The Least Douchey Bars In DC
BYT at large | Aug 7, 2012 | 9:07AM |

Last week, Complex posted their list of The 25 Douchiest Bars in DC and for the most part it was an inoffensive, agreeable list that inspired little but reaffirmation of stereotypes: Adams Morgan is a shithouse zoo, Georgetown is too preppy and too Republican, and oh-yeah-screw-hipsters. Every phylum of douche was enumerated and cut down: college, prep, hipster, sportsbro, rich kid, club head, intern, or basically anyone that wasn’t the author. We all felt comforted that everyone can be reduced to a character type and congratulated ourselves for being “complex,” special snowflakes, incapable of doing anything or frequenting any establishment that’s… that’s douchey, right?

So what makes a non-douchey bar? Ones that don’t sponsor 7 kickball teams or have an iPod port in place of a DJ, ones that DO have staff that are chill and rarely on edge or too affected with enthusiasm. ‘The less remixed top 40 the better’ is a maxim passed down from the time of my great, great, great grandfather.

Everyone has their own idea of a douchestination, no doubt with terms narrower than my own. And no matter what bars we come up with, I’m sure there would be at least five eager volunteers to tell us why we’re wrong. That said, we think we have 25 good counterpoints:

Black Cat Red Room

  • 1811 14th Street NW

The Black Cat’s Red Room has long since been a great halftime spot while you wait between band sets upstairs at the Cat’s main concert hall. Or maybe you use it as a casual, cover-free destination when bar hopping along the spine of 14th Street. Either way, the drinks are cheap, and it’s generally quiet enough to feel at ease with a group of friends. Another bonus is that it’s an antechamber of sorts for the Backstage Concert room where there are other bands, DJs, or even occasional movie and television happy hours happening that you didn’t know were happening until you found yourself in the Red Room.

Passenger

  • 1021 7th St NW

Even though it’s right next to the hustle and bustle of New York and Massachusetts Avenue, as well as the Convention Center, Passenger has always retained a homely, neighborhood feel to it. In the front of the house you can sit in booths with friends and enjoy an array of excellent cocktails, or mosey back to the Columbia Room where the brothers Brown (formerly of the Gibson and Cork) will further blow your mind with craft cocktails. It can be a madhouse when you hit it on a hoppin’ night, but every one there seems to be there to to get classy drunk/tipsy rather than to rage.

Red Derby

  • 3718 14th Street NW

Red Derby is possibly my favorite DiveBar in DC solely because it has Apples to Apples (you know, the kid’s game where you match adjectives to nouns that got turned into a hilarious adult drinking game). Or if you’d rather not sit back and enjoy a great selection of can beer or dangerously priced King Combo ($7 tallboy w/ a shot of whiskey) with a slate of games at your disposal, there’s always a breeze to catch on Red Derby’s rooftop.

American Ice Company (potentially controversial choice-we know-Ed)

  • 917 V Street NW

American Ice Company can get fairly out of control and unmanageable on weekends when crowds rush inside, but what place on a weekend that’s worth it isn’t going to be loaded? I prefer checking this place out on a week day, especially during Spirits In Black when heavy metal-inspired specialty cocktails are served by staff and guest mixologists, all while a specially curated metal playlist crunches overhead.  I suppose the fact that they serve drinks in mason jars may be a hipster-hate trigger point, because sometimes that’s a little too quaint for it’s own good, isn’t it? I recommend heading to American Ice Company after a show at the 930 Club on a Monday or Tuesday when it’s less crowded and you can enjoy the cool, converted-garage interiors.

Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe

  • 1517 Connecticut Avenue NW

For a business known for its books and cafe, I feel that Kramerbooks’ beer selection doesn’t get enough due. With eighteen draft beers and five premium bottle options, it’s one of the perfect spots to go when you’re flying solo around Dupont Circle. I’m not going to lie, I’ve spent hours in this place reading books from Kramer’s shelves. It’s where I’ve almost discovered as many great beers (Ommegang) as I have writers (Bruce Chatwin). I can guarantee you’ll make at least one friend between all the brews and books at your disposal.

