Thomas Foolery

Sidewalk Chalkboard Sign Hints at the Goofiness of Thomas Foolery
Sidewalk Chalkboard Sign Hints at the Goofiness of Thomas Foolery

Thomas FoolerywebsiteFacebook,  2029 P St. NW, opens at noon everyday, closes at midnight weekdays, 2a on weekends, HH (Angry Hour 5-7p daily, est. 2013 [Post (Carman), Post (Hahn) WCP (read this), HuffPoYelp]

Indisputably the goofiest bar in DC, the uber-fun Thomas Foolery entertains those who stop by the snug basement spot in west Dupont on P Street with games and candy and “adult” milk and cookies and grilled cheese! Steve Davis, the rocket scientist who operates Mr. Yogato, the frozen yogurt establishment on the east side of the Circle on 17th Street, runs this joint, imbuing it with the same care-free, harken-to-childhood atmosphere as the yogurt place.

The small bar area
The small bar area

Although one might try to compare it with one of my favorite spots in town, the nearby Board Room, Thomas Foolery has a different style. Unlike the sprawling board games place, Thomas Foolery is quite small, essentially fitting into one room (with a nook that features a king’s throne and a Nintendo Wii) and sporting only one bar (with no stools, so be prepared for all the milling about the area as you embarrass yourself ordering an Elmo and a saucerful of Starbursts).

Nintendo Wii/Mario Kart being played
Nintendo Wii/Mario Kart being played

Games, though significantly fewer in number, are free, and random diversions are available throughout the bar (such as Nerf basketball, Etch-A-Sketch, velcro darts, and hopscotch).

Food with a distinct childhood theme is served, i.e.,  grilled cheese sandwiches and bakery fresh cookies from two popular food trucks are available to purchase. The cookies, from the the great Captain Cookie and Milkman food truck, are well worth sampling, but be warned, you may become a bona fide Cookie Monster. Cups of candy are a nice dessert if you don’t want cookies and ice cream.

Another view of the bar
Another view of the bar

The drink selection isn’t exactly comprehensive, but there are always a couple of colorful cocktails (a shot of vodka with a candy treat at the bottom of the glass was downed on a recent visit). There are no beers on draft, but a nice list of 40 or so bottles are listed, each chosen by a local minor celebrity/journalist (Barred in DC hopes to make this one day).

Candy in shots? Candy in shots.
Candy in shots? Candy in shots.

Most interestingly/hilariously is the selection of 2 or 3 Smirnoff Ice flavors (Steve doesn’t like beer), including regular, green apple, or my new favorite peach bellini. Normally these cost $4; in the many times I’ve been I’ve never actually paid that amount. Instead, patrons wanting to get self-Iced can play a Plinko game next to the register; the drink might be $1, $2, $3, $4, or $5 instead. Another terrific drink special twist; instead of Happy Hour, Thomas Foolery offers an “Angry Hour” from 5-7p daily where patrons who order in an ANGRY tone get a buck off their drinks. These hours (and into the evening) some weekend nights are hosted by a local charity/non-profit organization; some of the “guest” bartenders those nights work behind the bar to earn money for their organization.

Another view from back of Thomas Foolery
Another view from back of Thomas Foolery

Aside from the games and the playful food, the small area of the bar along with the games are conducive to interacting with other guests, which adds to the fun. To be sure, this is a very laid-back spot. The music doesn’t blast (so you can always hear your friends), you don’t spot many bros, and too-cool people would feel out of place. The atmosphere is so collegial that you may even find yourself daring a neighbor at an adjacent table to join your Jenga tournament.

Party Jenga!
Party Jenga!

One simple quibble is that the lighting near the bar is way too bright and fluorescent, which sometimes spoils the mood in the rest of the place. One of the most interesting scenes I’ve seen in a bar anywhere was set here: post-midnight one Saturday, a group of 10 or so younger Muslim women came in, some with strollers. They proceeded to have a grand time playing games, eating milk and cookies, and being friendly with the other slightly drunker customers late into the night.

