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Dec 19, 2014

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DC pub crawl

By Gregg Smith

Pundits around the capital are always quick to point out the numerous and seemingly irreversible errors made by Congress. Indeed, if you dig back through the city's history you'll find one of the first and longest lasting governmental misfires was to locate Washington on a swamp. Not satisfied there, they then proceeded to design a "defensible" city. Today this creation of Pierre L'Enfant frustrates visitors with its maze of non-parallel streets intersecting at near impassable circles (originally artillery positions to slow an invading army). To ease this unconscionable burden on beer enthusiasts All About Beer has prepared a drinking guide to our nation's capital. Even better, it's as diverse as the city.

In consideration of tangled streets and a scarcity of taxies a pub crawl has been assembled which utilizes the comfortable and efficient Metro system. Begin by taking the orange line to Arlington where you leave the train at the "Court House" station. Bear left through the station tunnel, exit the escalator, turn right, and follow Wilson Boulevard a couple of blocks past a Taco Bell. The next building, which appears to be an Oldsmobile dealer, is actually the home of "Bardo Rodeo", one of the largest brewpub's on the east coast.

The bar is "decorated" with an early sixties 'Olds' protruding through what was the showroom window. But this is only the beginning. It soon becomes apparent this is unlike any other brewpub you've visited. The color scheme is in the best green's, deep purple's and black of generation X, with music to match. As in the words of Sheryl Crow "This ain't no country club....".

The bar is a trip in itself with flying mermaid-kabuki airplanes suspended above the bar. Yet another unusual feature is the selection of over 24 microbrewed taps complementing 6 to 12 of their own housebrews. The micros are no slouch either; they carry the specialty brews from Anchor, Sierra Nevada, Pete's, Rogue, Stoudt's, etc. After making your selection take a little walk around the right hand side of the bar. Be prepared, the place is huge and you're about to walk through what was once the auto service area. Eventually you'll spot the brewing equipment but even then you're only about two thirds of the way through, it's further yet to where the pool tables sit... "All I want to do is have some fun..." If you get hungry on your hike try the Porto Bello mushroom sandwich with roasted red peppers. The mushrooms are beefy, but the sandwich won't slow you down when you continue on your beer trek.

Head out the front door of Bardo and make a left, go past the Metro station and another 7 or 8 blocks where you'll find "Strange Ways" on the left side of Wilson at 2338. Inside is across between a coffee house and bar. Peering in the door may fool you into believing Strange Ways is out of business, and even inside it's an eerie mix. There's a booth like atmosphere which seems at odds with the dark interior colors. The bar can have driving rock, but usually the volume is held low enough to allow conversation. The taps have an assortment of 22 micro's and even more in bottles. Notable is their feature brew "Elvis's Favorite" - Schlitz, "I'm all shook up...." at a dollar a can.

After fueling up, go out the door and turn right, back to the Metro. Take the orange line back into DC to the Capitol Hill at Pennsylvania SE. Leave the station, make a left, then cross the street to Penn. SE at 329 (on the right hand side) There you'll find a Capitol Hill classic, "The Hawk & Dove" and it's as far as you can get from the atmosphere of Bardo's and Strange Ways.

There are actually two bars inside. Straight in is a handsome old wood bar. Check out the chandeliers, a pair of winged cherubs holding triple globed lights. The remainder is decorated with portraits of old Washington high-rollers, an antique bottle collection, and prints of fox hunts and such. The other half of the bar (to the left) is a tree-huggers delight with duck decoy's, raccoons, foxes, and antlers in a dusty challenge to New York's McSoreley's. The intrigue is during the day when the bar fills with lobbyists, aides and congressman trying to escape the rigors of the house floor. The beer selection may seem limited, but it is adequate with Old Heurich, Pete's, Guiness, Sam Adams and Bass among others.

Leaving Hawk & Dove, get back on the orange line. It's probably been too long between brewpubs so the next stop is Capital City Brewing. Off the escalator turn right and walk to the corner of 11th and H streets. Inside are two faux kettles of bright copper in the center of the bar, which has the 6 to 8 house beers posted on a chalk board. Again, a nice feature is the choice of another dozen imports and micros.

Walls are painted with Washington scenes in allegory and the crowd is a mix of ageing generation X wanna be's and nascent yuppies, but the atmosphere is agreeable to both if they love beer. The music bridges the gap with groups such as Counting Crows "...she lookin' at you, I don't think so, she lookin' at me..." The question is how can they afford all those used kegs setting on the catwalk which runs above the entire floor? The best feature might be the late night menu, a great place to end the evening - but your trek is barely half over.

Go back to the Metro Center and this time get on the red line to Farragut North. At this stop you walk straight ahead three blocks to the corner of 20th and K streets and the "Crow Bar". You'll know you're close when you hear hard core guitars. Fear not, the sound isn't from eardrum rupturing decibels, it's an outdoor speaker system which pipes the tunes out to where bikers mingle on the sidewalk near their parked machines. Bring your own ponytail, goatee, and bike. But these are friendly bikers, even mopeds qualify. Inside there are a dozen micro taps and more in bottles. Not dressed for this crowd? No worry and "..no apologies...." Before leaving check out the bottom of the stairway balusters, it's where the bar gets its name.

The Metro will once again transport you, on the red line, to another stop, and here you'll hit two places. Jump off the train at the Dupont Circle stop and take the south exit "I, know a place, I can go...." Make a right and walk about 30 feet, cross Connecticut and make another right. On the left side at 1345 is the "Big Hunt", a bar with 28 taps to meet your needs. The interior is sparsely decorated with shadow box art which duplicates postcards of Pompei and Stonehenge. If by this point you need some eats grab a pizza, burgers, or sandwiches - and try the cheese fries.

Need a really unusual beer to top off the night? The last stop is reached by foot, go back across the Dupont circle and head to 22nd Street between P & Q. This is the home of Washington's beer Mecca - "The Brickskeller". Arlo Guthrie says it best "You can get anything you want...." Typically there are five to seven hundred different beers to choose from, with the selections sorted according to country. Walk up the steps, in the door, make an immediate right and go down a flight of stairs - it really is in a cellar. In addition to the beer list the Brickskeller has a menu of solid pub fare. More interesting, it offers a regular series of speakers on beer and brewing, consult the bartender for a schedule.

This is the end of the line. When you get done forget the Metro. Head back by taxies which are nearly always available. A pub crawl like this will not only make you happy, it'll get your mind off whatever shenanigans are going on in congress.

Gregg Smith

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