Bar Bro: Capitol Hill’s ‘Cheers’

The Li’L pub

Where? 655 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Cover? No
Carded? Yes

The Bar Bro brings you the best dives in the District. He isn’t classless – just low-class.

When I walked into The Li’l Pub, just a block from the Eastern Market Metro station, I wondered where I had seen a bar like this before. The men who sat at the bar in baseball caps and rumpled flannel shirts drank bottled beers and talked with an easy rapport, intermittently glancing up at the World Series game on TV.

The jukebox is loud, the quarter-operated pool tables are small and slow and the drinks are cheap.

“What’s that TV show?” one patron asked me. “You know, ‘Where everybody knows your name.’ ”

“Cheers?” I suggested.

He nodded and took a sip of his beer.

It was an apt comparison. In a city with a well-known reputation for superficiality, Li’l Pub remains no-frills and down-to-earth. And while Norm and Cliff were nowhere to be found, this bar was filled with its own vibrant cast of characters. The bartender, Shirley, was a bit standoffish at first, but she warmed up quickly, treating me with the same sort of sardonic warmth she showed her usual customers.

The regulars are an eclectic group of working-class locals, but they never treated me like an outsider. They were all too willing to bullshit with me about sports, politics or pop culture, and even gave me some good-natured ribbing for being the youngest person in the bar by a solid 20 years.

It only took a few drinks and a few innings of baseball for me to grow jealous of these people. They had created a second family here. Just to the right of the door hangs a collage of photographs pinned to a bulletin board. I wouldn’t be surprised if everyone in that bar could identify the subject of each photo.

All the beers here are bottled. I counted about 13 of them lining the back bar. I stuck with cheap domestics like Budweiser at $3.75 a bottle. Rails are $4.50 but strong and tasty – the whiskey and coke I tried had more than enough booze to remind me what I was drinking. During the daily 3 to 8 p.m. happy hour, prices drop to $2 beers and $2.75 rail drinks, and I was informed that if you correctly answer “Final Jeopardy,” your drink is on the house.

Perhaps the greatest surprise of the evening was the $1 Jell-O shot. I asked Shirley if she makes them herself.

“No,” she said, “I send across the street for them.”

I ordered one and began to cut around the edge with my pinky finger. I admittedly hadn’t taken one in quite some time. One patron told me I was doing it wrong, that I needed to smack the shot on the bar and then shoot it back. Shirley argued that one only needed to suck it out. A couple guys ordered shots to show me how it was done.

There we were, a group of dudes in a dive bar, arguing about proper Jell-O shooting techniques. As it turns out, smacking it on the bar doesn’t seem to do much of anything, but the shot went down fine. One of the guys told me the shots have the maximum amount of liquor in them to still allow the Jell-O to solidify. I tend to believe him – it was the strongest drink I had all night.

I left The Li’l Pub feeling drunker, happier and maybe a bit wiser. It’s a perfect drinking experience if you go into it with an open mind. That being said, this is not the mindset of the average GW drinker. If you hit up McFadden’s Restauran & Saloon every weekend, you can sit this one out. You won’t make any friends here. And if you’re the kind of kid who throws all your drinks on daddy’s credit card, The Li’l Pub isn’t for you – it’s cash only.

But if you want a low-key night away from GW to have a few drinks, shoot some pool and maybe even make a few new friends, then check this place out. Chances are, they’ll make you feel right at home.

The Hatchet has disabled comments on our website. Learn more.