Barred in DC Rating: 4/5

Close-up of games
Close-up of games
View from P Street
View from P Street
Someone just got Iced
Someone just got Iced
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Bar Charley

The bar at Bar Charley
The bar at Bar Charley

Bar CharleyFacebookTwitter,  1825 18th St. NW (at Swann/T), opens at 4p on weekdays, 10a on weekends, closes at 11p Sun-Thu, midnight Fri-Sat, HH 4-6:30p M-F, est. 2013 [Post (Sietsma), Post (Hahn), InTheCapital, PoPville, Forking DC, EaterYelp]

A welcome respite from the circus that is the nearby Lauriol Plaza, Bar Charley is one of my favorite places to grab a cocktail in DC. This new spot in the north part of Dupont, from the folks behind the popular Silver Spring establishment Jackie’s and El Chucho in Colombia Heights, is well worth a visit, whether you’re a neighbor or come from afar.

The dining area at Bar Charley
The dining area

The space, previously home to the short-lived Cajun Experience, is a few steps down from street-level but feels comfortable and neighorhoody without being divey. Although there are no TVs, a rarity for DC bars that I like to frequent, the absence contributes positively to the pleasant and casual, yet upscale vibe. To the left of the entrance is the establishment’s cozy bar area where folks can grab a stool or stand up while ordering from one of two bartenders, who often come out from behind the 10-seat bar to take orders and serve drinks. You can usually find me posting up on one of the 5 stools next to the bay window opposite the bar; this is a good spot to have a group consisting of both people who like to stand (me) and those who prefer sitting (most people). The rest of Bar Charley is made up of the main dining area to the right of the entrance: comfortable seating along one of the exposed brick walls; a communal table in the center of the room; and a large, semi-secluded booth in front of another bay window. In warmer months, visitors can enjoy food and drinks out on the back patio.

Back patio at Bar Charley
Back patio

The stars of the show are the cocktails created by co-owner Gordon Banks. The menu includes the quite economical (for DC standards) classic cocktails ($8 for a Sazerac, Jack Rose, Monk Buck, and fantastic Old Fashioned), on-tap Tiki drinks ($7 for a Mai Tai and Suffering Bastard served in tiki-themed ceramic cups), and more standard-priced creative concoctions (such as the Quack-Quack-erac, made with a duck fat wash and the Stepdad which involves a blowtorch). While the pretty solid wine list, both by the bottle and glass, serves as an ample co-star, the beer list, despite nary a macrobrew, is at best a fledgling starlet. Three drafts don’t rotate as often as I would like and many of the bottles on list are $15-25 large format bottles.

Tiki drinks at Bar Charley
Tiki drinks

Although it has only been open since September, Bar Charley has quickly generated a tremendous amount of buzz (both positive and negative). The spot has already appeared in the Post FOUR times (including critiques by bar guru Fritz Hahn and dining expert Tom Sietsma), and Bar Charley’s request to be open normal DC bar hours (2a weekdays, 3a weekends), has quickly become a source of controversy in its hood, as previously documented by this blog here. Many neighbors vehemently oppose the hours extension, though I personally know several proponents of it.

One of the fancier cocktails
One of the fancier cocktails

Since later hours of operation have not yet been approved, when you stop by for a drink (which you must do), make sure you go on the early side, as Bar Charley closes at 11p sharp weekdays and midnight Friday and Saturday nights.

Barred in DC Rating: 4.5/5

View of the bar with dining room in background
View of the bar with dining room in background
The dining room at Bar Charley
another view of Bar Charley dining area
Bartender making an excellent cocktail at Bar Charley
Bartender making an excellent cocktail at Bar Charley
Bar Charley from 18th Street
Bar Charley from 18th Street

Buffalo Billiards

Buffalo Billiards, website, Facebook, Twitter, 1330 19th St. NW (just southwest of Dupont Circle), opens at 4p (weekdays) noon (weekends), HH 4-7p M-F, est. 1994 [Yelp, WaPoTripadvisor]

View of Buffalo Billiards as you walk in
View of Buffalo Billiards as you walk in

Quite likely the largest sports bar in DC, Buffalo Billiards is also arguably the best, which says more about the quality of sports bars in DC than anything.  Opened in 1994 by the same folks who earlier brought you Bedrock and Atomic Billiards (and later opened Rocket Bar and Board Room), this cavernous, subterranean bar right south of the Circle itself cost nearly $1.5 million (adjusted for inflation) to build out originally.

