Red River Keeps On Flowin'
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.
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