Published in the June/July issue
Washington, D.C., used to have a solid reputation for social drinking, from the julep-sucking days before the Civil War through the 1970s, when the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee got jingled one night on Barracuda's Bites or some such at the Junkanoo tiki bar and ended his evening by being pulled over by the U. S. Park Police with his mistress, known in stripping circles as the "Argentine Firecracker," trying unsuccessfully to make a break for it through the Tidal Basin. Fun. In recent decades, though, give or take a Vito Fossella, you don't hear much about woozy high times in the nation's capital. All you hear about is how nobody down there gets along anymore. We couldn't help wondering if D.C. governing is broken due to some collapse in the art of convivial drinking. To find out, we had Wondrich have a look.
It was sleeting when I got to D.C., but rather than holing up at the hotel bar, I set out to scout the territory. After a mile-long slog through the nondescript residential/commercial area north of Dupont Circle, I found myself at Raven Grillim电竞官网-, in the low-key area of Mount Pleasant, a couple miles due north of the White House. The Raven Grill serves no food and in fact is not a grill at all. It is a dive. Within five minutes, I was working on a hooker of Old Overholt and a can of Natty Boh ($7), deep in conversation with the bartender and one of the regulars about snow chains, old-school methods of child rearing, the late dustup in the Philippines between Generals MacArthur and Yamashita. There's a poster of Marlene Dietrich between the ones of Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. Prominent among the men's-room graffiti is the phrase "Fuck Brooklyn." I don't know of a sounder bar in America.
Closer to the center of town, Jack Rose Dining Saloon is a big new barn of a place, a half mile nearer the White House and a hell of a lot tidier. The walls of this large room are lined with shelves packed with 1,500 whiskey bottles. The place makes a fine Jack Rose cocktail, too. But it is simply too spacious, too public, for the kind of wheeling and dealing Washington bars used to be known for. Tabard Inn, on the other hand, is a place to conspire. Whether you sit at the tiny bar of this discreet old hotel or in the attached lounge, the sophisticated (and large) cocktails, the soft lighting, the muted colors, and the comfortable seating create a mood of cooperation. Maybe too much, though — looking around, if there are politicians there, they're there to screw Americans individually, not in the aggregate. Okay. Time to get serious.
People have been cutting deals over mint juleps at the bar of the Willard hotel for a century and a half; indeed, the Civil War was more or less administered from there. Sure, the place was rebuilt once, closed for a while, and renovated Lord knows how often, but Round Robin Barim电竞官网-, as the dispensary would come to be called, still keeps the fixings for a julep right on top of the bar and still makes a pretty decent one. But while the bar is a pleasant place to drink, it's a little too brightly lit, a little too generically appointed to pull in a clientele with true local character.
The real belly, or at least hip pocket, of the beast is Off the Record, the bar in the basement of the Hay-Adams hotel, across the street from the White House. The barroom is painted a lurid Babylonian red, relieved only by framed political caricatures. There are alcoves holding tables full of men and women in business undress (jackets doffed, ties still on) drinking martinis and clearly indulging in some chicanery or other. The bar is manned by a gruff Lee Marvin–esque veteran who makes me a fine Negroni, regarding me suspiciously as he stirs. After a few minutes of grudging conversation, though, he becomes downright pleasant. I can't figure out if it's because he's determined that I'm not one of the usual crowd or that I could be.
While Off the Record is pretty discreet, for true OPSEC you have to go to the Columbia Roomim电竞官网-. The second-fanciest cocktail bar in town, it can be found behind an unmarked door in the back of the Passenger, a normal bar-type bar. You have to reserve a seat in advance, but there are only ten of them, so you're guaranteed to get personal attention from the bartenders, who will figure out exactly what you like to drink and make it for you. In the Columbia Room's intimate precincts, given a couple rounds of its strong cocktails, any amount of free and open discussion and even deal-making is possible. In fact, for the month of June, I will personally buy the first round any time two senators or congresspersons of opposite parties drink together here. My credit card is on file.