Bar on the right
Bar on the right

Tons of tvs (over 50; mostly flat screens with a few huge projection screens thrown in for showcase games) adorn the walls, while at least 15 pool tables, 10 shuffle board tables, a couple ping pong tables, skeeball, darts, and other assorted games fill up the floor.  There are three bars spread out to serve you mostly standard ho hum beers (everything on draft here seemingly tastes slightly worse than every other DC bar, too cold usually) and rail drinks (no cocktail list here, though not sure why you’d want to order one), along with a mixture of standard tables and hightops with barstools where you can receive very sporadic service from the disinterested waitstaff.  During big events, such a Michigan Wolverine games and fights, at some of the bars, Buffalo Billiards will actually set up a queue to make the drinking process more orderly, which actually works out pretty well (I wouldn’t mind if other bars tried this at times).

Shuffleboard and TVs at Buffalo Billiards
Shuffleboard and TVs at Buffalo Billiards

The spotty service when you’re not at the bar, coupled with the huge space, makes this bar very appealing for you cord-cutting cheapskates out there: this is probably the easiest bar I’ve ever been to where you can pull off,without awkwardness, watching a whole game without ordering anything (pour yourself a glass of water at the bar from the pitchers provided). Also cool-there are enough tvs so you should be able to catch any game you want (just ask the guy upfront who controls the tvs), the layout is such that you can walk around very easily to get a better look at TV showing another game you’ve suddenly become interested in, and usually the bar turns on the sound for the marquee game (this is rare in DC). There are lots of different nooks (but not enough bathrooms), including a couple private rooms (a smaller one in the left when you enter and a huge one in the back) that are often open to everyone and a sizeable open-air basement patio which is marred by the overwhelming presence of smokers and poor TV angles.

Open air patio
Open air patio

Even though I often try my best to pick another bar (though only works well in DC when you’re watching a game of the most local interest or the biggest game of the day) when I want to watch a game at the bar instead of home, and have never had any desire to go when not watching a game, Buffalo Billiards remains the best place in DC to consume the most games at once.

Barred in DC Rating: 3.5/5

 

Local 16

Local 16, website, Facebook, Twitter, 1602 U St. NW, opens at 5p (weekdays) 11a (weekends), HH 5-8p weekdays, est. 2002 [Yelp, Tripadvisor, Washingtonian]

Local 16 and its great roof deck from the other side of U Street
Local 16 and its great roof deck from the other side of U Street

From the Hilton Brothers, Local 16 sort of helped kickstart the transformation of the U Street Corridor to full-blown yuppie-dom when it opened in fall 2002 at 16th (hence the name, though it actually really borders New Hampshire Ave., not 16th Street) and U.  Even a decade later, this dimly-lit (my photos are worse than the terrible quality they usually are) scarlet-hued spot still packs the crowds and you’ll often find a fast-moving line out front to get in on Saturday nights.  The folks who frequent this spot skew a bit younger and certainly preppier than the other Hilton Brothers spots I’ve been to ((18th Street Lounge, Marvin, The Brixton).

Local 16
Local 16

Local 16, like 18th Street Lounge, has several rooms, spaces, and stairs and feels sort of like someone’s mansion.  On the first floor-to the right of the entrance-are two rooms, the first of which contains a bar (beer selection is usually better here than the rest of the spot) and the other with ample loungey seating.  These areas are usually the least crowded in the bar. Upstairs up a long double staircase is the rest of the bar. To the right upstairs is the dark, dance floor that gives Local 16 its meat market reputation.  Usually you’ll find lots of folks dancing in here to the loud music.  There’s a small bar in this space; you can choose from the standard boring Heineken/Amstel/Miller bottled fare but not much else.

