courtesy of ‘furcafe’
With the amazing renaissance of our drinks culture in DC – the craft cocktail movement, the wine bar explosion, and the expanding beer consciousness all facing off against the slick corporate engines looking to make big bucks off bottle service and velvet ropes – it’s easy to overlook the plain ol’ dingy dive bar. But there’s a seedy side to the world of drinks in our fair capital city. And I love it.
What makes a dive bar? Can you really define it? Imagine you were a production designer for a crazy independent filmmaker, would you know what elements to include? Some might say DC is too Type A to have real dive bars, but the sleazy underbelly of politics proves that wrong. With so many bright-eyed babies coming here to “make it big” there’s bound to be a lot of disappointment. Not everybody’s a winner. And the dive bar thrives on losers.
Depressed yet? Good. Relish it. That’s part of the dive bar too. You’ve got to inhale that sick aroma, ripe from years of cigarette smoke and body odor, squint as you enter almost total darkness or excruciatingly bad fluorescent lighting, belly up to the bar and order a shot. Now look around. Let’s see what we have here.
"17th Street Patios" by M.V. Jantzen, on Flickr
Seriously. Who hasn’t had a drink at Fox & Hounds? The quintessential DC dive bar. Completely schizophrenic depending on season and time of day. Always unglamorous and unapologetic. The grande dame of 17th Street since when, the 60′s? What’s summer in Washington without a visit here, sinking into a plastic patio chair at a perpetually wobbling table and watching the world go by, with some of the best people-watching in the city?
Its official name is “Trio’s Fox & Hounds,” and you can easily order food from the adjacent Trio’s diner to enjoy while you drink (my god, this means you can even get your teetotaller a milkshake). But eating is not the primary activity. If you’re a mixed drink inbiber, be warned – this is the sort of establishment that gives you a glass of vodka with a side of bottled tonic. That is all part of the tattered charm of a true dive. The beer is cheap (no pints or bottles over $6, with $17 pitchers) and the Guinness perfectly poured.
Don’t feel like hanging out on the patio (or find yourself still there after noise ordinances close it down)? It’s a whole different experience inside.
"Pure Evil shot, DC9" by Jenn Larsen, on Flickr
“Are you sure this is the right place?”
I was witnessing a mesmerizing scene, social tension galore. The speaking girl’s perfect blonde updo was trembling as she stood in line with her equally coiffed crew. Deposited by a cab with a gaggle of well-heeled preps, it was obvious she’d never hit this part of town before. But leading the way was a wild-eyed boy with a ringleader look that said – you will get out of your comfort zone, my friends – and so the girls followed him in, wide-eyed, longing for L2 Lounge. Instead they got DC9.
I’m teasing, I’m sure they had a raring good time dancing their solid gold hearts out. For a while, this girl’s nervousness was justified. There wasn’t much at the corner of 9th & U until DC9 became hipster paradise, and I’ve seen a lot of shady activity on that block over the years. Nowadays, the action is really centered around Nellie’s, which spills out on the sidewalk with lots of beautiful boys. I don’t see how you could still be nervous about the neighborhood when you see that party. But, we live in a segregated nightlife city, in more ways than just race.
DC9 carries the distinction of being one of the most unpretentious dive spots in the city. Equal parts bar, dance club and music venue, it’s been the indie hangout since its opening in 2004, fitting somewhere between the Black Cat’s Red Room and the H Street corridor on the rotation list. The fact that those tight button-down kids I mentioned earlier could get swallowed whole and turn into loose dancing fools upon hitting the upstairs is one of the reasons I love this place.
Another reason is that it’s pure evil.