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If you’ve been an intern in DC—or really anyone who enjoys cheap happy hours—in the past two to three decades, last week marked the end of an era. Nightlife mainstay Sign of the Whale served its last well drinks on Saturday. Meanwhile, The Front Page and Buffalo Billiards both announced they would close near the end of August, after 32 and 25 years respectively. The watering holes share the same Dupont Circle building, which is set to undergo a revamp under a new landlord. Neither of the businesses were given the opportunity to renew their leases.
“We were hopeful that we’d be able to stay in, I think, as was the Front Page,” says Buffalo Billiards owner Mark Handwerger. “We were trying everything under the sun…. They were hearing none of it.”
Handwerger and The Front Page owner Dick Heidenberger say they hope to relocate. But in the meantime, are we witnessing the death of the classic DC intern bar? I’m talking about the no-frills places where decades of young Washington transplants have gone to commiserate with friends about group house roommates and shitty pay, dance on sticky floors, drink definitely-not craft beer, and at least try to pass off fake IDs. These dive-y destinations rank high in local nostalgia, especially as hipper spots with cheffy small plates and $14 cocktails now dominate the scene.
I asked Washingtonian’s editorial fellows where they most like to drink and found some things actually haven’t changed much. Among their favorite hangs: Capitol Lounge, Galaxy Hut, and Red Derby. (We’ve got a solid group here!) Below are five more bars populated by generations of interns that are still alive and kicking. Of course, you don’t need to be barely 21 to still enjoy them!
The Bottom Line
1716 I St., NW
Going 40 years strong, Bottom Line was the first DC bar from The Front Page’s Dick Heidenberger. (It was followed by The Madhatter, which also deserves a spot on this list.) The basement den is still one of the cheapest no-fuss spots to drink downtown. Happy hour lasts from 4 to 8 PM with rail drinks going for $4. Other deals rotate daily, including half-priced burgers on Mondays and $2 Miller Lite bottles on Fridays.
2461 18th St., NW
Adams Morgan might not be the intern hotspot it once was, overflowing with late-night crowds puking in the streets and downing Jumbo Slices. Standbys like Millie and Al’s have served their last Jell-O shots, while trendy destinations like the Line hotel and Tail Up Goat have moved to the neighborhood. But Madam’s Organ, thankfully, is still playing live blues and jazz, serving “Bill Clinton burgers” (times really don’t change), and pouring cheap beers and not-at-all-craft cocktails.
331 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
This Capitol Hill hangout, first opened in 1947, has survived a fire and a Guy Fieri filming, so it’s basically invincible, right? Hill interns have long joined patrons from all walks of life for beers, shots, and greasy patty melts amid taxidermied animals mounted on the walls.
The Big Hunt
1345 Connecticut Ave., NW
The Dupont Circle dive bar tops off the so-called “Herpes Triangle” (a.k.a. the nightlife district that once also encapsulated Sign of the Whale and Rumors and still includes places like Lucky Bar and Recessions). Four bars spread across three floors pour $3.50 rail drinks and beers during weekday happy hour from 4 to 7 PM. Bonus: standup comedy shows in the basement four nights a week.
229 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
“No politics” might be the motto of this Capitol Hill joint, but a young political set has been crowding the bar since it opened in 1994. Among the attractions: pitchers of beer (as cheap as $15 on Thursdays), 25-cent wing Tuesdays, pool, sports, and trivia night.