The Saloon

  • 1205 U St NW

The Saloon feels cozy with its low lights and brick walls. You’ll also notice that there are no televisions and no loud music. It’s a nice retreat to tuck away to with a group of friends and tip back some delicious German beer. Despite the fact that it’s in the heart of U St I can’t help but feel “at home” once I get inside, and for that I’ll always welcome it as a go-to bar.

Saint-EX/Bar Pilar (but only on a week night)

  • general 14th and T Corner

It should be noted that 14th street is the new Adams Morgan and as such, 14th street is about to become the ultimate weekend nightmare (unless it already IS the ultimate weekend nightmare but we’ve been too busy trying to not be there on weekends to notice). Having said that-you arrive to Saint-Ex or Bar Pilar on a week day (or night) and there is, all of a sudden, plenty of room to sit at the bar, the drinks are strong and colorful, the staff is (beyond) enthusiastic and knowledgeable, and if you play your cards even remotely right, they’ll remember your name next time you get there. It is no wonder the whole of BYT staff has the St-Ex wireless password saved on their laptops-we’re back there often enough.

Quill (at The Jefferson)

  • 1200 16th street NW

Hotel Bars are a tricky thing. They can be too loud, too busy, too showy, too…well, douchey. And if they’re not TOO DOUCHEY then they sure as heck are (pretty often) TOO LAME. Quill at the Jefferson somehow bridges the gap: the hunter green walls, the library vibe, the chocolate/cognac pairings-they all scream “OLD DC” – but at the same time, the vibe is utterly relaxed, not trendy but somehow fully modern. One of our favorite places to hide in plain sight ever.

Marx Cafe

  • 3203 Mt. Pleasant Street

What MARX Cafe is good for? Amazing, unpretentious quality beer happy hours. Great, off-kilter DJ night during which people sometimes dance wildly (OUTLAWS) or just nod their heads knowingly (We Fought The Big One, etc), super friendly fellow patrons who seem to show up to any of said DJ nights “just to check them out” and that one bartender that never makes you feel like you’re better than the rest of us. You want more than that in bar? Well, kid, you’re in a wrong city.

The Tune Inn

  • 331 Penn Ave SE

If someone wrote a bio of The Tune Inn the words “quintessential” and “classic neighborhood” would be used. Even now, after the renovation and the lifetime achievement Rammy, it is still exactly what it set out to be when it first started: a quintessential, classic, neighborhood Capitol Hill bar. Plus, for real-the grilled cheese is among the best in town.

Room 11

  • 3234 11th Street

Room 11 is so small, and so perfect it does not have any room for douchebaggery to take place there.

DC9 RoofTop

  • 1940 9th street

A rare venue rooftop that operates just as well, if not better, as a bar on its own. DC9 is now surrounded by much flashier establishments (including the dueling Nellie’s and Brixton 24/7 party rooftops) but it is always chill, always affordable (added bonus: even though happy hour drinks are as low as $3, they WILL take your credit card and happily open a tab without any minimum or cash-only posturing), and there is always a place to rest your drink in peace there, without someone offering to: a. buy it for you or b. spill it (all over you) for you. And every once in a while, that’s really all you want from a bar rooftop. The shows below are just a bonus.

Blackbyrd

  • 20005 14th street

Even though Blackbyrd is RIGHT NEXT TO Marvin, Gibson and the hot mess that Lost Society can be sometimes, it is also the one place 14th and U where you can walk in at 6:15 (as opposed to 5:55 while keeping your fingers crossed) and be able to get a seat at the bar, like a regular person. BYT has a lot of our after-work meetings here.

Toledo Lounge

There are no normal bars left on 18th street/Adams Morgan. Everything is either a bridge-and-tunnel nightmare or trying to re-invent itself. So, while Smoke & Barrel (aka “the old Asylum”) is completely great and Pharmacy bar does what they do well, I am picking Toledo Lounge for this round-up because it literally has no agenda aside from being a bar, with very limited douchebag appeal, that doesn’t have really anything else going for it but those two things: no nice cocktails (unlike S&B or Bourbon), no cutesy, hipstery gimmicks (like Pharmacy’s Buck Hunter and that jukebox of theirs), no roof, no decent bathrooms, no nothing-just a bar, with limited douchebag appeal, right next to a jumbo slice place on 18th street NW. That is, somehow, still in business. And that, in 2012, may be the rarest thing in this town.

