So Far Around the Bend
Title is borrowed from The National
Part I – I’ll Run Through a Million Bars
I start at Asylum around 5:00. The others will soon follow but I can’t help but be prompt, particularly when there are cheap beers waiting to be consumed. Asylum has an every Saturday special of $0.50 draws of Natural Light starting at 5:00. The price goes up by $0.50 every hour. It is a great way to start an evening where the whole purpose is to get intoxicated. Joining me on this journey will be a collection of friends who like to get drunk as much as I do. The story of the evening will be to hit a collection of bars in Adams Morgan and drink as much as possible for as little as possible.
Sign of a Good Bar #1 – Cheap drinks. A good bar should not gouge its customers. A drinker does not like to wake up the next morning with horror and regret over the amount they charged on their credit cards. A hangover should be punishment enough for a night of hard drinking.
It’s not often I go out with the express desire to get intoxicated. Most of the time intoxication just happens. The previous night was a good example. I had gone out with my friend DK who is in town for a few weeks. We had not seen each other in well over 10 years and we had a lot of catching up to do. I did not intend to get drunk but after hitting a few bars it just happened. The evening ended with us dancing to Goldfrapp at a Dupont Circle gay club. That is intoxication for you.
It’s hard to believe but I have lived in Adams Morgan for nearly six years and I hadn’t been to Asylum, especially since the bar attracts the kind of outside the mainstream people in DC that I like. My friends and I tend to go to the same bars and I felt like we needed to experience some new places together. The first to arrive are JL and CH, two female friends who were out shopping and wanted to help kick start my evening. Upon hearing that the special was for Natty Light drafts, CH proclaimed that it was the “beer of poor choices.” If that is not Natty Light’s official slogan, then it should be. Soon after my regular drinking buddies PF, RG, and DI showed up. PF, RG, and I play music together. Despite my very limited guitar skills, PF insists that I have talent. When I protest, he states that “talent does not equal aptitude.” PF is a wise man.
Reason I Drink #1 – Communion with friends. Its nights out together with people you care about that you remember the most, or remember the best you can after you have had too much.
The Natty Light drafts tasted about as good as I remember them tasting in college, which is pretty terrible. The beer was also not getting us remotely close to buzzed. I ask the group how many Natty Lights it would take to get them drunk. PF responds with 20. No one disagrees with that number. It might have helped if our server would have come around to our table more often. She seemed to be waiting for all the tables in the bar to need drinks at the same time so that she could bring over massive trays of pints in one trip. The slow service could be the reason Asylum can afford to sell Natty Light so cheap every Saturday.
Sign of a Good Bar #2 – Prompt service. A good bar will notice when their patrons have empty glasses and serve the next round within a reasonable amount of time.
I told the group about my previous night out and we all agreed it is harder to drink heavily on back to back nights as we get older. The conversation often rotated back to me and my issues, particularly when it comes to my hesitancy to get back into the dating game. This would have been easier to take if I was already drunk. I was starting to wish the Natty Lights were straight Jack Daniels. We also talked about the opinion of JL and CH that guys in DC try to “punch above their weight” when it comes to picking up women. As CH stated, “there are a lot of 4s trying to get with 8s.” This didn’t increase my dating confidence one bit. JL and CH left after two beers but the rest of us stayed for two to three more. Our final damage for 21 beers in three hours was $17.48 without tip. I can see why you would elect to drink Natty Light all night long every Saturday at Asylum.
Part II – Living Off a Teacup Full of Cherries
Since our consumption at Asylum was not getting us close to the tipping point of intoxication, it was time to try another bar. Millie and Al’s, an old dive bar across the street, became the next destination. Millie and Al’s has two things going for it: $1 Jell-O shots every hour on the hour (signified when a giant light bulb lamp turns on); and some of the greasiest pizza in Adams Morgan. Getting food was important since no one wanted to get sick from drinking on an empty stomach.
Sign of a Good Bar #3 – Greasy and/or good food. A night of drinking without food is like playing with fire. It is a sure fire way to go from drunk to vomiting.
PF’s wife EA joined us at Millie and Al’s and we all split a couple of pizzas, a couple of pitchers of beer, and a couple of rounds of Jell-O shots. The beer at Millie and Al’s was pretty awful. Our first pitcher was PBR and it tasted like they had not cleaned out their tap lines since the 1990s. We switched to Stella for our second pitcher. It was better, but it still didn’t taste right. Sadly, the Jell-O shots were the best alcohol we consumed.
