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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 07/ 1/2005

Red River Keeps On Flowin'

By Fritz Hahn

In previous years, any list of Capitol Hill's top summer happy hours would have started (and often ended) with frozen swirly margaritas on the patio at Red River Grill. Sure, the bar was a little ratty around the edges, but beers were $1.50 on Wednesdays and young people flocked there for the deals.

Red River closed earlier this year for "refurbishment," leaving Hill staffers and interns in the lurch -- and without a stand-out outdoor happy hour. The renovated bar -- renamed the Union Pub -- reopened earlier this week with an "upscale" decor. It's a bit early to truly pass judgment, but I thought I'd offer some initial observations.

The good bits: The patio is vastly improved, thanks to smart new furniture (no more plastic chairs); there are now 15 different frozen drinks, from mango margaritas to strawberry slushies; and the food goes beyond Red River's sloppy Tex-Mex to include panini, wraps, salads and those ubiquitous miniburgers. (The latter isn't the fancy "free-range beef on brioche" that you might find at upscale joints, but a passable version with ground chuck and a pickle on a fluffy white roll.) There are new plasma televisions for watching the Nats. And they've brought in bartender Nick Bardis -- formerly of Tortilla Coast -- who's one of my favorite faces on the Hill.

Happy hour deals are as good -- if not better -- than before. All-night specials include $2 drafts and half-priced burgers and panini on Monday; $1.50 Bud, Bud Light and Miller Lite bottles on Wednesdays; and Friday's beat-the-clock schedule runs like this:
5 to 6: $3 martinis
6 to 7: $2 rail drinks
7 to 8: $8 domestic pitchers
8 to 9: $3 margaritas

Now for the bad news. Service is a mixed bag. Some bartenders and servers are enthusiastic and friendly, but are caught up in conversations with other customers when your glass is empty. A few female friends of mine will be very disappointed when they learn that frozen swirly margaritas are no more; owner Matt Weiss says they had to get rid of that particular machine. And the three sections of the place (main bar, dining/pool room and porch) have different looks, none of them too striking. Maybe it will grow on me and the rest of the customers, but the pseudo-modern minimalist decor around the bar is boring. Thankfully, there's plenty of room on the patio.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | July 1, 2005; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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First off, the chairs on the patio are still plastic. More refined plastic, yes -but still plastic.

While they seem to be revising their image they're still not sure what they're about.
Happy Hour on Wednesday was $3 rail drinks until 8 pm - but if you tried to order a margaritta (on the rocks) with rail tequilla - it was $6. Our waiter (who was EXCELLENT btw - Eric handled 12 of us with grace and ease) informed us of this when he found out. And unlike Red River of the Past, it seemed impossible to order a pitcher of frozen margarittas.
Its still one of the best places in the area for outside happy hour - but we're interested to see what happens in the next few weeks.

Posted by: Kaite | July 1, 2005 1:44 PM | Report abuse

A group of 4 friends and I went to Union Pub for the first time on Friday, and although the drink specials were GREAT, the service sucked.

The crowd there seemed low-30s, maybe it was just because all the younger people were at the mid-town pub crawl? It was great to have such cheap drinks, but the bartenders definitely weren't worried about how quickly (or slowly in this case) they were serving.

We never ordered anything to eat, but all the food that I saw them bring out looked great. Hopefully this place really starts to pick up soon & become a very popular place... the location is great, the facilities were clean, and you can't complain about cheap drinks!!

Posted by: Keli | July 3, 2005 9:38 AM | Report abuse

I went to Union Pub two times the week that it opened and I am willing to chalk my complaints up to first week jitters.

Opening night, the seating did not seem to be flowing well. My group and many others were told that there was a 30+ minute wait for a table (when there were many empty tables) then watched from the bar as others got seated that came in after us. However, after speaking up we were seated on the patio and enjoyed the great drink specials with good service.

I then returned for lunch later that week. I ordered a wrap that I ended up sending back because the lettuce was brown and the tortilla was mushy. It tasted like it was made three days prior. The waiter was very apologetic and not only took that sandwich off the bill but gave me a different sandwich for free. Of the three paninis that were had at my table they were all rated ok, but nothing to write home about. What do you expect, it's bar food.

Posted by: Gabriella | July 6, 2005 3:23 PM | Report abuse

Went to Union Pub a few weeks back (first week open, I think) and it was terrible!!! The service was not only slow (understandable for a new place) but the wait-staff did stupid things like bringing us a pitcher of beer with no glasses (we were sitting outside for 10 minutes in 90 degree heat watching our beer get warm). The food was bad - - - even by "bar food" standards. I talked to the manager about all of this and he was rude and said that we shouldn't come back (honestly). I will NOT go back to this place and I hope they close soon!

Posted by: CS | July 14, 2005 9:55 AM | Report abuse

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