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Posted at 5:49 PM ET, 12/11/2007

Through the Looking Glass in Petworth

By Fritz Hahn

Well, it looks like the cat is out of the bag about Temperance Hall. On Monday night, blogger Prince of Petworth quoted "sources" as saying that the Roaring '20s-era tavern had been sold to the owners of the Wonderland Ballroom, but specifics were thin. This rumor's been around for a while, but now that's it's official, let's try to fill in some of the blanks.

Matthew McGovern and Rose Donna are planning changes at Temperance Hall, which is going to be renamed the Looking Glass Lounge. (The name is an "Alice in Wonderland" reference, like the couple's first bar.)

"They're taking things that have worked well for them at Wonderland and bringing them here," says Temperance Hall General Manager Dan Searing, who's keeping his position under the new owners. At the same time, he adds, "They've been explicit in saying they're not going to try to create another Wonderland. There's not a desire to make Wonderland North."

For starters, McGovern and Donna are going to play down Temperence Hall's 1920s theme, though it won't disappear entirely. They're going to add more seating on all levels, reconfiguring the area which once held pool tables to make it more comfortable and "loungey," but Temperance Hall is not expected to close to the public during the renovation.

The menu will be "streamlined" -- no word on what's leaving, but it better not be the sloppy joes or chili. Searing's interesting rotating selection of draft microbrews is being jettisoned in favor of the same-old Hoegaarden, Stella Artois and Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, which already show up on far too many bars around town. Additional taps may be in the bar's future, though, which is a good sign.

Temperance's "emphasis on Prohibition-era drinks will go away," Searing says, along with its stellar selection of rye whiskey. "Classic cocktails will be a thing of the past." That's a shame, because Temperance serves one of the best Sazarac cocktails around and a very good martini.

One major positive, Searing says, is that a number of prices are going be reduced. Bottles of domestic beer will be $3 and Stella and Dogfish Head drafts will be $5. Happy hour is going to be extended until 8 p.m., like Wonderland's, and it will feature $2 off all drafts, cocktails and bottles of Chimay.

Besides its whiskey selection, Temperance's best feature is the CD jukebox downstairs, which Searing curates with a mix of '60s soul, '70s funk, '80 Britpop and '90s and '00s indie rock. Under the new owners, it's not going to change. "Matt and Rose are big fans of the jukebox," Searing says, adding that they're looking to get rid of the Internet jukebox in the main bar in favor of an all-CD jukebox upstairs. No more will customers be forced to listen to Britney or J. Holiday. "We'll still have a diverse musical selection," Searing says. "If anything, it's going to be more diverse."

Staffing changes are also in the works, but no specifics were available.

There are no plans at this time to have DJs or live music, though those ideas have been bandied about. Even if they happen down the road, Searing insists that "it's not going to be a nightclub setting. There's still going to be an emphasis on being a neighborhood bar."

The projected culmination of the changes is around New Year's Eve, so the Looking Glass Lounge might be welcomed with a large party.

In the meantime, cocktail fans, you might want to make another trip up to Petworth for a glass of rye and a bowl of those amazingly spicy Prohibition Peanuts. Wisely, those sweet-and-salty snacks will remain available at the bar. "I think we might have a riot on our hands if we tried to get rid of those," Searing says with a laugh.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | December 11, 2007; 5:49 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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This is a real shame. Petworth has few enough interesting haunts as it is, and turning Temperance Hall into another bland bar with bad beer will be a big setback to the neighborhood.

If they drop the great microbrews and whiskeys, and tamper with what is now a phenomenal menu (the aioli burgers are the best I've had in DC), then they'll lose this customer, at least. Especially when Domku is just up the street.

Posted by: Pip | December 12, 2007 9:45 AM | Report abuse

I don't see the problem. I'd be interested to know why the owners sold -- just a good offer, or were they no longer able to operate the bar?

People hate change, but Wonderland is a fantastic, interesting, eclectic, neighborhoodey spot. A great model. If the TH owners were facing sell or close, better they sell to these folks than someone else!

Posted by: Elizabeth | December 12, 2007 12:29 PM | Report abuse

This sucks.

Posted by: Alan | December 12, 2007 12:47 PM | Report abuse

Re: Why the owners sold, it was a part of the business plan of the H Street bars, Temperance, and 18th Amendment to establish the bars and ultimately sell them. A pretty good business plan, looks like.

Posted by: Roger | December 12, 2007 3:24 PM | Report abuse

"Drop the great microbrews and whiskys..." umm, huh?? Wonderland has a far better beer selection than Temperance does. They only have 3 taps, for the love of Pete, to Wonderland's dozen or so.

There seems to be some idea that Wonderland is Smith Point. It's not. It's a neighborhood bar, it's funky, has good beer and character, and the owner Matt is a great guy. You think Wonderland is a setback? It put the damn neighborhood on the map, and is by far the best thing to EVER happen to that corner of CH.

And I'm sorry but the food at Temperance just isn't that great. And the service (except at the bar) always sucks. This can only be an improvement.

Posted by: Jamie | December 13, 2007 12:04 PM | Report abuse

This is a disappointment. The menu now is full of favorites, and Dan's stewardship of the taps and the emphasis on the whiskies is one of the things that gives the bar its soul.

Retaining Dan, the finest host in DC for simply too many reasons to enumerate here is an imperative, but the suggestion that the wait-staff are for the chop is ample warning that these two vampires from Wonderland should be watched closely so that they don't completely lose the plot.

Posted by: Goonersteve | December 14, 2007 12:06 PM | Report abuse

Shouldn't of fired Scott. He was the man and gave the place a lot of its charm. Lost this customer to a bar that will turn into more of what we already have in dc, blandness.

Posted by: DC | December 24, 2007 9:33 PM | Report abuse

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