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

Garden District

Garden District (formerly Standard), website, Twitter, 1801 14th St. NW (14th & S), opens at 5p (weekdays) noon (weekends), closes at 2a (Fri-Sat), 1a (rest of week), closed Mondays except during summer months, est. 2011 [Yelp, WaPo, Tripadvisor]
Standard

Previously an open lot to pick up plants and little trees, the incredibly popular Garden District (formerly Standard) is, since spring 2011, an open lot to drink large $7 German beers and eat barbecue sandwiches and assorted sides.  Aside from a small building at the back of this lot, which includes the small bar, a couple bathrooms and a few bar stools, this spot is nearly entirely outside, so count on crowds anytime the weather is pleasant (and even if it’s not, as long as it’s not raining or snowing, when the place is closed).  There are a number of communal picnic tables (with a few outside the tall fence that surrounds the lot), but the space is spruced up with some hanging lights, heat lamps, shades from the sun, and the lively crowd.

View of Standard with back to small building
View of Standard with back to small building

Expect a crowd every day after 6pm and on weekend afternoons, though it tends to thin out a bit later in the evening and usually if you can’t find a spot on a picnic table, it’s fine to stand and drink while ordering from the bar in the back.  The pulled pork is great, and consider getting the grilled corn when it’s available; sometimes Garden District fries up some donuts, which are reportedly tremendous.  The prices on the menu seem bizarre ($6.36 for a beer), until you realize that adding the 10% DC tax makes everything a round number.

Small bar area inside
Small bar area inside

Aside from the wait/crowd, this bar also unfortunately (but understandably) is closed for the winter (from mid-November to end of February) and serves only 6-7 draft beers, somewhat bottled sodas, and water (so you cocktail or wine lovers are SOL), but all in all, a good spot to drink and eat outside on the 14th Street corridor.

Barred in DC Rating: 4/5

The Board Room DC

The Board Room DC, website, Facebook, 1737 Connecticut Ave. NW (Conn. and R/S St. NW, near 20th & S), 202-518-7666, opens at 4p (weekdays) noon (weekends), HH 4-7p (weekdays) noon-7p (weekends), est. 2012 [Yelp, WaPo]

Board Room
Board Room

The newest spot from the folks who brought you other game bars like Bedrock Billiards, Rocket Bar, Buffalo Billiards, and Atomic Billiards, this north Dupont spot is my favorite new bar in the city.  Not someone to frequent same bar or restaurant too many times, I’ve ended up here for drinks 4 times in the last month.

Back Upstairs Bar

I was initially very skeptical of the conceit of this spot (reflected in its name): a bar that specializes in board games? I’ve generally held the belief that any bar where folks feel comfortable bringing board games is generally a lame spot (the now-shuttered Leopold’s in Ann Arbor was the first place I noticed this).  But this place does it right, with tons of unique and not-so-unique games (Jenga and UNO are two games I’ve played so far) that you can pay $1-$5 to play (some of the more unique expensive games require you to provide your license; if you don’t want to pay, you can always bring in your own game); even the décor and bartops feature board game themes.   The solid beer list ($5.50-7) along with some fancy-ish $8-9 cocktails (get the Orange Crush) that are made strong keep this bar much livelier than you would expect.

Free Game of Hangman

Like many bars in the vicinity, Board Room is fairly narrow, yet deep spot; recommend going past the long bar in the first floor (with some tables in the back) to go upstairs.  The bar upstairs is much smaller, but I haven’t had much trouble getting drinks from the friendly bartenders and tables always seem to open up after a bit.  One weekends this place gets crowded well before 9PM and stays that way till 12:30am at least, but it’s never unbearably stuffed and folks are friendly and often trade games with other groups when they want to switch it up  One quibble: it would be nice if the bouncer/keeper of the board games had some knowledge of the games that are peddled.  All in all, a fun place to go all week long.

Barred in DC Rating: 4.5/5

 

 

ChurchKey

ChurchKey, web siteFacebookTwitter1337 14th St. NW (14th & Rhode Island b/t N & P), 202-567-2576, opens at 4p (weekdays) noon (weekends), closes at 1a except Fri-Sat (2a), est. 2009 [YelpWaPo, Tripadvisor, Urbanspoon, D.C. Foodies, Frommer’s, Fodor’s]

This is probably the best beer bar and the most popular bar for non-tourist adults (25+) in DC.  Massive beer list with ton on draft and some on cask.  Always crowded (except when old people go to bed after midnight), fairly narrow, and impossible to get a bar stool or one of their cozy booths during most hours, so I actually don’t go here that often even though it’s only a few blocks away from where I live.  Once you get in (always a line between 9pm-midnight on weekends), surprisingly not that hard to get a beer, but I always ask to see the beer list so I can try something new. Solid bar food, and the restaurant downstairs (Birch & Barley) is terrific. Although it doesn’t have a happy hour, lots of special beer events are hosted here and a lot of the beers aren’t as expensive (though some definitely are, so you always want to check the menu before acting fake fancy) as you might think. Opened in late 2009 after what felt like years of anticipation.

Barred in DC Rating: 4.5/5