You’ve probably read Lavanya Ramanathan’s fun article posted this morning (July 10th) on the Washington Post’s website. The article, entitled “As D.C. dive bars go extinct, summer interns find Washington less welcoming” is notable for both its thesis that there are fewer cheap intern bars for young adults to get their swill on for little money as well as fulfilling the newspaper’s destiny to make sure Democracy does not die in Darkness to unmask the name (though still sounds made up amirite) of Barred in DC (me and PFTCommenter-RIP Eric-have a lot in common). Excited to be in the Post after nearly a 5 year hiatus.
But is the concept true? My quotes are legit, though I also told Lavanya in same conversation that I don’t actually know if there are that fewer intern bars. Instead it just feels that way because 1) there are wayy more nice cocktail / beer bars that don’t cater to 21-24 year olds and 2) people who feel this way have gotten older and stopped going to those cheap bars so we don’t necessarily know where the interns are/or going. Younger folks still make it to the newly re-opened Sign of the Whale, Madhatter, and Front Page in Dupont, Dan’s Cafe in Adams Morgan; Hamilton’s Bar & Grill ($1 PBR & High Life all day Friday), Tortilla Coast, Bullfeathers, Capitol Lounge, and Union Pub on the Hill (and probably others, again, as the piece said, I don’t really goto those bars that much anymore). Dirty Water, the new ramshackle Boston sports bar in mid H St NE is run by the folks who used to run Rhino Bar in Georgetown and offers a $20 open bar from 7-10p on Fridays during the summer and specifically markets to interns. Sure, McFadden’s, My Brother’s Place, Brass Monkey/Roxanne’s/Spaghetti Garden, Millie & Al’s, Chief Ike’s, and Asylum have shut down, but there are still spots there.
Also, one quibble with headline and some of the language in the story: intern bars aren’t necessarily really all “dive” bars, instead more typically 24 years and younger meat markets with sticky floors and dancing areas with cheap drinks. All in all, it’s worth reading and discussing at the bar with your fancy $14 cocktail or $9 local craft beer, like my friends did over text/e-mail/Facebook.
P.S. Also, if you’re a fake journalist or not a journalist and are curious how the sausage is made: I got an e-mail out of the blue from the reporter 3 weeks ago asking if I had time to chat about the intern bar scene and how it’s dissipated. I replied saying I would be happy to chat but I bet her co-worker Fritz Hahn would know better or just as well as me. She still said she wanted to get my perspective and we had a nice phone chat for 10 minutes the next day. I’m guessing this is the norm (and I have no problem with it) for fun, trend pieces like this but I got the sense she already had an angle (intern bars are disappearing) and was trying to nudge me with her questions to agree (which I did, at least for some of the quotes you see).
Mrs. Barred in DC and I recently spent an amazing couple days over the July 4th holiday in the other Portland, the one in Maine. Hopping a $200 non-stop flight from DCA on American Airlines (you can also drive there in 10 hours or so from DC), we found a more blue-collar/hipster town (lots of tattoos and cigarette smoke-smelling Uber/Lyfts) than expected with fantastic food and beer, beautiful views, and friendly locals. Here are some recommendations/thoughts:
There are a ton of breweries in Maine, many of them in the Portland area. The breweries not only focus on the now ubiquitous hazy New England IPA but also lots of Belgian-style ales (saisons, farmhouse ales and the like).
Allagash -You’ve surely drunk their famous Belgian White. Stop by the brewery about at 15 minute ($12 Uber/Lyft) ride out from downtown to sample the other popular saisons, sours, farmhouse ales and other Belgian-style beers in pretty fancy digs. The free 1-hour long tour is popular and available daily. We got the $5 pre-set flight (changes regularly but likely always comes with the White)-4 3 oz. pours. $4 pours of all beers are available (6 oz-10 oz. usually) with $2.50 half pours.
Bunker – In isolated area in Libbytown west of downtown (about 10 min/$8 Uber/Lyft). Located in 1920s-era garage (no A/C so sweltering when we went). Ping pong table is nice.
Shipyard – A few blocks east of downtown. Not necessarily a “cool” brewery but we had the most fun there at Maine’s #1 by volume brewery. Lots of fun merchandise, several sodas on tap for the kids, and a mix of NE IPAs and fruited beers (the latter from Sea Dog Brewing which it owns and brews).
Oxbow Blending and Bottling – Best beer we had in Portland. Technically brewed about an hour away with some finishing done at the location. Great farmhouse stuff. In the heart of the Munjoy Hill neighborhood, walkable from downtown or $6 Uber/Lyft. 4 oz. pours $2-3, 8 oz. pours $3.50-5, 12 oz. pours $5-7.