Rooftop at happy hour
Rooftop at happy hour

To the left of the stairs is easily the best feature Local 16: the huge partially covered rooftop that overlooks U Street.  Packed in nice weather, the roof is basically partitioned in two; the side closest to the bar is usually much more crowded. One nice touch is that there is bench seating along the fence on U Street which means you usually can grab a seat if you want (not that many folks do).  Again, nothing special with drinks and beers (you’ll pay $7 for a beer and a rail drink here), but the roof is a nice place to catch up in a more relaxed and better lit atmosphere than the rest of the place.  One large downside of the rooftop is that (likely owing to a settlement/voluntary agreement) it closes at 1 AM so you can stay out all night drinking al fresco.  Aside from the roof, taking the back set of stairs that take you back to the 1st floor bar (Full House style) is always strangely cool.

7/27/13 Update: Local 16 has a great happy hour Monday-Friday. Not only are nearly all items $5 (including specialty cocktails and 8″ pizzas), it goes (from 5p) to 8p, which is a rarity in DC.

Downstairs bar at happy hour
Downstairs bar at happy hour

Although it definitely has a meat market loungey/sorta-clubby vibe and skews a bit younger than most spots on U Street, Local 16 is a fun place to stop by every once in a while that still feels grown-up compared to most bars in Dupont/Adams Morgan on a weekend night.

Barred in DC Rating: 3.5/5


R.F.D. Washington

R.F.D. Washington, website, Facebook, Twitter810 7th St. NW (7th & H), opens at 11a everyday, HH 3-8p everyday, Distance to Verizon Center: 900 feet (Brought to you by DC Sports Nexus), est. 2003 [Yelp, WaPoTripadvisor, Beeradvocate]

IMG_20130502_180140_862
The front of RFD – Excited bouncer

Although Penn Quarter/Chinatown has a ton of bars, a handful of which are solid, and I live a mile away and work 5 blocks away, I rarely make it over to this neighborhood, for a lot of different reasons that I won’t get into here.  When I do come to the area, it’s to catch a movie or attend a Wizards or Caps game (or some other event or concert) at the venue which made the neighborhood a destination after it opened in 1997, the Verizon Center (formerly MCI Center).

Main area of RFD
Main area of RFD

One of the bars I might check out before or after a game or movie, up on 7th St. just north of H, is R.F.D. Washington.  This bar, which stands for “Regional Food and Drink” (I know, terrible), opened in January 2003 and is owned by the family that brought you the legendary Brickskeller, one of the first and biggest beer bars in the U.S., which was operated in Dupont Circle until 2010 (now the Bier Baron, under different ownership).  R.F.D. itself is a beer-lovers haven-you’ll find a huge beer menu, a ton of beers on tap, and a host of beer events (though usually off the radar compared to others spots like Churchkey, Meridian Pint, or even the nearby Penn Social).

RFD's happy hour menu during the playoffs
RFD’s happy hour menu during the playoffs

I recently stopped by before a Capitals playoff game; happy hour until 7p includes four different $4 craft draft beers-all solid, unique, and new to me-along with a skip-it $5 “Rockin’ Red” shot (Finlandia cranberry flavored vodka, Triple sec, and a splash of cranberry juice) (see above for HH menu and below the Caps shots).  Beers normally are the standard craft-beer price, $6-8. The bar, probably because it is so huge, is full of folks in red jerseys but not too crowded even before a sold-out playoff game.

