The Bar Belle: The Madhatter Bar and Restaurant

The Madhatter Bar and Restaurant
1831 M St., N.W.

Last Friday night, my friends and I experienced the inevitable decline of an evening that begins with an utterly depressing and ultimately incomprehensible Darren Aronofsky film. How, we asked ourselves, were we to shake the image of a completely shaven, space-pod-encapsuled, and hysterically crying Hugh Jackman from our minds? Where, as we stumbled out of the theater, were we to go from there?

We began, naturally, with chocolate: assorted tiny delicacies dipped in flaming fondue at the Melting Pot. We followed with grease: a two-buck dinner with a 20-minute eat-in limit at McDonalds. But with dessert and Micky D’s over, we were left with one final “D” with which to drown our sorrows.

Dive bar.

Madhatter, a little place tucked between Camelot and Chipotle, seemed to fit the bill: a clouded, basement bar; an average age that fell above 30; an honest, yet ultimately unconvincing, attempt at an Irish pub style; television shared between NBA highlights and “Shrek 2”; funk and soul standards on the stereo. A momentary lapse in dive-ness notwithstanding – a friendly, fresh-faced bouncer checked our ID’s at the door – the place seemed like a lock when my friend’s younger brother’s N.Y. state fake didn’t get a second look.

For the day after Thanksgiving, the place was packed – people drinking away their families, perhaps – so we waited a while for our round of beers and took a seat near the back. We talked about Allen Iverson, James Brown and French Indochina. Mostly, though, we talked about Wolverine. And when my friend complained that it was too dark to see across our table, an employee inexplicably unscrewed a light bulb from the ceiling a few feet from us.

We were having a mildly delightful time, all things considered.

Then, the Madhatter crossed the line from charming Dive to chancy Dive. We were about half a beer in when the roaches came out.

First, it was a small one, the size of a fingernail, exploring the ridge on the wall above my friend’s head. Then, there was the thumb-sized roach, flipped over – dead, we thought – on its back a few inches down. A few minutes later, though, as the clock struck 10 and the classic funk got replaced by alterna-hits of the early 2000s, the fallen roach’s limbs began to flail robotically in the air.

Undeterred, we migrated to the bar upstairs – better-lit, sparsely-populated, five open seats at the bar – hoping to evade the cockroaches as well as those other, khaki-pants-ed critters that swarmed in with the thickening business casual crowd. But another round of beers safely in our hands, we watched as our (very friendly) bartender squashed another roach on the bar. “Oh, did you see that?” he asked casually as he disposed of the body. “Yes,” we replied. “Well, we get an exterminator in here every week, just so you know,” he said, before quickly changing the subject to talk about how big rats can get in swamp areas and how his wife graduated from Michigan.

So, The Madhatter has a cockroach problem. But isn’t that to be expected when you’re looking for a bit of a dive factor in your Friday night? Don’t get me wrong: I would never, ever order food there. But there’s something to be said for having to watch a hole in the bathroom wall like a hawk as you squat over the toilet seat. If anything, maybe you’ll even forget about Hugh Jackman for a while.

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