A Modest Proposal for the Bethesda Bar Scene
A question that went unanswered in yesterday's Got Plans? discussion made me wax a little nostalgic for the Bethesda bar scene (such as it was) of yore. Our reader writes:
My girlfriend is insisting that we go to Bethesda this weekend to a bar called Caddies to meet some friends. Is it any good? I feel like it is going to be very preppy with an old crowd; we're in our mid-20s. How far away is that Irish pub Flanagan's that I've heard about in case I want to ditch Caddies? Thanks.
First, I'll address the Caddies question. Yes, in my experience, the Cordell Ave. sports bar definitely leans toward the baseball-cap-and-khaki-pants wearing crowd. It's a sports bar. In Bethesda. You don't need to be Albert Einstein to do the math there. However, I wouldn't say the patrons skew particularly old. I've definitely seen a mix of twenty- and thirty-somethings there, in addition to a few folks who may have crossed the 40 yard line. But hanging out there isn't going to make you feel like you accidentally stumbled into a "Speed Dating for Senior Citizens" event or anything.
As for Flanagan's (and this is the part that made me a little verklempt), two years ago, it changed its name to Harp & Fiddle and moved to its new Cordell Ave. location, which once housed an upscale Kosher restaurant. It's still a perfectly nice place to grab a beer and catch up with friends. But, in this Montgomery County native's opinion, the bar lost a bit of its comfortable vibe when it made this switch.
In the old days, Flanagan's was a true neighborhood pub: It was located in a dank basement, and so dark that sometimes I tripped trying to find my way to the bathroom. It also smelled like Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan's ash tray. (This was pre-smoking ban, of course). It was an old standby, with decent Irish beer and, invariably, some dude with a guitar singing "The Wild Rover" in a deliciously gravelly voice. Harp & Fiddle is perfectly pleasant, mind you, certainly one of the better places in Bethesda to have a drink. But I see the switch as emblematic of what's missing from most Bethesda bars these days: A sense of character.
It's great to see cosmopolitan hang-outs like Cafe Peju, and dance spots like Fuzion on the scene. But I miss good ol' Uncle Jed's Roadhouse or the long-defunct Lewie's or the aforementioned Flanagan's, places without pretension or sheen or any desire, really, to stand out as the cool kid on the block. Some might argue that Tommy Joe's (aka T-Bones Redux) or Rock Bottom fill this niche, but I say you have to go a little farther north -- to standby Hank Dietle's -- to find the kind of atmosphere I'm talking about.
Will there ever be another place like Flanagan's in Bethesda again? I don't know. But I hope the answer to that question isn't no, nay, never.
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