The conversation turned to stories of drinking in our twenties and New York City. RG has spent a lot of time in Brooklyn recently and he remarked, “In Brooklyn everyone is thin, good looking, and has an eating disorder.” EA felt it was sad that what the rest of the world considers starving we consider cleansing. I was mostly feeling regret. Both PF and DI had spent a portion of their irresponsible twenties living in New York. My twenties were filled with going to law school and then getting married. Maybe that is why I have spent a good portion of my thirties going out drinking and avoiding serious relationships.
Reason I Drink #2 – To share stories. Stories over drinks just sound better. I would not have laughed as hard at the story of a mutual friend serving a scotch with a band-aid floating in it to the father of the bride at a wedding reception without seven beers in me.
The people in Millie and Al’s were definitely older than the crowd at Asylum. Everyone was at least in their thirties. There were also a fair number of what appeared to be “regulars.” Regulars are easy to spot because they tend to drink belly up to the bar and often alone. I should know since I was once a regular at the bar called Angles down the street. Regulars can get away with behavior that the random customer cannot. They tend to get served well past the point of intoxication, they are often allowed to drink well past last call, and as was the case with the old man sitting alone in a booth at Millie and Al’s, they can also take a nap without getting thrown out.
Sign of a Good Bar #4 – Regulars. A good bar has its share of regulars. It’s a sign that the bar is doing something right.
Drinking at Millie and Al’s was not getting us any closer to our goal of intoxication. The group consensus was to go to another place where we could at least get some quality drinks. We determined that place to be Bourbon.
Part III – You’ve Been Humming in a Haze Forever
Bourbon has more of an upscale atmosphere with good food and drinks. As you can tell by their name, their specialty is a large variety of bourbon but it also has a selection of good beers. Recently it has attracted crowds of annoying twenty-somethings during the weekends. We beat the crowds by getting there a little after 9:00 but we still could not find a place to sit.
Sign of a Good Bar #5 – No lines, no velvet ropes. If I have to wait in line to get in or if there is a question that I am not wearing the right attire, I don’t want to be a part of that bar. I was once dragged to a club in DC that refused to let me in because I wasn’t wearing the right shoes. I immediately went to the dirtiest bar I could find and had a better time.
At least the beer was better at Bourbon, but it was clear that standing around in a bar that was soon to be infested by people in DC we don’t want to be around was not going to help the evening.
Reason I Drink #3 – To escape from my reality. Drinks can make the pain of a bad day, month, or year go away temporarily. It also makes me temporarily forget that living alone in DC kind of sucks.
Bourbon was a minor buzzkill. We defaulted to a conversation on what we should call our band. This is a regular topic of conversation and it often drives the people we are around a little crazy. The evening was starting to die despite the improvement in the quality of alcohol.
Sign of a Good Bar #6 – Good beer. A good bar will have its share of good beer. It doesn’t have to be a beer snob establishment, but it should offer something to those that like a beer to taste like something other than modified water.
After one drink each, we decided we really needed step up our drinking if we were going to get intoxicated by the end of the night. We needed to go to Dan’s Café.
Part IV – Nobody Knows Where You Are
Dan’s Café is an institution in Adams Morgan. You wouldn’t know it was a bar from the outside since it looks like a condemned building. There are boards where a large front window should be and the front door has security bars. The décor does not get much better inside. It is dark, smelly, and the seats are sticky. The bathrooms are functional at best. A man in the corner of the bar sells cigarettes, a holdover from the days when you could smoke in DC bars. The best way to describe Dan’s is to say it looks like it should be illegal.
Sign of a Good Bar #7 – Not too clean, in fact pretty dirty. I don’t like my bars too sterile. Dan’s Café is probably one of the dirtiest bars I have seen. After leaving Dan’s you want to go home and take a shower.
The only reason to go to Dan’s Café is to experience the special way they serve mixed drinks. You choose your liquor and size, with the choices being airline bottle or pint. The bartender pours the liquor into a glass, gives you your mixer of choice, a bucket of ice, and enough glasses for the table. From there it is up to you to mix your own drink. Shots can be ordered in a squeeze bottle for the entire group. You are officially in the danger zone.
