjoy. Not a lot of breweries have that look. I think it lends to people feeling comfortable, but the space has to talk to you, and to the area and the neighborhood you’re in.”