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

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

Jack Rose Dining Saloon

Jack Rose

Jack Rose Dining Saloon, website, Facebook, Twitter, 2007 18th St. NW, opens at 5p everyday, HH 5-7:30p M-F, est. 2011 [Yelp, WaPo, Washington City Paper, Washingtonian]

Jack Rose, located at the far southern end of Adams Morgan at its border with Dupont and U Street, is my favorite non-dive bar in DC. With frequent events at any of its 5 bars spread over 3 floors, the whiskey-and-beer-centric bar from Bill Thomas (owner of both locations of Bourbon) is a great place to drink all week long.

2nd Floor Open-Air Terrace With Roof Closed
2nd Floor Open-Air Terrace With Roof Closed

My visits to Jack Rose are usually spent at its second-floor Open-Air Terrace bar, reached by the stairwell that greets visitors at the front entrance (the folks who make up the fast-moving line that often forms on weekends are typically waiting to go up here). This expansive rooftop space, carved out of the second floor of a former boxing gym, can be enjoyed all year long; the long bar that occupies one side of the space is covered by a permanent roof, while the other half, with high-top tables, can be covered by removable glass panels when it rains or the temperature goes down.  The wall to the north provides a great view of 18th Street and the rest of the Adams Morgan neighborhood (sometimes clear plastic panels are hung to protect folks from wind and cold) .  A host of craft beers (mostly $7-8) and cocktails can be ordered from the friendly and knowledgeable bartenders, who do a great job of taking orders even when the place gets crowded, as it often does on weekend nights from 10p-1a. The crowd upstairs skews slightly younger than the rest of Jack Rose; but the lack of cheap beer (often only 1 light beer available) and other typical 18th Street specialties (I overheard a bro and his young lady friend lamenting the lack of Red Bull on a recent visit) means that this bar isn’t overrun with 22 year olds like the rest of the hood further north. Tasty bites cooked on the wood-fired grill upstairs can be ordered earlier in the evening if hungry.

Second Floor Open-Air Roof Terrace Bar
Second Floor Open-Air Roof Terrace Bar

Two more smaller bars also make up the second floor. To the front sits the enclosed Balcony Room, which contains a wood-burning fireplace, its own bar and outdoor veranda overlooking 18th Street, and often serves as the location for private events; while in the back, past the restrooms, is the cozier open-air seasonal Tiki Bar (at least during late summer/early fall 2013), with décor and drinks to match, along with an unique view to the east and south .

Seasonal 2nd Floor Back Tiki Bar
Seasonal 2nd Floor Back Tiki Bar

The more sedate Dining Room on the first floor is impressive for the shelves and shelves of booze (mostly bourbon and other types of whiskey) that line its walls, evoking the coolest library ever. Many of the reported 1,600 different kinds (“the largest publicly available collection of whiskey in North America” according to one report) of whiskey that Jack Rose possesses are on these shelves.  Because it’s more relaxed than upstairs, this is a better place to sample some of the amazing spirits on offer. A dining area makes up two-thirds of the room, separated by a railing/partition from the long bar makes up the rest; I could do without this partition, which forces patrons at the bar to squeeze into a smaller space when crowded.

First Floor Dining Room and Walls of Liquor
First Floor Dining Room and Walls of Liquor

Those looking for an even more intimate whiskey experience should check out the recently opened Whiskey Cellar, reached by going down the stairs at the back of the Dining Room. This cozy basement space is only open Thursday-Saturday evenings, but is quickly becoming a favorite spot to sample whiskey (bourbon on tap is offered) and spend time in an even more relaxed environment.

Basement Whiskey Cellar
Basement Whiskey Cellar
Whiskeys on Tap in Whiskey Cellar
Whiskeys on Tap in Whiskey Cellar

If you visit, you’ll frequently spot an older gentleman who looks like Father Christmas with a long hair and beard; this June 2011 Washingtonian profile on this man, Harvey Fry, who supplied around 1/3 of the whiskeys for the bar, is well worth the read. Also, Jack Rose makes great use of social media to advertise its many events; I’m an especially fan of the colorful, informative posters it produces to provide event details.

Although the place (especially upstairs) can get crowded, the lines that often form on weekends are an annoyance, and (most selfishly) it opened up right after I lived less than a football field away (you can spot my house’s old rooftop from the Balcony Room), Jack Rose is well worth a visit.

