Bars, Clubs, Cocktails and Hype
This isn't a complete list of every nightspot that opened in 2006, or all the trends on the nightlife scene. (You can read about those here.) Instead, it's a list of places, people and drinks that I remember for the right and wrong reasons.
Six New Venues Worth Another Visit:
Finally open after a protracted struggle with neighborhood churches, BeBar offers couches, candy-flavored cocktails, projection screens showing clips from classic musicals and DJs spinning hot dance tunes Thursday through Sunday.
The new basement beer bar at Georgetown's Pizzeria Paradiso lives up to its name. Chances are you'll say "I've never seen that before!" about at least one of the 16 draft beers, which often change and frequently feature obscure Belgian or West Coast ales. Around 80 more choices are available in bottles.
A controversial choice, to be sure, but the attractive design of the airliner-inspired lounge, well-mixed cocktails and servers in vintage stewardess uniforms make up for any complaints about expensive bottle service (tables with $1,200 minimums) and long lines outside.
Lacking a sign or telephone, this is a speakeasy in the best sense of the word. (Look for the pirate flag on King Street to know if PX is open for business.) Inside, cocktail wizard Todd Thrasher pours gorgeous ' 20s-style drinks with modern twists while customers relax in three tiny rooms that look like a vintage movie set.
Rock and Roll Hotel
The city's been crying out for a concert venue that's bigger than DC9 (capacity: 200) but smaller than the Black Cat's mainstage (capacity: 800). Who knew that when we got one, it'd be this cool? With a large stage downstairs and couch-filled rooms for lounging on the second floor, it's become a popular spot for local bands and DJ nights. Only complaint: You can't spend the night.
It takes its cues from Prohibition-era taverns, but behind the jazz-age decor, pool table and stellar jukebox is the neighborhood hangout that Petworth really needed.
Places I'll Miss
I saw some of the best DJs in the world at the cavernous old club. In the meantime, I'm eagerly awaiting the next moves from Buzzlife (the founders of Cubik) and Velvet Nation.
The Old Stoney's
Despite the return of the satisfying Super Grilled Cheese, the new P Street location is lacking something. Like, say, off-duty cops, prostitutes and neighborhood characters instead of Whole Foods shoppers.
Half Moon BBQ
The best place to see roots rock, rockabilly and alt-country bands in Montgomery County was a victim of Silver Spring's skyrocketing real estate prices.
After the first phase of the D.C. smoking ban went into effect in April, the founder of the Lizard Lounge cancelled the long-running Sunday night gathering for gay men -- almost eight months before the venue would have been forced to go smoke-free. Talk about cutting off your nose to spite your face.
Polly Esther's, Coyote Ugly and Lulu's (Tie)
If only because they were the places to send bachelorette parties.
Best New Place to Get Your Dance On
The Silver Spring restaurant and bar pulled off the shocker of the summer by getting Roy Davis Jr., DJ Sneak and Derek Carter to man the turntables at its late-night parties. The indoor/outdoor space was a guaranteed good time every Saturday.
Runner Up: Lima
I'd expect veteran promoter Masoud A. to make sure his new lounge had a well-dressed crowd, attractive decor, international music and tables for bottle service. The lack of a cover charge and the medium-sized dance floor were pleasant surprises.
Weirdest Theme Bar (In a Cool Way)
Palace of Wonders
Walls lined with vintage sideshow freaks and relics -- a two-faced calf, a five-legged dog, South American "mummies," a wax statue of the Elephant Man -- make the place worth at least one visit. A stage packed with sword swallowers, contortionists, burlesque dancers and hot dog-eating contests kept me coming back for more.
Runner up: Ned Devine's Irish Village
Like you're partying on a cobblestoned village square somewhere in Ireland, surrounded by the facades of famous pubs. (Too bad you can't actually enter all of them.)
Weirdest Theme Bar (NOT in a Cool Way)
Whoever designed this odd Silver Spring restaurant and bar deserves a visit from Davy Jones. But making us pay $5 for four tiny cod fritters and $8 for a poorly mixed rum drink? Let 'em walk the plank.
Runner up: Ned Devine's Irish Village
"Like the Irish section of Busch Gardens/Epcot" was a frequent comment.
Most Pre-Opening Hype
H Street NE
For the second year running, Joe Englert's projects on H Street make this list. Three nightspots offering live entertainment -- the Rock and Roll Hotel, the Red and the Black and the Palace of Wonders -- gave curious barhoppers a reason to go check out the restaurants, taverns and martini lounges springing up in a long-ignored part of Washington. Cue an onslaught of newspaper and magazine stories about the area. Get ready for more: At least three new places are scheduled to open in 2007.
Runner Up: Fly
How many D.C. nightclubs are featured in Details or Vibe before they open? Not many. Fly began drawing long lines (full of curious, disgruntled would-be clubbers) as soon as the velvet ropes went up.
Favorite Local DJ
Jesse Tittsworth rocks more bodies than Justin Timberlake. Tittsworth is D.C.'s champion of the bass-heavy Baltimore club sound, but he can also spin drum 'n' bass, hip-hop -- a true jack of all genres. His mixes are smooth and often surprising, and when he's on the decks, it's impossible to sit still. Check out his mixes online, or hear him live every Thursday at Modern.
Biggest News for the Local Music Scene
Benjy Ferree signs to Domino Records
In a surprising move, the mild-mannered Saint-Ex bartender and his folk-influenced rock tunes (loaded with cello, harmonica and whistling solos) joined the white-hot independent British label, whose stable includes the Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand and Quasi.
Longest Wait to Get Into a Club (By Choice)
My first trip to Fly
Next time, I showed up much earlier.
Longest Lines Outside of a Club
Eighteenth Street Lounge
Thievery Corporation's Eric Hilton made a long-awaited return to the turntables at Eighteenth Street Lounge in January. Before the doors even opened, hundreds of people were queued up outside the club, stretching down 18th Street and around the corner onto M. The crush returned in May when Hilton made another trip to the DJ booth.
Biggest Myth About D.C. Nightlife
"H Street isn't safe!"
This came up over and over again in Got Plans? when we'd recommend readers check out concerts at the Rock and Roll Hotel, fish sandwiches at Horace and Dickey's, sword swallowers at the Palace of Wonders -- anything in the new H Street corridor. It's not the best-lit street in Washington, and yes, the shuttered buildings can make the place seem spooky at night. But is it really less safe than other areas? I decided to check the crime stats for all incidents occurring within 1,000 feet of some well-known nightlife spots in various neighborhoods between Sept. 15 and Dec. 15. Violent crimes include homicides, assaults and robberies with or without a gun. Property crimes include burglary, thefts (including those from cars) and stolen automobiles.
The Rock and Roll Hotel (H Street/Atlas District):
11 violent crimes, 36 property crimes, 47 total incidents.
The 9:30 Club (U Street/Shaw):
23 violent crimes, 54 property crimes, 77 total incidents.
Eighteenth Street Lounge (Midtown/Dupont Circle):
5 violent crimes, 64 property crimes, 69 total incidents.
Third Edition (Georgetown):
8 violent crimes, 76 property crimes, 84 total incidents.
In 2007, I fully expect some people to start chiding us for recommending they go to concerts at the Black Cat, catch a show at the Studio Theatre or have dinner at Bar Pilar.
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