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Posted at 1:24 PM ET, 10/ 7/2005

Voting Against the 18th Amendment

By Fritz Hahn

Bars with themes are often a bad idea. In the rush to make a bar "feel" like an Irish pub or look like some aging corner boozer, what some bar owners often don't think about is this: What will make me come back isn't the Guinness posters on the wall or the fancy light design -- it's the basics like good bartenders, tasty drinks, a friendly crowd, a tight jukebox or DJ. Those are the touches that people remember.

Take Zack's, a scruffy neighborhood pool hall like you see in gritty '70s films, where the regulars knew each others' names and brought their own cues, but never shied away from offering a game to newcomers -- and usually beat them pretty soundly. The beer was cheap (extended $1 happy hours) and the kitchen turned out gooey, cheese-covered pizza that would cause gourmets great grief but was quickly devoured by the crowd -- an older mix of black and white who punched '70s rock and Motown into the battered jukebox. There was nary a laminated Congressional pass or leather briefcase in sight.

Early this year, Zack's was taken over by the guys who run the Hill's popular Pour House. They rechristened the place the 18th Amendment and promised a roaring '20s gangster/bootlegger feel.

Funny, but I'm not really seeing it. They've cleaned the place up, polished the chrome on the booths, moved out a few pool tables, added some flat-screen televisions and gussied up the beer list. (Newcastle and Pilsner Urquell where only Bud and Bud Light had gone before.) But the atmosphere is completely soulless and bland -- and loud, thanks to an internet jukebox.

Things are a little better downstairs in the cellar, which really does feel like a speakeasy: You have to navigate a short hallway and descend a twisting flight of stairs to reach a low-ceilinged basement with long, pew-like benches along the walls, a couple of old barrels for tables and two smooth pool tables. There's a short bar with televisions, too, so you don't have to miss the game.

Much of the true Hill crowd -- the ones who live there but give little thought to the difference between Staff Assistant and Legislative Assistant -- have moved down the block to the Lil' Pub, a charming, no-frills pub with a single pool table, cheap beer and a no-nonsense landlady.

If you're heading over after work, leave the blue blazer and khakis at home.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | October 7, 2005; 1:24 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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I'm with you, Fritz. I've tried to give 18th Amendment a chance, but just can't really get into it. To give credit where credit is due, the bartenders/waitresses have all been really friendly. But there's just not enough there to keep me going back.

Posted by: KM | October 10, 2005 5:15 PM | Report abuse

My alter-ego is a crusading superhero who visits bars with a hatchet, smashing those insipid internet juke boxes.

Posted by: Carrie Nation | October 10, 2005 6:41 PM | Report abuse

I think 18th Amendment is a fantastic bar. I went to Zack's before, once and only once, and I never once noticed chrome or anything even close to the nice atmosphere created by the renovations and friendly staff. You're obviously biased because you liked the old Zack's and if dirty places are you're thing then of course you can't appreciate the 18th Amendment. Zack's went out of business for a reason, and perhaps $1 beers and an unsanitary environment were the reasons. Cheers to the 18th Amendment!

Posted by: Heywood Jablowme | October 12, 2005 1:34 AM | Report abuse

As a long time Zack's regular I was leery that the amendment could hold a candle to it predecessor...the only thing that could get me interested is a $4 pitcher!

Posted by: bryanmarkh | October 12, 2005 10:00 AM | Report abuse

It's one thing to say you like the 18th Amendment, I can almost forgive that. But it is unforgivable to blast Zack's. You may not have liked it because you prefer a sterile no atmosphere typical Hill bar where the ego's of DC jostle for a spot at the bar. But for those of us that have retained an ounce of our humanity in DC Zack's was a welcome oasis in DC, a real bar. Where the owner had as much character as the bar it's self and once you got over the gruff exterior you realized that there wasn't a friendlier place in DC. Zack's went out of business for a reason yes - they stayed true to themselves and their customers even in the face of rising rents and gentrification of the neighborhood. Zack's was one of the best bars I have ever been to in DC or otherwise. It will be missed and not doubt toasted often. If you happen to have a beverage with you when you read this join me, raise you glass and toast Zack's - to Zack's a true DC original and one of the best!

Posted by: Shemp C. | October 12, 2005 10:07 AM | Report abuse

Here Here!

Posted by: bryanmarkh | October 12, 2005 10:46 AM | Report abuse

Bottom line is they have cheap beers so who cares about what used to be there and all this other irrelevant banter, which I address below. The 18th Amendment is not bad at all. Maybe you are a professional interior designer and could have done a better job with the 1920's theme, but its new appearance does not seem to be drawing the hill staffers you despise. Maybe you prefer the arrogance of Georgetown or the flamboyance of Dupont but the 18th is not "completely soulless and bland". It hasn't been open long enough to develop soul or even a regular crowd!!! Maybe you are just lucky to have a job that pays you to be negative? Who knows... My opinion is that if you are going to eastern market/Capitol Hill or have to meet a narcissistic person named Fritz you should check out the new bar and draw your own self-absorbed opinions...

Posted by: Brian | October 27, 2005 3:49 PM | Report abuse

I agree with Brian, I headed into the 18th Amendment on a Thursday night to be greated by a friendly door man all the way to the basement bar "The Keyhole", in which the bartender instantly made me and ALL my guests feel like welcomed regulars. If cheap beer is what you are after get yourself a six pack at the corner market and stay home Fritz.

Posted by: Julie | November 7, 2005 4:26 PM | Report abuse

i visited a friend in washington and i have to totally disagree with you, the 18th amendment is a wonderfully spacious bar with great craic, it reminds me of my local back home "the globe bar" i would advise any irish visiting washington to pay a visit and hope that an irish lengend Gerry(not adams) is working he made our stay a wonderful experience and the best craic possible especially after hours

Posted by: baker bhoy | January 18, 2006 6:57 AM | Report abuse

Ok fine. If people want to say nice things about the 18th Amendment that's their business. Frankly, for the prices they charge the place should look a lot better. But Zack's was something very special. It was dirt cheap, had a great crowd of people from all walks of life, and wasn't part of the long list of truly awful Hill bars that somehow continue to do business (Cap Lounge, Pour House, Hawk and Hurl, Union Pub) no matter how bad the service gets or how overpriced they are. All we ask for is a place where people are nice, beer is cold, and friends can actually sit at a table and talk without some hooched up staff ass falling on them. Ninety-nine percent of my anger at the 18th Amendment is that it led to the destruction of Zack's, but it ain't that great and it can join with all the other mediocre bars on Capitol Hill and 8th Street (Ugly Mug, et al).

Posted by: Fitzy | February 15, 2006 3:39 PM | Report abuse

First of all Zack's didn't "go out of business" They were doing fine until a huge raise in rent caused them to look for another location. They have just taken over the Greek Taverna and are in the process of renovating and bringing in pool tables!

Posted by: Curly | May 2, 2006 5:34 PM | Report abuse

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