Rocket Bar Takes Off; The Pug Gets in the Ring
Two bars have taken their first steps on the D.C. bar scene in the last week, and while it's a little early to pass full judgment on them, it's only fair that you know what's out there. So here my first impressions of Rocket Bar, the new Gallery Place spot from the owners of Atomic/Bedrock/Buffalo Billiards, and the Pug, a long-awaited addition to the Atlas District run by Capitol Lounge bartender Tony Tomelden.
Like its sister pool halls Atomic, Bedrock and Buffalo, Rocket Bar is located at basement level -- in this case, under the restaurants and shoe stores that line Seventh Street across from the Verizon Center. (Look for the small sign next to Ruby Tuesday or you might pass right by the single door.)
Actually, calling Rocket a pool hall is a bit misleading -- there are only four tables here, though they're in great shape. It's a lot larger than Bedrock or Atomic, with a posted capacity of 250, but it retains the same kind of cozy funhouse feel. There's plenty of room to move around, with vintage mod couches and chairs tucked into corners and on raised platforms on the edge of the room. If you get a chance, check out the arty rocket sculptures on the walls made from old thermoses and other household materials.
One long wall is taken up with a curving bar with a sparkly, diner-style top and a basic range of draft beers. It's going to be busy on game days, so the owners added a second satellite counter across the room that should take some of the heat off.
I wouldn't try to play pool when there's a game across the street, but it's not a bad option for neighborhood residents early in the week. Table rates are similar to Bedrock's: $6 an hour for one person or $12 for two. Prime time -- weekend evenings -- costs $10 for one person or $14 per couple. Other forms of amusement include two long shuffleboard tables and four dart lanes. My bartender told me that vintage video games, including Ms. Pac Man, are on the way, and I dig the 100-CD jukebox, which the Rocket's staff members have stocked full of hand-picked classic rock and soul, new wave, modern alt-country and indie rock.
Since 2005, I don't know how many times I've said the Pug was "coming soon," but it's finally open on H Street NE, just down the block from the Palace of Wonders and the Red & the Black. And unlike the vast majority of the bars associated with Joe Englert's empire in the Atlas District, the Pug doesn't try to knock you out with a theme. Okay, so there are framed pictures and posters of Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier and other heavyweight greats on the exposed brick walls, and a couple of TVs in the back of the one-room bar routinely show footage from classic bouts. But really, they seem like afterthoughts -- just part of the tavern's decor.
Owner Tony Tomelden -- famous on Capitol Hill for his decade of service at Capitol Lounge -- has a legion of fans that run from cops to congressional staffers, and crowds have been good so far, vying for the window seats or stools at the sturdy wooden bars. Instead of pouring pricey microbrews, Tomelden's offering Schaeffer in cans and Natty Boh in bottles, both of which pair well with shots of Jameson's Irish Whiskey, which is kept in jug-sized containers. There's no food available yet, but the kitchen should be online in the next few weeks.
Sadly, there's no jukebox -- Tomelden decided that after years of listening to other people put torturous music on the Lounge's internet jukebox, he'd rather control the songs himself with his laptop. Shouldn't be a big loss, as long as you like classic ska, punk and outlaw country.
The best thing about the Pug -- short for the pugilist -- is that it's not trying to lure crowds with sword swallowers or bands. It's a neighborhood bar with friendly staff, cheap beers and space to meet up with a couple of friends. Can't ask for too much more than that.
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