The Bar Belle: The 18th Amendment

The 18th Amendment
613 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E. Washington D.C., 20003

A couple of weeks ago, what began as a few Thursday drinks at an L Street bar ended with my friends and I getting offered a snort of coke by a guy who claimed to be a lawyer (we declined it), a phone number by a guy who claimed to be the bartender’s roommate (we deleted it) and a threatening knife by a guy who claimed we had stolen one of his darts (we might have done it – who can remember?).

Needless to say, we can’t go back there for a while.

So last weekend, when I got offered the opportunity to hit a bar further a-field by some guy from the paper who claimed his mother recommended it, I was more than happy to head to a place where my face wouldn’t be recognized.

The 18th Amendment, one in a line of quirky bars in Southeast’s Eastern Market area, fit the bill. In case you need a brush-up on your Constitutional history, the 18th Amendment outlawed alcohol for the whole of the ’20s, meaning the bar is – you guessed it – prohibition themed. As far as concept bars go, it’s a pretty good one – Roaring Twenties Art Deco club on top, darkened speakeasy basement on bottom. So, unlike most themed bars – Irish Pub Concept by Guinness, anyone? – the radically different environments mean you don’t need to feel like you’re stuck in one Disney attraction for too long. If you get tired of the mirror-walled and electric-lit polish of the sprawling upstairs bar, you can always choose to snake down a narrow staircase and through a damp hall to the cellar-like bar below.

Last Friday, we chose to do just that, and hit the speakeasy the 18th Amendment calls the “Keyhole.” I found it more pleasant than the other place where I thought I might get raided – when my friends and I decided it would be a good idea to get fall-down drunk off cheap liquor in a darkened academic building my freshman year. The Keyhole doesn’t hold the same sort of illicit excitement, but it does have a central pool table, crates to set your beer on, and a long happy hour from 4 to 8 p.m. on weekdays that offers $2.50 Yuengling pints and daily food specials instead of the end of your roommate’s handle of Zelco.

Down in the Keyhole, I apologized to everyone within earshot for my dangerous handle on a billiard stick and launched into a particularly unwieldy game of pool. It wasn’t long before I gained an enthusiastic coach in a woman in a cap and sweatshirt who sat on the sidelines. When my game ended – I lost after three or four unsuccessful stabs at knocking the black one with the white one – she stepped up to the table and sank her shots, one after another. Afterwards, she headed to the jukebox for some celebratory Phil Collins.

The whole crowd was like this – a little bit older than you’d find at your standard college bar, and maybe a bit more padded in the wallet, but surprisingly friendly. The whole time I was there, nobody pulled a knife on me! Nobody hit on me! Nobody even offered me cocaine, though the bartender did give me a free Coca-Cola! I think he may have mistaken me for a child!

Even the guy who invited me turned out to be nice – despite the fact that, in my experience, people who write weekly first-person columns for college newspapers are almost always self-important douche bags. I hear he’s also shown interest in getting in on the sex column. Perhaps his mother recommended her, too.

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