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Posted at 1:15 PM ET, 05/ 5/2009

New on the Scene: Stir, Public Bar, Elephant & Castle and the Laughing Man Tavern

By Fritz Hahn

A new lounge and dance club awaits you in the old Indebleu space -- if you get past the velvet rope. (Courtesy of Stir)

Bars are popping up like flowers in D.C. this spring, with two opening their doors in the last week alone. If you're looking for a new happy hour spot or want to go out with your crew somewhere different this week, here's a brief rundown of the newcomers.

Public Bar
1814 18th St. NW
The Story: The former Five has gone from being the city's best mid-sized dance club (with a capacity of about 500 people) to a very cool loft-style sports bar. It opened early last week, and when I was in, former customers were marveling at what had been done with the space.

What You'll Like: What's remarkable about Public Bar is how spacious it is -- it feels like there's plenty of room to stand and watch the sport of your choice. The large U-shaped main bar is in the airy two-story room where Five's dance floor used to be. Video games and barstools are arranged in front of the extra-tall windows that overlook Connecticut Avenue, and several wide booths near the main entrance are outfitted with their own TVs so you can pick your own game to follow.

If you're not in one of those booths, you can watch on the numerous flatscreen TVs that climb the exposed brick walls. They're always tuned to different channels, so you can watch multiple games without having to turn your head.

The mezzanine level upstairs is more lounge-like, with leather couches and blocky tables. My bartender suggested that this might become a bottle service area on weekends. (Not surprising: The $6 glasses of Peroni indicate that this isn't a cheap-beer-and-wings sports bar.)

The kitchen isn't open yet -- and won't be ready for about two months -- so you can ask at the bar for delivery menus from nearby restaurants, or stop off to pick up burgers or pizza from somewhere else and bring them into the bar.

What You Won't: It's not Five, so the city has one fewer dance club. Also, the rooftop deck won't be open for at least another month.

(Brief reviews of three more after the jump.)

Elephant & Castle
900 19th St. NW
The Story: The Canadian chain of English pubs has opened its second venue in Washington last week, and it's been packed when I've stopped by for happy hour or to catch a Nats game.

What You'll Like: This pub has plenty of seating -- booths for two to four people fill the dining area, and the section to the left of the front door has some funky banquettes and high bar tables. If you can't find a seat, though, don't worry -- there's an open floor plan with room to stand. No matter where you wind up, service is friendly and efficient.

The draft beer list includes a wide range of British and American beers, from Fullers and Boddington's down to Sam Adams seasonals. (Imperial pints of Fullers are $6.50 each.) Happy hour, which runs from 5 to 7 on weekdays, means $5 20-ounce glasses of domestic drafts and wine by the glass, and $4 rail drinks. As at the other Elephant & Castle, the cod and chips are very good.

What You Won't: Don't go in expecting a proper English pub -- this has corporate chain written all over it, from the fake stone arches in the middle of the room to the stained glass over the bar to the old photos and advertisements hanging on brick walls. Unlike the Elephant & Castle near Federal Triangle, the newcomer lacks a large outdoor patio for al fresco drinks. Also, arrive early at happy hour or you might not get a seat until after 8.

705 G St. NW
The Story: Indebleu will be undergoing a number of changes in coming months. Here's the first one: The lounge is no longer part of the restaurant, and the two are even using separate addresses and phone numbers. To make the point even more clear, the old Asian-inspired lounge was gutted and renamed Stir.

What You'll Like: The furniture-filled lounge and sunken seating area have been removed and replaced with a wide-open dance floor, where you'll hear house, top 40 mashups or hip-hop. The area along the walls is now home to elevated bottle-service tables (and women in lacy outfits who alternate between gyrating on raised platforms and serving drinks). The full, rich sound system is one of the best I've heard in the city.

Different DJs bring different crowds every night -- Flirt, which drew a largely African-American crowd for an open bar and hip-hop DJs last Wednesday, has a very different vibe than the weekend parties, which are more international and focus on loud house and techno. Nevertheless, there's a strict dress code in place, so leave the sneakers, hats and athletic gear at home.

What You Won't: The funky, colorful Indebleu now has white walls, white furniture and a white floor, leading to a somewhat boring feel, even when lights tint the walls pink or blue. Indebleu's inventive cocktail menu has completely disappeared, and the current bartenders seem much more comfortable whipping up cosmos or gin and tonics. (Without the fancy libations, though, the average tab might be lower -- expect to pay $6-10 for most beers and mixed drinks; many of Indebleu's cocktails were in the $12-14 range.)

Also, beware door charges, which are $20 for men and $10 for women on "most nights," according to Stir's publicist Mark Gundersen, though I've found that you can beat these by arriving early or visiting on Wednesday or Thursday. Call 202-333-2538 to ask about getting on the guest list.

The Laughing Man Tavern
1306 G St. NW
The Story: The oldest of these four bars, the Laughing Man celebrated its grand opening back in February. The crowds and issues with service meant I wasn't a huge fan at first, but over multiple visits, it's begun to grow on me -- especially at happy hour, because the neighborhood around Metro Center has been crying out for good after-work options.

Owned and operated by the Bedrock chain (see also: Buffalo Billiards, Rocket Bar, Atomic Billiards), this is a no-nonsense two-level bar with plenty of seats and plenty of specials.

What You'll Like: The list of happy hour deals draws in workers from nearby offices: From 3 to 7 every weekday, choose from $3.25 Miller Lite or Bud Light drafts, $3.75 rail drinks, $4 glasses of house wine and $4 pints of Yuengling, Blue Moon, Sam Adams, Sam Adams Seasonal or the house G Street Brew. Appetizer deals include $4 plates of calamari, taquitos, steamed mussels, jerk wings, spinach dip or chipotle chicken quesdillas. There are even more daily deals: Half-price burgers all day Monday, 20 percent off for lawyers and law-firm employees who show business cards on Tuesday, and 20 percent off for bar and restaurant employees on Wednesdays when they present a paystub.

The short street-level bar only has eight seats and a handful of high pub tables nearby, though there's a larger dining room (with two dart boards) in the back. You'll find more room to spread out if you head downstairs, where a large U-shaped bar dominates the space. There's also a dining area, a room that can be reserved for private parties, and a couple more dart lanes.

What You Won't: The downstairs area has been getting a steady stream of requests for private events in recent weeks, and it's not surprising to show up in the afternoon and find that the first-floor bar is packed because a group has taken over the entire basement to hold a fundraiser that's asking for a "voluntary" donation at the door. (The Laughing Man generally doesn't hold these on Thursday or Friday, though.)

Service upstairs can also be very slow -- the bartender frequently comes out to take orders from all the tables nearby and to pick up empty glasses, which means service grinds to a halt. The food is nothing to write home about, but at these prices, you probably won't expect -- or complain -- too much.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | May 5, 2009; 1:15 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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The address for Public is incorrect...should be 1214 18th St NW

Posted by: shaunalsmith | May 5, 2009 5:04 PM | Report abuse

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