$5 Rockin' Red Shots - skip em
$5 Rockin’ Red Shots – skip em

R.F.D.’s atmosphere is not really divey or hip, it’s evokes more of a T.G.I. Friday’s vibe (unless you’re in a basement or crappy hotel-it’s hard to be divey in Chinatown). You’re not going here to rage or have a romantic classy cocktail.  Walking in, there are two small seating areas on opposite sides of the entrance which flank 7th Street-they are isolated from the rest of the bar but are exposed to natural light.  A few steps up take you to the main part of R.F.D. A long u-shaped bar is to your left-the bartenders are pretty responsive and there’s usually enough space to stand near the bar, while ordering and drinking. The bulk of the room is devoted to lots of regular tables like a restaurant with waiter service which kind of contributes to the chain restaurant atmosphere; a few more hightops and communal tables would help.

Outdoor covered patio/courtyard area of RFD
Outdoor covered patio/courtyard area of RFD

After you wind your way through the tables, glass doors lead you to the outdoor patio area.  Although covered with absolutely no view (more like a greenhouse courtyard than anything), the patio has its own bar (not always open) and waiter service and lets you drink outside-this is surprisingly hard to do in the neighborhood.  Beyond, there is a whole another large back room (in a different building) with its own bar, tables and more open space than the front bar-if you’re looking for a relatively more party-vibe in R.F.D., this is where you’ll find it.

Back bar of RFD
Back bar of RFD

Although not really a destination of itself, R.F.D. is a solid spot to meet friends and grab great beers before or after a game.

Barred in DC Rating: 3/5

 

Caps game afterwards, just 900 feet away
Caps game afterwards, just 900 feet away

J&G Steakhouse – Wine Bar & Patio

J&G Steakhouse – Wine Bar & Patio, website, Facebook, Twitter, 515 15th St. NW (15th and Pennsylvania near G), open 5-11p (Sun-Thu) 4p-midnight (Fri.-Sat.) + lunch non-Sunday, est. 2009 [Yelp]

View of the Patio and the Treasury Building
View of the Patio and the Treasury Building

[Update 6/22/13: Wine Bar and newly constructed bar upstairs to be renamed Bar 515, opening in mid-September] The W Washington hotel, with a location a block from the White House, is a popular spot for celebrities (I think I saw a Jonas brother one time) and presidential fundraisers.  It also is famous for perhaps the best view in all of the District(of the Monument and the Mall and the White House) in its rooftop P.O.V. Lounge bar; surprisingly, I actually still have not made it there in its current incarnation (I once had an awkward summer associate outing when it was the decidedly less hip Hotel Washington).

J&G Wine Bar
J&G Wine Bar

Down below, you can find one of the best steakhouses in DC, the J&G Steakhouse, where tucked under the dining room, somewhat below the ground level, is one of the more pleasant surprises in downtown DC, the Wine Bar.  It’s a nice, cozy, rarely crowded spot with a small bar with about 6 seats, a long communal table in the middle, a few tables off to the side, and more bar stools along a railing that faces the patio.  Speaking of which, J&G’s Patio (which sort of seems to be claimed by both the J&G Restaurant and its Wine Bar), is one of the nicest non-roofdeck patios in the city.

Umbrellas and tables on the patio
Umbrellas and tables on the patio

Facing both 15th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, this expansive space has several tables with umbrellas along with small firepits surrounded by brown couches.  Owing to its location right in tourist central, there are often more tourists here than the typical DC spot, as the patio is hard to resist, but it’s rarely crowded (these pictures are misleading as they were taken at the Spring Patio Launch Party) and the Patio often hosts barbecues and parties to coincide with big events like July 4th.

Another view of the Patio
Another view of the Patio

Not really a late night spot (good for happy hour or early evening), the Patio and Wine Bar are solid, nicer choices downtown with solid cocktails and wines (though the beers are the standard Stella/Amstel/Heineken bottled kind of crap).

