Bar Bro: Waiting for a real dive bar

The Looking Glass Lounge

Where? 3634 Georgia Ave., NW
Cover? No
Carded? Yes
Happy Hour? Every day, 5 to 8 p.m.: $2 off all draft beers, $1 off all rail liquor, $1 off imported bottled beer

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

DCist published an article called “The Dive is Dead, and We Killed It” about two weeks ago. My first reaction was dismissive. I had held one end of a table up with my knee at Dan’s Café and drank beers for a quarter at McNasty’s. Surely, the bathroom alone at Dan’s qualified it as a legitimate dive.

But as I read further and began to reconsider my drinking experiences in the District, I came to grips with the main thesis.

“We’re not looking for a true dive,” the article said. “We’re looking for the invented nostalgia of the idea a dive conveys but watered down for the masses.”

Media Credit: Gabriella Demczuk | Senior Staff Photographer

That’s right. Look up any list of D.C.’s best dives and you’ll find a number of dimly-lit bars in rough (but rapidly gentrifying) neighborhoods that offer cheap canned beer alongside $8 drafts of craft brew.

Essentially, they’re places where well-to-do people can slum for a while without leaving the safety and familiar comfort of their locally brewed IPA.

So last Friday I went to The Looking Glass Lounge, just a block from the Georgia Ave-Petworth Metro stop, with a good idea of what I was in for. It was freezing outside, and the bar greeted my friends and me warmly. It’s cozy without being too cramped. If you follow the mish-mashed chandeliers to the back of the bar, past the exposed brick walls adorned with old promotional mirrors and original artwork, you’ll find that every table in the bar is filled with diners, drinkers and hipsters. There’s a band set-up in the back, and even though no one was playing live that night, the music was loud and hip, and people standing in the space between the bar and the tables danced and chatted intermittently.

We decided to head downstairs, where, past the open kitchen, lies a smaller, chiller scene. It seemed less deliberately cool, with watercolor paintings of tigers hanging behind the bar, and a quieter, old-school hip-hop soundtrack playing over the speakers. After waiting around for about 10 minutes – and lamenting that it was too cold to sit out on the biergarten-esque patio – although it was open to smokers – we grabbed a table in the corner and ordered food and drinks.

The food is standard D.C. pub fare. I had a chili-cheese half-smoke ($6.50), which always seems to live up to its reputation as the best drunk food in the District. I found it odd that vegetarian chili was an option on top of a hot dog, but to each his own. As it were, my dog came out topped with hearty chili and a thick helping of Cheez Whiz, which, as anyone from Philly will tell you, is the only form of cheese that belongs on a greasy bar sandwich. I sampled a few plates around the table – a Reuben ($9.75), some fries ($4) – and everything was genuinely satisfying.

For drinks, we decided to start with good beer before moving on to the cheaper stuff, which in my home state of New Jersey has always meant a Yuengling before a case of Keystone, but I digress. The Looking Glass Lounge has a good selection of beers on tap, all ranging from $7-9. The highlights were the Traveling Mustache Shandy, which was fresh and fruity, and the Chocolate City Cerveza Nacional, which tasted like easy-drinking Irish coffee. Still, I can’t abide a $7 drink, and opted instead to finish the night cruising on $6 boilermakers – a shot of Jim Beam chased with a can of Natty Boh. Quick, easy and to the point.

In the end, a good, drunk time was had by all. But I couldn’t help looking around and thinking about the death of the dive bar. The Looking Glass Lounge has a dartboard – behind the bar. Everything in the bar – the music, the décor, the bartenders – is delivered in a package of premeditated hipness. This is a dive column. And for a bar to qualify, it must offer a drink for $3 during primetime. In that sense, the Looking Glass Lounge qualifies.

If you stick with the shot-and-a-beer combo, you can have a pretty cheap, fun night. And that’s what the Bar Bro stands for: bars that are cheap and fun.

But I feel that I owe my readers a divier experience than this. The dive bar may be dying in this city, but somehow, I refuse to believe that it has gone completely extinct. There are bars in this city that don’t have websites and snarky Yelp reviews, and I will try my best to find them for you. Until then, have fun. Go to places like this. And if drinking for cheap means drinking PBRs next to bearded white guys wearing Wu Tang T-shirts, then so be it.

If DCist is right, it’s kind of what we all want anyway.

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