We are joined at Dan’s by MK, the final member of the previously mentioned band, and DK, the old friend I went out with the night before. DK brings along his colleague and his colleague’s two DC friends. The bar is filled with mostly younger people, but everyone is seriously drinking. DK mentioned that if he were into young women the bar “would be like a candy store.” We were clearly passed the point of buzzed after the group had gone through several pints of bourbon, whiskey, and vodka.
Reason I Drink #4 – To become someone else. Whether it is the release of inhibitions or something else, drinking puts me in a place where I can say things and act in a way my sober self has a hard time doing. Sometimes this is good and sometimes this is bad. Either way, escaping from oneself can be valuable. As RG put it earlier in the night, “intoxication allows us to default on our debt to consciousness.”
A bachelorette party arrives at Dan’s while we were consuming our last pint of alcohol, which is clearly a sign that the night was now in full swing. It did not take long for the bachelorette party to get loud and drunk. After the bachelorette took a couple of body shots off of some random guys, the entire party erupted in a chorus of “I Will Always Love You.” The guys in the bar were like sharks sensing blood in the water. The general noise level was reaching the point where you had to raise your voice just shy of shouting to have a conversation. Things were quickly getting out of hand.
Sign of a Good Bar #8 – Manageable noise level. You should be able to have conversations without resorting to near shouting.
With Dan’s Café having served its purpose of getting us beyond the buzzed zone, it was time to end the evening at one final destination. We were off to the Fox and Hounds in Dupont Circle.
Part V – Now There is No Leaving New York
The Fox and Hounds is a small dive bar and it is where all good evening go to die. It is much like Dan’s Café in that the bar relies on the customer to mix their own drinks. However, instead of the communal glass of alcohol everyone gets their own glass of ice and booze and their own mixer. The pours of alcohol in the glass are generous and there is little room to put in the mixer, which makes the initial taste of their drinks very strong.
Sign of a Good Bar #9 – A stiff pour. If you are going to get a mixed drink in a bar it should be strong enough so that you don’t have to order too many to get drunk.
DK’s colleague and friends don’t join us at the Fox and Hounds; a wise move on their part since they had not signed up for the whole intoxication experience. We meet up with our drinking friend and Fox and Hounds regular BO. We had to wait for a table to open up so that the entire group could sit together. There were a few big tables that were settling their bills but none of them seemed to be in a hurry to leave. DI started to get a little belligerent at one of the groups. The rest of us were hoping that the buzz we had worked hard to get would not be wiped out by a bar fight. Thankfully a table opened up and we could concentrate on the last couple of drinks that would get us to the intoxication level.
Reason I Drink #5 – To reveal hidden feelings. Alcohol helps free feelings that are bottled up inside and hopefully you remember you let them loose the next day.
There was a time when I stayed away from the Fox and Hounds. I used to drink at the bar often when I was going through my divorce and there were a few incidents where I fell down drunk on its floor or through its tables. I have had many where I don’t remember leaving the bar or how I got home. The place was not good for my health.
Sign of a Good Bar #10 – A real jukebox. Nothing beats an old school jukebox, particularly one filled with an eclectic mix of music. Anyone can find the latest Lady Gaga song on an internet jukebox, but not everyone can create a mix featuring Johnny Cash, the Velvet Underground, and Radiohead.
The Fox and Hounds is one of the few bars left in DC with a real jukebox and it is filled with an impressive mix of artists. Some of us put in a few dollars and created a mix of songs to end the evening. After a few drinks, the group started to leave the bar one by one. MK left feeling the effects of Dan’s cheap whiskey. DI was fast approaching the point of getting very stupid. RG was feeling more dizzy than intoxicated. PF and EA had had enough and needed to go home before things got out of hand. I thought about how fortunate I am to have these friends in my life.
DK, BO, and I stayed and had one more drink at the bar. At this point I was clearly intoxicated and did not need another drink, but spending time with my old friend and hearing BO’s stories of working at the airport were well worth it. When we finally left the bar we had trouble finding a cab that would take me home. While we waited in the cold for a cab to finally stop, DK and I expressed how great it was to hang out with each other after so many years. We had gone through a lot of changes individually, but who we are deep down had not changed. The bond that made us friends back in the early 1990s was still there. To quote one of my favorite lines from Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series:
“Omnia mutantur, nihil interit. Everything changes, but nothing is truly lost.”
The people and places in your life change, but there is no leaving where you are. Then again, I could just be a sentimental drunk.
*Final individual tally for the evening: 15 drinks and 3 Jell-O shots
*Money spent as a group: around $235
*Drunk level: 7.5/10