Lucky Bar

Awning in front of Lucky Bar
Awning in front of Lucky Bar

Lucky BarwebsiteFacebookTwitter,  1221 Connecticut Ave. NW (at 18th & M), opens at 3p on weekdays (unless soccer event), typically 8a or earlier on weekends , HH 3-8 M-W, 3-close Th, 3-10p F, est. 1997 [Yelp, WaPo, Frommers]

Arguably the best soccer bar in D.C. (though Fado may quibble), Lucky Bar has been treating futbol fans and 23 year olds to good times for nearly two decades. More divey than a true dive, this Joe Englert spot sports nearly 25 TVs on 3 levels in its location in the raucous triangle of 18th/M/Connecticut.

For soccer fans, the bar opens quite early, often on weekends before booze can even be served at 8am and similarly early on weekdays during the World Cup and other big competitions. Every conceivable game around the world is available here, and fans who want to catch the big matches have to show up early or strategically (i.e., right when previous games end) to even get a seat.

First Floor Bar
First Floor Bar

For everyone else, this spot is a less crowded (compared to neighbors Sign of the Whale &  Madhatter) meat market for the younger set (especially popular on Thursdays).  A green awning covering a handful outdoor seating fronts the bar. Behind, the first floor is the most divey of the levels; it is a narrow space mostly taken up by a long bar and some booths.  Located at the rear, up a few steps, is the more expansive main bar area.  Booths, couches, pool tables, lots of tvs, and a smaller bar in the far corner make up this  larger space.  A seemingly impromptu dance floor often (but not always) materializes late at night ; it should be noted that this is definitely a sticky-floor-kind-of-bar.  If you’re hungry for some nuts after dancing, put in a few quarters in a vending machine at the back of this floor, and you’ll be rewarded.

2nd floor main bar area
2nd floor main bar area
Second floor bar
Second floor bar

Leading upstairs near the nut machine is perhaps the most harrowing/steep (at least if you’ve had a few too many Bud Lights) stairs in any DC bar; bargoers making it to the summit will be rewarded with a more private-feeling space and another bar, along with the only bathrooms in all of Lucky Bar. Just be careful walking back down to the 2nd floor.

Legendary stairs to 3rd floor
Legendary stairs to 3rd floor

Although the smell of the adjacent Julia’s Empanadas (Lucky Bar + couple Jamaican empanadas was definitely a common combo of mine in the mid-2000s) permeates the bar, good times can be had . Even if you’re not a soccer fan, the extended happy hour (3-8pm M-W with $2.50-$3.75/pint & $3.50 rail drinks) is cheap, and drafts (even the local craft beers like DC Brau, Chocolate City & Atlas) are $4 until 10p on Fridays.  On Thursdays, the most popular night, happy hour runs all night-usually $3-4 pints & cocktails, $12 pitchers and food specials. Beer and rail drinks are always relatively cheap at all hours too.

Third Floor Bar
Third Floor Bar

Barred in DC Rating: 3/5

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

 

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

Darlington House – Cantina Pub

Darlington House – Cantina Pub, website, Facebook, Twitter, 1610 20th St. NW (20th and Q), 202-332-3722, opens at 4p (weekdays) 11:30a (weekends), HH 4-7p weekdays, est. 2009 [Yelp]
Darlington House - Cantina Pub

Just north of the Dupont Circle North/Q Street entrance, this basement bar-known as Cantina Pub, though I’ve never heard anyone call it anything except Darlington House-opened up in the old Childe Harold space (which apparently the Boss Bruce Springsteen played at in the 70s) in spring 2009.  This fairly small, low-ceiling’d bar below the much nicer restaurant upstairs, isn’t quite a dive, but is a decent, fun spot to stop by for happy hour and can be surprisingly lively late (though never crowded) on a weekend if you’re in north Dupont.

Front area of bar
Front area of bar

Once you walk in the entrance a few steps down from 20th Street, you’re right in the bar, with the sole, long bar to the left with a few table tops and bar stools on the right.  The place opens up slightly in the back with a few tables for sitting maybe 20 people.  Throughout the inside is one of my opposite-pet-peeves, exposed brick.

Back area of bar
Back area of bar

The beers on tap are nothing to write home/prison about, but there is a decent cocktail and TV situation slong with a covered patio upfront can also fit around 20 people that is good for people watching. Because of the layout, you have to actually walk on the sidewalk to get to the patio; it feels weird to take a beer from the bar (or vice versa), but no one has seemed to mind-yet.

Barred in DC Rating: 3.5/5

 

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

 

 

DGS Delicatessen

DGS Delicatessen, website, Facebook, Twitter, 1317 Connecticut Ave. NW (between N and Dupont Circle, near 18th and N), 202-293-4400, open for lunch/brunch & dinner (5:30p) everyday, closes at 10p (Sun-Thurs) 11p (Fri-Sat), HH 5-7p everyday, est. 2012 [Yelp, WaPo]

Hiddenish entrance to bar on 18th St.
Hiddenish entrance to bar on 18th St.

What is a bar? Webster’s defines a “bar” as…I’m not looking up bar in the dictionary. Generally people think of a bar as a place you go to drink.  The overwhelming majority of the bars I’ve listed and I will review are traditionally bars, though many of them serve food.  Some of the places I’ve listed, along with DGS Delicatessen-the subject of this review, are actually really restaurants.  I’m not going to list/review every single restaurant, but I’ve included some worthwhile spots to drink, like DGS, which have a very defined bar area/menu (look at that sweet sign below) and/or have solid happy hour specials, that are not traditional bars and close before midnight, even on weekends.

Sign showing where you are
Sign showing where you are

DGS Delicatessen, which opened up in late 2012, has itself been subject to some yuppie controversy over what’s in a name, as folks are upset  that it really is a spotless, upscale restaurant as opposed to a traditional deli, with gargantuan sandwiches and a lot of old-world character.  With that not in mind, we stopped by for their happy hour on a Friday to grab some bites and drinks in their sliver of the bar tucked in the back with its own hiddenish entrance off 18th street.  Get there by 5:15 or you won’t be able to get one of the 10-15 seats, though the standing room area isn’t too crowded against the exposed brick behind the barstools.  It’s a friendly spot, with some clear regulars there for chopped liver, pickles, latkes, pastrami chili and cheese fries (we got the latter two, which were very good, as was the tongue sliders).  A wide range of ages in there, with some elderly folks along with young couples on a date.  We sampled a few of their cocktails, priced $6-9, mostly $7 (themed names-The Chosen Highball, Le Marais, the Mensch), which were very good and had a couple beers (the ones on special were fairly random-Genesee Cream Ale in a can, Tsingtao and Mama Little Yella Pils in a 12. oz draft) for $3-4.  Tunes from the 70s played on the speaker the whole time we were there, which gave it a pretty chill vibe.  All in all, a solid place for happy hour to get a drink and some unique (for DC) eats.

DGS

Sign out front
Sign out front

Barred in DC Rating: 4/5