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Posted at 4:45 PM ET, 04/10/2009

He Said, She Said: The Ballad of Biddy Mulligan

By Stephanie Merry

When a new bar opens, Fritz is generally first in line to check the place out, but one particular new spot, Bar Dupont, had a special meaning to another guru as well. The Dupont Circle newcomer replaced Stephanie's favorite neighborhood hang-out, Biddy Mulligan's, as part of a multi-million dollar renovation of the Jury's Hotel (now called the Dupont Hotel).

Because Stephanie has been mourning the loss of Biddy's since it closed on Halloween, we decided that this would be a good chance to give two opinions of the new establishment, one perspective from a cocktail-loving bars reporter, and one from the viewpoint of a fan who loved everything about the old bar, right down to the picture of little old Biddy peeking through her shawl on the cover of the menu.

Check out our debate after the jump.

Ambiance:

Stephanie: It's almost impossible to compare the scene at Bar Dupont to the feel of Biddy's. How can you really compare an Irish pub to an impeccably decorated lounge? I suppose the first thing that struck me when I showed up at Bar Dupont at 10 p.m. on Wednesday was how empty it was. I managed to snag a prime seat at one of the tables by a massive window overlooking Dupont, and even though there were some people around, the whole place felt sort of quiet. Biddy's was almost never so calm; it usually had a lively feel and a good mix of neighborhood folks and visitors from the Jury's Hotel upstairs. Some Euro-sounding electronic music played, and even though I'd heard bad things about the bright lighting, the bar was actually perfectly lit. The place does have a nice loungey feel. Even so, the very snazzy-looking leather chairs turned out to be totally impractical. It turns out that (shocker!) it's impossible to recline in a chair with a back that doesn't go much higher than your waist. I might add that Biddy and her tattered old shawl would never have subscribed to the theory that it's better to look good than to feel good.

Fritz: Besides the bartenders and pints of Tetley's, my favorite thing about Biddy Mulligan's was settling in at a table near the large windows that looked out over Dupont Circle and watching the diverse throngs go by. Thankfully, the Bar Dupont makeover kept these floor-to-ceiling windows, and I can still enjoy the fishbowl sensation -- the only difference now is that I can do it from the comfort of a stylish, modern-looking leather chair.

Bar Dupont is everything Biddy's wasn't -- ultra-hip light fixtures overhead, modern art on the walls, vaguely Eighteenth Street Loungey electronic music on the stereo, and a dark-neutral color scheme creates the vibe of an upscale cocktail bar. On the other hand, it also feels a bit like a corporate hotel bar, especially if you get stuck at one of the boring wooden tables away from the window. Overall, though, if you're looking to meet people near the Circle and are looking for a spot that's a bit nicer than Lucky Bar or the Big Hunt, Bar Dupont is a good option.

Food and drink:

Stephanie: A couple years ago Biddy's stopped offering Boddington's on tap, which was my main gripe with the place. This became a huge joke among my friends, because every time we'd go in (meaning, multiple times a week), we'd annoy the waitstaff by asking for a Boddington's, just to see if they were serving it again. They never did. So it's an interesting turn of events that Bar Dupont is serving none other than Boddington's. I couldn't do it though; I would have felt like a traitor. So I got a Peroni instead.

The beer prices seem pretty comparable to its predecessor, but the food is way more costly. I got a $13 vegetarian club that was delicious and interesting, but it was also one of the cheapest things on the menu. This is one of the reasons I'd give for the fact that, unlike Biddy's, this place isn't habit-forming. It's a nice place to unwind on occasion, but I couldn't afford to eat at Bar Dupont on a regular basis. And there isn't enough of that friendly, low-key vibe to make me want to visit a lot. It seems more like a date spot than a place to hang with friends.

Fritz: Biddy Mulligan's and Bar Dupont both have Guinness on draft. That's about where the comparison ends -- this is a cocktail bar where the featured ingredients are created by infusing liquor with fresh fruit. Rum steeped with pineapples is the base of one tropical concoction; orange and grapefruit juices turn it into a tasty fruit punch. My friend ordered a drink made with prickly pear cactus-infused tequila, and it was a little sweeter than either of us hoped, thanks to sour mix and simple syrup. A word of warning: The bartender told us that his goal was to craft the beverages so that "you can't taste the alcohol."

Prices were in line with or slightly higher than most neighborhood establishments -- $6 for beers, around $13-15 for cocktails.

Service:

Stephanie: I had also heard horrible things about service preceding my visit, so I steeled myself for the worst. But I was pleasantly surprised. Maybe it was just because the place was so empty, but our bubbly blond waitress was very attentive, checked up numerous times about refilling drinks and delivered the goods promptly.

Fritz: One Friday night, I was thinking about meeting a friend at Bar Dupont. Actual text message received from said friend, a little before 10 p.m.: "Space at Bar Dupont is pretty nice. ... Would love to know how the drinks and food are but left after 10 minutes with no server."

I had the same problem earlier this week. There were only a few stools occupied when I arrived, and the bartender was busy taking inventory of the bottles of alcohol on the shelves. He gave me a glance as I sat down, and waited for him to come over, and hand me a menu, tell me he'd be with me in a minute, anything like that. No dice. I just sat and waited for a couple of minutes. When he finally got to me, I had to ask if they had a cocktail menu or any special cocktails. (I could tell they did -- several large glass jars filled with fruit and alcohol behind the bar were a dead giveaway.) From that point on, service was fine -- he asked how I liked the drink, asked if my friend would change anything about his pear-infused tequila cocktail, chatted about the menu.

I did notice that another customer, who was seated at a table behind us, had to get up and try to settle her tab with the bartender because she couldn't find the server.

Stephanie's conclusion: So another neighborhood spot bites the dust. And is there another bar in the neighborhood that could serve as a worthy replacement?

-- Fritz and Stephanie

By Stephanie Merry  | April 10, 2009; 4:45 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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Comments

I miss Biddy Mulligan's. =(

Posted by: alizadk | April 10, 2009 6:09 PM | Report abuse

I miss Biddy Mulligan's as well and think that converting it to Bar Dupont was a misguided idea at best. I remember a similar change happening to the Rattlesnake in Boston when they tried to rebrand themselves as a more upscale place named George. A year later they reverted back and posted full-page ads in the local papers blaming a dismissed owner for the mistake. The damage had been done, though, and it took some time for business to return. It's a shame that the same thing seems to have happened here.

Posted by: murrayw76 | April 11, 2009 9:48 AM | Report abuse

Terrible, terrible, terrible service. I really miss Biddy's too, and I did my best to give this place a fair shot but it's no good. The new facelift doesn't come close to making up for the snotty service and ultra-high prices ($16 for a milkshake?!?!)

Very disappointing.

Posted by: corbinski | April 11, 2009 11:25 AM | Report abuse

Wow. Biddy's was my spot from the moment it opened, and I have yet to get over losing it. I will never, ever step foot in this place. What a mistake. Like DC needs another one of these places.

Posted by: esmerelda123 | April 16, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

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