The Bar Belle: Temperance Hall

Last Friday night, my friends and I launched a girls-night-out attempt to occupy ourselves with something other than getting drunk – a trek down to E Street to catch Forest Whitaker as really, really bad guy Idi Amin in “The Last King of Scotland.” It turns out that Whitaker won something called an Oscar for the movie a few days earlier, and the show was sold out. Forest Whitaker was enough of an excuse for us – it looked like we were going to have to get drunk.

A friend of mine, who’s dating a guy up in Petworth, had been nagging us to check out their favorite neighborhood bar, a place called Temperance Hall, for weeks. A few blocks from the Georgia Ave.-Petworth stop, the bar is a bit of a hike, even on the Metro. But despite the bar’s spot near the alluring dancing lights of what I’m sure is a nasty-ass strip club, and a Jamaican place my friend insists “smells better than it tastes,” Temperance is surprisingly upscale. Long mirrors give the interior a strange illusion of grandiosity, and splashes of brick, stained glass, and green velvet wallpaper lend to the bar’s throwback whimsy. The place was packed with a mix of post-college kids and neighborhood folks talking close over low lights and sipping brown liquor from tumblers. I felt drunk the second I walked in.

We spent most of our time in The Whiskey Room, a small, darkened space down the stairs and past the kitchen. The Whiskey Room is stocked with a short second bar, a long, community table, and a refreshingly non-internet jukebox that’s stocked with classic rock and soul, but played Kanye West more than once. The basement bar also leads to one of the best post-ban smoking areas I’ve seen yet – a pleasant patio where smokers can grab a table or warm their faces on an outdoor heater instead of huddling out front with Georgia Avenue’s late night crowd, who called us their “Snow Bunnies” and hung out their car windows to enquire as to whether we were interested in partying with them. We declined.

Inside the bar, though, people tend to keep to themselves. My group of too-many college girls took over the long table downstairs, awkwardly encircling a man who dutifully ate his plate of chicken wings before moving elsewhere. But especially at the dark downstairs bar, a drinker camped out at a solitary stool and staring into a whisky seems like as much of a Temperance fixture as the wallpaper.

Though naming a bar Temperance is a wink-nudge at the 1920s movement to ban booze altogether, the drinks are expensive enough to at least keep your drinking in moderation. The best you’ll get for $3 is a bottle of Dominion Root Beer. Bottles of Bud and PBR will cost you $4, and cocktails all run $7. The bar’s specialty rye whiskeys run from 6 bucks for an 80 proof Jim Beam to 24 for a limited edition 100-proof Rittenhouse Single Barrel 21 year rye. Outside of happy hour, even the peanuts will cost you a buck, though the bar claims they’re more than just salted Planters.

Still, sitting in a leather chair made out of a barrel and sipping a bright pink, cherry-topped Jack Rose or a tart Sidecar from a sugar-rimmed martini glass is enough to make any college student believe in life after kegs. At Temperance, at least, you can stay classy while still getting twisted. The drinks, like the bar, are deceptively pretty – they’re stacked with enough booze to keep you going for an hour or so. Enough to get up the courage to head out on Georgia Avenue and ask that snow bunny you’ve had your eye on if they’d like to party.

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