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Posted at 3:44 PM ET, 03/10/2011

The Black Squirrel's basement takes beer to a new level

By Fritz Hahn

The Black Squirrel pours 32 draft microbrews at its new 50-foot bar. (Courtesy of Amy Bowman)

The Black Squirrel opened its basement beer bar in Adams Morgan on Wednesday, and the atmosphere and the draft list are completely different from its other two floors.

Where the main floor is bright and homey and the upstairs is loft-like with couches, the basement level wants to be rock and roll. There's a decent-sized area in the front window that will serve as a stage for local musicians. Graffiti covers the brick walls of the long, narrow, dimly lit room. One side features a 50-foot bar, its top spiked with 32 tap handles. Behind the bar, a mounted skateboard hangs as a shelf, which is either really cool or trying too hard to be cool, depending on whether you think the Squirrel actually shreds.

Those 32 beers on tap -- the third-largest selection in the city -- demand to be taken seriously. The most common drafts would be Harpoon and Lagunitas IPAs, North Coast Scrimshaw Pilsner or Racer 5's Bear Republic; the rest include Southern Tier's Unearthly IPA, the Bruery's rich, unusual Rugbrod, made with rye malts, and Flying Dog's insanely good and insanely strong aged 2009 Horn Dog Barley Wine.

My quibble with the Black Squirrel's higher-than-elsewhere prices continues -- $8 for a goblet (not a pint) of Dogfish Head 90 Minute IPA? $13 for the outstanding I Hardcore You Imperial IPA, a collaboration between the European BrewDog and Mikkeller breweries? -- but it's still possible to drink well here for less than other spots on the busy 18th Street strip. Going local helps: Evolution's floral Sprung seasonal is $5, as is the delicious Ironman Pale Ale from Baltimore's Oliver Brewery. Most other drafts are in the $6-$11 range.

This weekend, a menu of sandwiches and bar snacks debuts, and I'll be curious to see how packed the places gets. There were a few dozen people in the place on Wednesday, and an oddly placed table between the bar and the front door became a major choke point for anyone entering or exiting.

If you're going to check it out, don't go in the usual door: this place is so separate from the original Black Squirrel that it gets its own sidewalk-level entrance.

By Fritz Hahn  | March 10, 2011; 3:44 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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