Sebago – Local brewery chain in the bottom of a Hampton Inn. ($3.50 pints available on Wednesdays) Spot to wait while waiting for seats at Eventide (see below)
Gritty McDuff’s: Brewpub in heart of downtown. Mugs adorned on the wall. Beer isn’t remarkable but convenient location $5 pints at HH.
Spots we didn’t visit:
Note that across the street from Allagash are a number of microbreweries (Definitive, Battery Steele, Foundation) and a distillery (New England Distillery). Geary is also walking distance from Allagahs. None of these were open when we visited (we went on the 4th) but I’ve heard several are great.
Walking distance from downtown (in addition to Shipyard, Seabago, and Gritty’s mentioned above). Next door to Oxbow is Maine Mead Works and Hardshore Distilling and less than 10 minute walk away is Rising Tide Brewery and Maine Craft Distilling. A bit further are Urban Farm Fermentory (Gruitt), Lone Pine, and Goodfire. Also right in heart of downtown is Liquid Riot Bottling, which serves its own beer and liquor. Elsewhere in the greater Portland area are the acclaimed Bissell Brothers and many other breweries (see map)
Portland has incredible food. Although there are tons of options, most spots don’t accept reservations and we had to wait for tables on a random Thursday afternoon (albeit July 4th week) at 2pm.
Eventide Oyster Bar – Cool, tiny spot east of downtown. Fantastic famous brown butter lobster roll and incredible selection of oysters. Great cocktails as well. Super popular – we had a 90 minute wait on July 3rd at 8:30pm
Central Provisions – Recent James Beard nominee for Best New Restaurant, inventive spot in heart of downtown. We had an awesome fried pork special.
High Roller Lobster Co. – Recently a food cart, now a popular brick and mortar spot. Very popular, sort of decked out a dinner. Great $19 lobster roll
Duckfat – Amazing duckfat-fried frites available at original location near downtown or in patio area of Oxbow. Recommend the donut holes as well. More substantial meals available at old location.
Holy Donut – Super popular (20 minute wait in line when I went) spot cranking out tasty potato donuts until they sell out in early afternoon. Honestly, I would say a bit overrated, we enjoyed Duckfat’s donut holes better.
The Gelato Fiasco – Gelato spot right with tons of varieties.
Spots We Didn’t Visit But Were Recommended: Hot Suppa!, Empire Chinese, Petite Jacqueline, Fore Street, Scales, Bayside American, Bite into Maine, Miyake, Street & Co., Hugos, Slab, Otto Pizza, Walters, Bao Bao
Get started early, as bars have to close at 1a every night.
Novare Res Bier Cafe – hidden off alley/parking lot in downtown, spot sports a huge beer list and large beer gardne
Union – Restaurant with great cocktails in the stylish Press Hotel.
Amigo’s – Although this is your typical trashy kind of scuzzy meat market bar, the deck out back is perfect for live music (most nights/week during summer). Had a ton of fun.
Pearl – nightclub downtown. Entertaining late night.
RiRa – bar right off water, good spot for pre-cruise beer (local Portland breweries on tap)
Bars We Didn’t Visit But Were Recommended: The North Point, Bull Feeney’s, The Portland Hunt + Alpine Club, Petite Jacqueline, Bearded Lady’s Jewel Box, The Snug
Things to Do
Since we were there over the 4th, we took a booze cruise on the Casco Bay Lines ferry. $30 for a 3.5 hour cruise, cash bar (cash only but $6 pints of Allagash White and $5 rails), and the legendary(?) DJ HAUNT (also known as “Dave”) who entertained the mostly 40s/50s somethings with 70s music and other not-so-fresh hits. Amazing fireworks though (the Portland show off the East Promenade is over a half hour long followed by another 10-15 minute show closer to downtown). We also sailed with the Portland Schooner Co.; $45 for a relaxing 2 hour sail the next morning. The Casco Bay is beautiful with a couple forts, other islands, and lighthouses to see.
We stayed at Hyatt Place Old Port due to its convenience and fact it only cost 12,000 Hyatt points a night. (transfer from your Chase Sapphire card). Free hotel airport shuttle saved us about $15/each way. Would recommend.
We just had a drink there, but the Press Hotel near the Portland City Hall in downtown is awesome. The hotel used to be the offices of the local newspaper and they went all out with the theme. If you are really into newspapers, highly recommend staying there or stopping by.
If you want to stay closer to all the close-in breweries, the Hampton Inn and Residence Inn are good bets.