Inside the Capitol, lawmakers were hustling to bring the impeachment inquiry to the public. Half a mile away, Union Pub was opening before 10 AM yesterday to help Washingtonians drink their way through it.
The sports bar had promised to show the first public impeachment hearing on every television. Those accustomed to watching ‘Bama wins and Bears embarrassments could take in the real sport of DC in high definition, complete with drink specials like “I Got 99 Problems But Impeachment Ain’t One” and “ImPEACHment Please.”
There was just one problem… People weren’t showing up.
I arrived at 9:50 AM to find three individuals at the bar and someone with a news camera hovering nearby. Looking slightly harried and desperate for a nonexistent shot, the cameraperson filmed me absentmindedly scrolling on my phone for some B-roll.
A few more people trickled in around 10:15 as proceedings began. Seven televisions of various sizes encompassed the room with the face of Adam Schiff as he began his opening statements. A man in a button-down and black beanie took his place at the bar and ordered some drinks. He threw back a shot, cracked open a Narragansett, then opened his laptop to parse through some emails.
The atmosphere in the bar was less “Sunday Night Football” and more “’Bama choking against Clemson in the National Championship.” A palpable air of disbelief and resignation permeated from the few day-drinkers glued to the potential beginnings of the third impeachment in United States history. Orders were taken in whispers so as not to disturb the ambience. The printing of a receipt sounded like a freight train screeching to a halt.
Two men sat at the front bar nursing Irish Coffees, contemplating the four George Kent bow ties bobbing in unison on the screens in front of them. “The day Trump got elected, I said on the first day of public hearings, I would find my way to a bar,” one of them told me. An employee at a DC-based nonprofit, he had used one of his vacation days for the occasion. “I was very upfront [with my boss] about the whole thing,” he said. “This is a huge bucket list item: to get shit-faced at a bar watching impeachment hearings.”
As the two made the natural move from Irish Coffees to Bloody Marys, I asked if they were planning to drink all day. “We’ll see, there’s no real plan, we’ll take it a drink at a time,” the non-profit worker said. “Well, I have class at 5,” said his friend. “Oh, OK, well, hard stop at 5 then I guess.”
I decided to join them in having a drink. Pulling out bottles of peach vodka and peach schnapps that had likely spent years gathering dust at the back of the bar, the bartender poured me the “99 Problems,” a concoction of peach booze mixed with orange juice, Sprite, and lemon. The drink had just enough mixer to prevent it from tasting like floor cleaner while maximizing inebriation potential. It was horrible. It was wonderful. I was buzzed. If there was ever a drink on which to get hammered while watching the potential fall of representative democracy, this was it.
Sucking down my Peach Monstrosity™, I watched a group of three people in the corner as they huddled over their fries and Cokes, transfixed by the events unfolding on CNN. In town for an event, one of them was from New York City, the other two from Kansas City.
“We’re the only Democrats in the whole state,” said the man from Kansas City, burying his face in his hands. “I’m kidding, but it feels that way sometimes.” He described the way the impeachment inquiry has been handled as “a shitshow.” “This shouldn’t happen. We shouldn’t be here,” he said.
At the table behind them, Yana Slyesarchuk and Natalia Baulina, reporters from 1+1 Media, one of Ukraine’s largest media conglomerates, hurried to file something for the primetime broadcast back home. They had googled “where in DC will the public hearings be watched” and chosen Union Pub as the setting for their story.
“Other bureaus of Ukrainian channels in Washington don’t monitor all the impeachment [proceedings] as precisely as we do, because they don’t know what to say about it,” Slyesarchuk said. “It’s very complicated in Ukraine. All members of the establishment and the Ukrainian government decline our requests for comment. Mr. Zelensky keeps repeating ‘no pressure.’ But people do feel [there] was pressure, of course. Many don’t feel good about what [Yuriy Lutsenko] has done to Ukraine and think there could be awful consequences.”
Slyesarchuk admitted she had been eying my drink and was considering getting one herself. When I warned her about its potency, she said, “maybe better for [Baulina] then, because I’m the driver.” As camerawoman, Baulina wasn’t sure that was such a good idea. “Are you sure it’s safe to drink?” she asked. “Because if it’s too strong the shot will start to shake.”
Distracted by my conversations, I had failed to notice the room had suddenly become swamped with members of the fourth estate. Reporters outnumbered drinkers two to one, and there were at least five news camerapeople swarming about, angling for an interview. A reporter from Radio France was starting to get antsy. It was almost 6 PM in France, and he needed something for the evening show.
“I’ve been to five or six bars in the city,” he said. “This is the first I’ve been to that actually has people.”