The Bar Belle: Solly’s U Street Tavern

Solly’s U Street Tavern
1942 11th St. N.W.

“I don’t really like the place,” our friend told us as we walked down U Street toward our destination. “I was really sick last time I was there, so all I could drink was water. And my back hurt from standing the whole time.” When we reminded him that this experience had nothing to do with the bar itself, he replied, “I just thought I should warn you. A bad time – it could happen to anyone.”

But when we reached Solly’s, a tavern on the corner of 11th and U, the place seemed promisingly pleasant. From the minute you walk in, the red-walled two-story with a bar on each level has a comfortably familiar neighborhood-bar vibe. Stay downstairs at the L-shaped bar for mingling or drinking at a small table tucked close to the windows facing U Street’s parade of drunken pedestrians; head upstairs for a larger space with long tables and an Internet jukebox. The upstairs/downstairs divide was palpable: the second floor held large groups of friends hanging out over a couple drinks or watching the HD TVs scattered high against the walls; downstairs, singletons (or as my friend speculated, “guys who have girlfriends looking to pick up another one”) staked out the low-lit bar.

We bought a few $3 PBR’s and headed upstairs, where Bowie and Blondie flowed from the jukebox and the lighting was a bit brighter. The bartender was friendly but pretty strict on ID’s – no picking up an extra drink to bring to another friend, underage or otherwise. With all tables full, we pulled some chairs into a circle onto a low stage in the back – which hosts free, no-name local shows some weekends – as the rest of the bar peered briefly over their drinks with mild disapproval. You get the sense that nothing too crazy has ever really happened at this bar.

Solly’s – not to be confused with the packed and popular Polly’s on U and 13th – is relatively new, with a year-and-a-half of business under its belt. It’s clear Solly’s is still getting its legs – the larger upstairs space is closed Monday through Thursday, and on a Saturday night, the bar was less packed than most U Street drinking spots. In a sense, Solly’s youth makes it a refreshing change from other bars in the area – there’s no waiting for drinks or bathrooms, seats aren’t too hard to find, and the likelihood of stepping in any vomit is surprisingly low.

It’s true – nothing really crazy happened. We drank our drinks, talked some, took a spin on the jukebox. After a while, one of my coworkers showed up. He’s not very crazy either. But stepping outside Solly’s reminds you what you didn’t miss about the rest of closing-time U Street: kids pissing in alleys, cars blasting techno, men asking my friends if they could “harass you girls for a minute” or stopping dead in their tracks to scream, “that girl’s wearing pigtails!” in my general direction. Sometimes, a nice quiet drink is all you need.

But consider yourself warned. A mildly interesting time – it could happen to anyone.

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