Barred in DC Rating: 4.5/5

Young lady doing push-ups randomly at Jack Rose's St. Patrick's Day Celebration
Young lady doing push-ups randomly at Jack Rose’s St. Patrick’s Day Celebration

Vendetta

Vendetta, website, Facebook, Twitter, 1212 H St. NE, opens at 5p everyday, HH 5-8p daily, est. 2013 [Yelp, WaPo, Washington City Paper, Washingtonian, NPR]

Upstairs bocce court
Upstairs bocce court

Bocce is the group sport du jour in Washington, especially for  forever-young adults graduating from kickball or those too unathletic to play softball. While other bars have dabbled in the Italian lawn bowling game (e.g., Vinoteca, Blackjack, and Penn Social),it was inevitable that a bar fully devoted to bocce would open in DC.

First Floor Bar
First Floor Bar

That place is Vendetta, the new Italian restaurant/bocce bar from bar impresario Joe Englert on H Street. Located in the old Red Palace space (which itself was a combination of two very different bars, The Red and the Black and Palace of Wonders, neither of which I visited), Vendetta is a nicely decorated spot, with red walls accompanying Vespas hanging or embedded in the wall. A nice 25 foot bocce court highlights each of the two floors; it’s free to play and easy to learn if you haven’t played before. There is small, bare bones deck (with chair umbrellas) off the 2nd floor.

Second Floor Bar
Second Floor Bar

Pasta and gnocchi make up the food menu, while the beer list is nothing special, moderately-priced (for DC) cocktails ($8-10) and prosecco on tap are the draws. For the straight guys out there, take note: the clientele was about 75% women on my visit, and friends have confirmed the favorable mix at other times. A nice addition to the H Street landscape.

Barred in DC Rating: 3.5/5

Vespa in the wall
Vespa on the wall
Upstairs 2nd Floor Patio/Deck
Upstairs 2nd Floor Patio/Deck
Another view of the upstairs bocce court
Another view of the upstairs bocce court

GBD

GBD, website, Facebook, Twitter, 1323 Connecticut Ave. NW (just southeast of Dupont Circle), opens at 8a (weekdays) 10a (weekends) closed 2-4:30p everyday, no dinner Mon., HH 4:30-7 Tue-Sat., 9p-close Sun., est. 2013 [Yelp, WaPo, Washington City Paper]

Fried chicken, doughnuts, and beer are three things that are stellar on their own. Still, one place dares to put them all together—GBD (Golden Brown Delicious).  This new Dupont Circle joint, from the same folks who brought you the uber-popular Churchkey and Birch & Barley, is located in sliver of a storefront previously (ironically) occupied by Yola, the yogurt parfait + coffee shop (operated by a young, idealistic fellow UVa alum, as chronicled in this illuminating Washington City Paper story in Oct 2012). GBD mostly lives up to its hype as a welcome change from the meat markets that make up Dupont/Midtown—though the anticipated throngs have not yet materialized.

GBD's cool sign
GBD’s cool sign

Open nearly all day and night (save for mid-afternoon and Monday nights), GBD offers great doughnuts all day, solid-but-not-great fried chicken (at its best, it is still underseasoned), the best biscuit (crème fraiche) in the city, a variety of beers (helpfully organized as fried chicken or doughnut beers), and tasty punches (a recent visit found bourbon, gin, and vodka punches) in a low-key environment that inspires one to just chill and let the Luther-induced food coma slowly take you over (in case you don’t know, the Luther is a sandwich made up of a donut sliced in half with a piece of fried chicken and bacon in between; it’s delicious and heart attack-y as it sounds).

Bar & Front area at GBD
Bar & Front area at GBD

GBD contains two rooms: the front area includes bar stools by the front bay window (good for people watching) and the only bar; the back contains tables and a few booths. Most crowded during the great happy hour ($3-5 beers & punches from 4:30-7p Tues-Sat., along with an industry happy hour after 9p on Sun.), GBD has sadly been relatively empty the times I’ve stopped by after midnight on the weekends (10-15 people in the entire place). No one likes a crowded bar, but more patrons would definitely add a needed jolt of energy late night and keep this place sustainable long-term. A well-advertised late night happy hour (drinks and/or food) may be a good idea. Still, GBD is a solid place to get good eats and beers in a more Metro-accessible location.

Barred in DC Rating: 4/5

Fried chicken and the awesome GBD biscuit
Fried chicken and the awesome GBD biscuit

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

 

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