Bar Belle: The Austin Grill

The 9:30 Club is not the only place to see live music in the D.C. area. And the overt rudeness of the staff last time I was there has prompted a whole new goal in my Bar Belle adventures: it’s time to start finding bars with good booze, small covers and great tunes.

Fortunately for me, there are plenty of places in the area ready to cater toward my needs. While I was apprehensive about trekking to Maryland to enter a chain restaurant, I had heard great things about the Austin Grill’s live music. It happens every night of the week.

Austin Grill is home to an open-mic night on Mondays, a local singer-songwriter showcase on Tuesdays and a variety of local, regional and national acts that play during the rest of the week.

I took the red line on Tuesday night and was disappointed that there weren’t many people in the bar. But it was a rainy Tuesday night in a suburb – what did I expect?

I was, however, pleasantly surprised to find three talented local singer-songwriters sharing the stage and sharing their stories and beautiful music with the audience. I was also pleasantly surprised at the amazing margaritas and great happy hour. Everyday from 2 to 7 p.m. and again from 10 p.m. to close, the Austin Grill boasts $3.50 house margaritas (normally $6.50), $3.50 Miller Light & Shiner and $2.00 cans of PBR.

My bartender informed me that the staff is also working on getting a bar food happy hour, but that hasn’t happened just yet. One advantage to the Austin Grill is it is a restaurant, so there is a whole menu to choose from rather than the usual drunk munchies. I ended up getting pickle chips – greasy, thinly sliced pickle pieces, deep-fried and served with a side of sour cream. A fellow bargoer commented, “These are addictive. I’m going to have a hard time stopping.” The pickle chips went perfectly with my margaritas and even better when I switched to beer later in the evening.

While the music and pickle chips were unique, I cannot say the same about the d?cor of the restaurant. In spite of the bumper stickers from some of my favorite bands and acoustic guitars hung on the walls, it was still very apparent that the restaurant was part of a chain – something about the T-shirts sported by all employees and the faux vintage rock and roll posters.

But I wasn’t there for the d?cor, I was there for the music. When the bar picked up more happy souls around 10 p.m. for the second portion of happy hour, the music kept on rocking. The man sitting next to me at the bar had obviously been there a time or two before, and during a Gwil Owen cover by local singer-songwriter Meghan Hayes, he took out a harmonica. No one else in the bar could hear him, but the harmony of the guitar, a powerful female voice and the harmonica was truly music to my ears. He later got up and played for the whole bar while accompanying one of the other singer-songwriters.

The rainy Tuesday was washed away with strong margaritas and musicians having fun doing what they love. And isn’t that what music and going to a bar are really all about?

To find out more about the Austin Grill in Silver Spring, Md., including a comprehensive list of upcoming performers, visit www.austingrill.com/locations/silver_spring.htm.

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