Where? 2001 14th St., NW
I made my way toward U Street last weekend with a group of friends. It was the perfect chance for productive multitasking: We had a birthday to celebrate and I had every intention of finding an inspired bar to write about.
I had heard good things about The Saloon. The cozy-looking pub seemed promising: A sign outside brags, “We are a place for good friends, beer and conversation,” alongside a list of rules banning television, martinis, shots and “pretending”, among other things.
Unfortunately, the sign also definitively stated “no standing.” A heavily-pregamed party of five is not easily convinced to wait 15 minutes for seats at a crowded bar.
We continued down U Street in search of another location. Much to my dismay, we ended up at Lost Society. I hadn’t been before, but I knew more or less what kind of place it was. I didn’t expect much and I certainly didn’t intend to write about it.
As I made my way up to the rooftop bar, I first noticed that no one was really doing much. The hundreds of people there were leaning anxiously over one of the two bars, trying to order a drink or close a tab. They were standing (or awkwardly gyrating) on the dance floor, or sitting on the padded benches that line the walls, staring into the swarm of drink-clutching, moderately-successful 20-somethings.
It created a strange cognitive dissonance. There was excessively loud, generic dance music and masses of attractive, well-dressed people, yet no one seemed to be successfully socializing. The demeanor was so stiff, it was difficult to tell who was a bouncer and who was just waiting for a restroom to open up.
I walked up to the bar and ordered a whiskey ginger and a vodka soda, which resulted in two hastily-mixed concoctions of budget booze and fountain soda for $16. I closed my tab on the spot to stop myself from running up a hefty bill for cheap liquor. I pride myself on tipping well, but as I started to calculate 20 percent of 16, I noticed the tip space on the bill read “Add’l Tip.” The venue had taken the liberty of adding an 18 percent gratuity to my card. Either D.C. millennials are notoriously bad tippers, or this bar is betting on intoxicated yuppies not reading the bill and doubling tips. Whichever it may be, if you’re going to tip yourself for me, I’m not going to go out of my way to give you the additional two percent I would have otherwise.
Sipping my drink, I thought about what a bar should be, aside from just a place that serves alcohol. A bar is the kind of place where Hemingway sipped a cocktail and conjured up some of the greatest characters in American literature. Or the place where a handful of local regulars were exposed to some no-name band that would go on to define a generation of rock ’n’ roll. In a less idealistic sense, a bar is where you converse with friends, meet new people or just sit and reflect on your troubles over a beer with the bartender. None of this is possible at Lost Society.
Lost Society falls into the awkward gap between a bar and a club. It is part of a growing trend of expensive mediocrity in D.C. It’s too loud and too pretentious to be a good bar, but lacks the energy and glamour to be a good club. It’s a place to drink unexceptional drinks, listen to unexceptional music, and put an exceptional dent in your bank account.
As we emerged from Lost Society and reconvened out front, the wood-burned sign for Desperados Burgers and Bar caught my eye. We dashed across U Street and into the dimly lit, western-looking room. Even though I had never been to this place before, as I leaned back onto a bar stool, it felt familiar and comfortable. Whiskey shots and Pabst Blue Ribbons were $2.50, sports highlights were on T.V., and unobjectionable music played in the background. Striking up a conversation was as easy as talking to the person next to you, and does not require elaborate mouthing and hand signals.
We toasted a round of whiskey shots to our friend’s birthday, but really we were just relieved to be able to talk. The bartender was quick to offer her a shot of anything, on the house, in celebration. When I settled my tab, I added the extra two percent tip from Lost Society, for my own sense of poetic justice.
Desperados was nothing special. Wooden seats and tables are illuminated by dim, yellow lights. Decent people man the bar, serving up good drinks for a good price. The quality of your time there is directly correlated to the quality of person you are and the quality of people you are with. For a bar, that is perfect.