Barred in DC Rating: 3.5/5

 

The Big Hunt

The Big Hunt, website, FacebookTwitter, 1345 Connecticut Ave. NW (b/t Dupont Circle & N St, near 18th and N), opens at 4p (weekdays) 5p (weekends), HH 4-7p weekdays, est. 1992 [Yelp, WaPo, Beeradvocate, Tripadvisor]

The Big Hunt
The Big Hunt

Perhaps the most polarizing bar in all of the District, the Big Hunt (one of prolific-bar owner Joe Englert’s first bars, it opened in 1992) evokes strong reactions from everyone who have had the fortune (or misfortune) of frequenting this establishment.  To wit: this is probably my favorite bar in DC. My girlfriend, on the other hand, refuses to step foot in this establishment any more, despite being about a third a mile from our home (this opinion is shared by many of my friends).

Decor at Big Hunt
Decor at Big Hunt

I think it’s a great dive bar with one of the best beer lists in the city, friendly bartenders, a neighborhood feel on weekdays, 15-cent wing night on Tuesdays, and a somewhat-hidden-secret of a back patio deck.  Others feel that the décor is sketchy/weird as hell, too divey/dusty, too much wood-paneling and taxidermy and weird-safari themes, too meat markety-young on weekends, and even the name is problematic (the unfortunate obituary typo involving Larry David’s beloved aunt in Curb Your Enthusiasm comes to mind). I concede that some of these are true, but I think they are much  outweighed by the positives of the Hunt.

Main first floor bar at The Big Hunt

You first walk into this bar, which is located on the east side of Connecticut Ave. on the block just south of the actual Dupont Circle, using the right door under the circus-like entrance awning.  Although I’ve been to the Hunt countless times, I finally realized on a recent weekend visit how big this bar really is.  There are 4 different bars to order drinks from and about 8 different seating areas, though oftentimes on weekdays only one bar is open, and the rest of the establishment is off-limits.

Second room first floor bar at The Big Hunt
Second room first floor bar at The Big Hunt

After you enter, there is a table or two just off the front window and a fairly long bar on the left; low-slung red booths line the right side of the bar.  More tables are in a back area that feels somewhat separate.Just beyond the bar there is an entryway to the other side of the first floor of Big Hunt. Here, another bar basically mirrors the first bar, and more tables, a couple of booths, and a similar back seating area comprise the rest of the room.

Basement bar at Big Hunt
Basement bar at Big Hunt

Down the stairs leads to a basement bar that I seriously did not know was actually still open until recently as I hadn’t been down there in probably 5-6 years; lots of red, a vaguely devilish theme along with a stage for recent burlesque and comedy make up this space.

Upstairs at Big Hunt - Skee ball tables
Upstairs at Big Hunt – Skee ball tables

Head back to the first floor, where you can take two separate sets of stairs (one on each half of the bar) that lead you to the second floor.  One room contains a couple skee ball machines and seating, while the other room contains a very small bar along with barstools and railings to put your drink.

Upstairs bar at Big Hunt
Upstairs bar at Big Hunt

Behind the 2nd floor bar, a door and a few steps lead you to the hidden gem of the Big Hunt: a nice, secluded patio deck that fits maybe 25 people that is open during nice weather; even haters find it hard to dislike this aspect of Big Hunt.  The view isn’t spectacular but better than one would expect for a second floor patio deck surrounded by office buildings (feels like a courtyard).  Often there is a server who takes drink/food orders, and if not, the 2nd floor bar is just a few feet away.

Back patio deck at The Big Hunt
Back patio deck at The Big Hunt

As mentioned earlier, the drink du jour everyday here is beer, and be sure to try wide variety of beers and check out their frequent beer events.  This isn’t a sports bar, so the place isn’t crawling with TVs, but there are few nice HD flat screens on the first floor so you’ll be able to keep up with any big events. Pro tip: most bars that have “house” beers, are just macrobrews from A-B or MillerCoors (or maybe PBR or Natty Boh) with the bar’s brand name tacked on; the ones at Big Hunt, Light Ass and Bad Ass Amber Bock are actually Michelob Light & Michelob Amber Bock).

Decor at Big Hunt
Decor at Big Hunt

Despite its imperfections and antipathy held by many in DC, this remains one of my favorite DC bars.

Barred in DC Rating: 4.5/5