Washington DC Travel and Tourist Information
The Bars of Capitol Hill
Capitol Hill is a great place to be. It is the center of the nation's political discourse. It is also the center of a vibrant social scene for young, upwardly mobile congressional staffers and the people who lobby them. If it seems like more business is conducted during happy hours than office hours, you are entirely correct.
Capitol Hill bars don't cater to the famous or rich-those establishments are more often found near K Street. Congressional staffers are notoriously underpaid, so these establishments cater to cheap drinks and outstanding food specials. This creates an odd mixture of young people in suits keeping their college drinking skills alive. Even though these establishments cater to the worker bees, it isn't unusual to spot a Member of Congress enjoying an evening with the vulgar crowd. Throw in a few wide-eyed youngsters during the summer "intern season," and Capitol Hill bars are a great place for people watching.
Located to the south of the Capitol, all House side bars are easily accessed by the Capitol South Metro station on the Orange and Blue line. Most are located in the same 2-block section of Pennsylvania Avenue, while Tortilla Coast and Bullfeathers can be found right next to the Metro station. Bars on the Senate side can be accessed by Metro from Union Station. All the listed bars are within a 2-3 block walk. Parking is difficult to find in this area, so use the Metro or take a taxi.
The "Cap Lounge" is the hub of House-side action. Decorated with soccer regalia and deep wood finishing, there are three bars on two floors. This is a dive bar with personality-political memorabilia adorns the walls, particularly from the Richard Nixon era. A sign behind the main bar declares "No Miller Lite, No Politics." The second rule is regularly ignored, the first one is adhered to religiously. Ample pool tables are available downstairs. People will get angry if you use the one upstairs. The bottom floor is frequently rented out for lobbyist events and personal parties.
Happy hour specials include $3 bottles of beer and $4 wells every day. Mondays offer half price pizza, while Tuesdays are 10 cent wing night. Here is a handy tip: if you are hailing a cab, do so directly in front of the Capitol Lounge. If you cross 3rd Street (moving away from the Capitol), you'll enter a different taxi zone and pay $2 more in fare.
Hawk and Dove
Hawk and Dove (along with Bullfeathers) are the quintessential Capitol Hills bars. With a well-worn wood interior spanning six rooms, you can tell you are in a place steeped in history. Known for being a Democratic hangout, this is the place for eavesdropping on gripes about working for some of the most powerful people in America. The bar isn't bad either, with various pints of beer for under $3 each night of the week. If happy hour turns into an extended evening, Hawk and Dove doesn't disappoint--upstairs you will find a dance floor with a DJ spinning the latest tunes.
Made famous by references in the West Wing, the Hawk and Dove serves the best food on the House side of the Hill. There are food specials every day, with free tacos and popcorn shrimp on Thursdays and Fridays. Be sure to try the brunch on weekends from 10am-3pm.
Locals will forever know this place by its original name: Politiki. But the better moniker has been dropped in favor of three separate-but-interconnected establishments. Pour House is on the main floor, and it features a decent food menu and happy hour specials for about $2.50 a drink. Upstairs is the more swanky Top of the Hill, which is frequently rented for political events and office get-togethers. The basement is technically called The Scheisse House, and the owners are trying to cast it as a European-themes beer garden. In practice, all three levels are pretty much the same bar. You can move freely from one room to another as long as it isn't reserved for a private function. When hailing a cab, walk toward the Capitol until you cross 3rd Street-you'll enter a cheaper taxi zone and save yourself $2. Just enough to cover one more round!
Bullfeathers is the classic Capitol Hill bar. In fact, they overdo it a little. Opened in 1980 (Hawk and Dove is 13 years older), it is named for Teddy Roosevelt's favorite curse word. The menu is extensive and the food is better than average. However, the bar is a bit overpriced (up to $5 a bottle of beer), and the happy hour specials are better at other places on the House side.
The major liability of Bullfeathers is its fame. Tour groups will show up and slam the place during the summer. Hill staffers tend to bring their families here when they visit-perhaps because it shows better than the places they really hang out.
Tortilla Coast is a true neighborhood place. Many Hill friends of mine ate here half a dozen times a week. The food is good, and the 50 cent tacos on Tuesday are always popular. The friendly staff serve up beer specials as low as $2 and pour an excellent margarita. This is generally a Republican hangout. There are two back rooms that host private parties and semi-official events.
My Brother's Place
My brother's place is a popular hangout for Catholic University students, but small age differences don't scare away Hill staffers. This is the least political bar on Capitol Hill, and its prices are definitely student-oriented. Thursdays offer $2.50 bottles of beer. Fridays feature a beat-the-clock event with Miller Lite starting at less than $1. The most popular night is Saturday's $15 all-you-can-drink extravaganza.
The most upscale of the Capitol Hill bars is also the most faithful Irish Pub in the city. The Dubliner offers an excellent selection of domestic and Irish beers, reasonably priced at about $5. Dinner is the best time to visit: traditional Irish food is served for under $15 a plate. As happy hour winds down, the crowd tends to move next door to Irish Times. Do your best to ignore the beggars that loiter around the Dubliner and Irish Times. They all live in nearby halfway houses and trust me- they take home plenty of cash each night.
Kelly's Irish Times
Kelly's Irish Times is a hotbed of action almost every night of the week. This is the heaviest drinking bar of the lot. A massive main bar houses 4-5 bartenders on any night of the week. There is an excellent selection of beers on tap. Get to know the bartenders here- they are friendly and willing to pour a very strong drink. Irish Times is popular with students from Catholic University, Gallaudet University, and staff from Capitol Hill. Local celebrity Pete Papageorge performs on weekends, and he can really get the place going. Downstairs you'll find a club-like atmosphere-dance floor and very un-Irish music included.
The recently re-opened and re-christened Union Pub offers modern décor, a Tex-Mex menu, and the cheapest drinks on Capitol Hill. Union Pub has a dizzying array of drink specials-too many to keep track of! Suffice it to say that you can always find a cold drink in your hand for less than $3. Wednesday nights are the most popular, with $1.50 bottles of beer until 10pm. Union Pub is also famous for their margaritas, which come in three flavors for about $12 a pitcher. Union Pub has the best outdoor patio of all the Capitol Hill bars. Overlooking Union Station and the Senate office buildings, it is a great spot for people watching and absorbing great weather.
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