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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 11/16/2007

A Modest Proposal for the Bethesda Bar Scene

By Jen Chaney

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.


By Jen Chaney  | November 16, 2007; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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Now you can add BlackFinn to the non-descript bar scene...
However, even though it is a chain, Ri-ra has great character and great food.

Posted by: DB | November 16, 2007 2:08 PM | Report abuse

I grew up in Bethesda, did my rounds through Landon and Whitman. Now I'm in my late 20s and I live in Silver Spring.

The old stories of Flanagans are as good as ol irish lore themselves. The best Irish Bar is in Baltimore called Mick O'Sheas. But if you're looking for a small joint with all the charachter desired in the article, you can find it at Quarry House Tavern in Silver Spring. If you want the Irish experience, You'll need to find out when Scythian plays at McGinty's in Silver Spring. And if you want Irish with charachter, Scythian plays at Mick Osheas in Baltimore as well. Beer and Whiskey selections at all establishments are fantastic.

Posted by: Bethesda2SlvrSprng | November 16, 2007 2:32 PM | Report abuse

Harp and Fiddle rocks! Great music, Excellent Guinness, fun crowd with a lively patio in the front.

Posted by: mr_buttertone | November 16, 2007 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Damn, I thought this article was going to be about where to go to eat Irish children.

Posted by: Adam | November 16, 2007 4:25 PM | Report abuse

btown is lame. only good thing is landmark cinema row.

Posted by: btown | November 17, 2007 1:03 AM | Report abuse

How could you leave out Union Jack's? For me, the british themed pub is a great place to go, if you're feelin' like dancing or shootin' pool. There's a good separation between the loud and lounge sections of the establishment, and they have a few street level tables.

Posted by: Ray | November 17, 2007 12:28 PM | Report abuse

GOG, I tried to find an email on your blog to send this question to but couldn't. You need!

Anyway, I have a "going out" question. I wanted to volunteer at a food bank or soup kitchen on Thanksgiving but my friend said she's tried this in the past and she's been turned down because so many people volunteer. Do you have any recommendations?

Posted by: Clyde | November 18, 2007 9:29 PM | Report abuse

Nowadays, the only place in Bethesda where you can listen as well as dance to live bands playing rock music is the local Ri Ra Irish Pub (Saturday nights only). It is definitely a happening, fun place to be when the more urbane and diverse mix of twenty-, thirty- and forty-somethings pack its (smaller) "Shop Bar" area with crazed drinking and dancing regulars, as well as fans brought in by certain local bands.

Until other local clubs start having live rock bands again, Ri Ra Bethesda will continue to be the only happening place for those who like to party hardy on a Saturday night, in a safe neighborhood, near a Metro station, and free parking.

Posted by: Bill Carson | November 26, 2007 9:36 PM | Report abuse

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