1905

  • 1905 9th Street, NW

There’s a reason why year after year we continue to throw our Beaujolais party at this tiny locale at U Street’s second most popular intersection, and it ain’t because we love the wine.  1905 is everything you’d want in the perfect date bar, but also isn’t overwhelming to a crowd of good friends looking for a spot to hole up on a weeknight.  With a new, beautiful rooftop that grants you an unparalleled view, 1905 has quickly risen to the ranks of one of our favorite bars. Plus the lamb sandwich, if you’re hungry, is probably the best thing you can eat period.

930 Club Back Bar

  • 815 V Street, NW

It’s amazing to me the amount of people who still stand on long, sometimes terrible lines at the 930 Club to get a plastic cup full of booze.  With the Back Bar in the basement of the 930 Club, just shimmy right down there a song or two before whatever band is over and get a proper pint glass filled to the brim with a craft beer (or if I remember correctly, Guinness on tap!).  Back Bar also makes for an excellent hiding space from that awful ex you have while the set changes over from opener to headliner.

The Lounge at Bourbon Steak

  • 2800 Pennsylvania Ave, NW

I’m sure we could make a whole list of Hotel bars worth your time, but it’s the Bar at Bourbon Steak that stands on the shoulders of the rest.  Time and time again, Jamie and Dwayne make your drinking experience a magical ride of taste, flavors and alcoholic adventure that you just can’t help but reflect upon happily come happy hour time.  Always try one of the house cocktails, which have been carefully crafted and selected with painstaking effort, because they’re guaranteed to impress.  Yes, drinks are pricey and yes, this is in Georgetown but if you want an incredible cocktail in a grown-up atmosphere, look no further. Really.

  • 917 U Street, NW / 915 U Street, NW
Couple together only due to their proximity (and the fact that you probably bounce back and forth between both of them throughout your night), Dodge City and Velvet Lounge are staples of the U Street Corridor.  Dodge City, the younger, much more attractive bar of the two, is sleek and clean with a courteous bar staff and sometimes even a DJ on the top level if you feel like dancing.  Velvet Lounge, the older, grittier rock-club, boasts cheap drinks and cheaper thrills, with a mixture of bands and DJs to keep your body moving.  Both bars play host to some of the best outdoor patio spots in the city, which even on a good weather night tend not to be too overcrowded.
  • 1212 H Street, NE
On any given night you can stroll up to Red Palace, not know who the band is upstairs and still manage to have on hell of a night.  The booking, of course, is phenomenal and ahead of the curve but the bar offers more than just a place to set your drink while you see Jeff The Brotherhood play.  With ample space (both bar and seated), it’s rarely crowded on the first level, where occasionally a DJ will be on decks to keep you entertained with tunes.  But it’s the curios and oddities on the walls, left over from the bars previous life as The Palace of Wonders, and the amazing hidden nook of a patio that draw me to Red Palace, even when I’m not “in the mood to go to H Street.”  Dare I say it might even be the best bar on the strip.
  • 1207 19th Street, NW
A bar that serves Jameson is not a surprise.  A bar that serves 18 year aged Jameson is heaven.
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Non-Douche Bonus Round
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Boundary Road

  • 414 H St. NE

There is absolutely nothing douchey about this spot on H. With a late-night menu serving up charcuterie and the chef’s special, Pig’s Head Ragu, Boundary Road keeps it (affordably) classy while keeping it (also incredibly affordably) fun with shot-and-beer specials. Their music selection is always aces and can range everywhere from Tom Waits to Elvis and there’s nary a backwards baseball cap in sight.

Rock and Roll Hotel

  • 1353 H St. NE

While the bar’s demographic can change depending on which band is playing on a given night–though, let’s be honest, most RnR shows can almost all fall into the non-douchey category–their second-floor bar offers some of the best trivia in the city focused on pop culture movies, not douchetastic categories for the likes of, well, sportsbros. Expect whole rounds on “Family Matters” and George Clooney films. Their patio is welcoming, unpretentious (in the best way imaginable) and the entire staff seems to have a great sense of humor and actually wants to be there. Go on and engage them in conversation. You’ll be glad you did.

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