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Barracks Row Beckons

Hill Corridor Has Growing Bar Scene

Set just blocks away from the Capitol Dome and full of historic row houses and shops, Barracks Row on Eighth Street Southeast is one of Washington’s most famous commercial corridors. Named after the Marine Barracks that President Thomas Jefferson built there in 1801, this trade area has long been a vibrant center of commerce, and recent revitalization efforts have made the corridor one of the fastest growing communities in Washington.

And if that’s not good enough for you, well, Barracks Row also is a great place to go out drinking.

Gay, straight, young, old or anywhere in between, Barracks Row offers an eclectic bar scene; mixing traditional beer joints and dance clubs with new martini bars and classy pubs.

With so much recent development along the corridor, a good way to get a handle on the area might be to attend this year’s third annual Barracks Row Fest. Taking place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 16, the street fair will feature 60 of Barracks Row’s restaurants and vendors. The ever-expanding area will welcome two new fine dining and drinking locales by the end of this month.

Tapatinis (711 Eighth St. SE), a trendy tapas and martini bar, just opened its doors last Friday and has wasted no time in launching its October drink specials. Hoping to draw in a bit of Capitol Hill’s vast happy hour business, Tapatinis offers two for $5 rail drink Wednesdays, $5 top-shelf martini Thursdays and open bar Fridays with a $20 cover.

The other new kid on the block is the Belgian-themed Belga Café (514 Eighth St. SE). Scheduled to open within the next two weeks, Belga Café’s Euro-fusion cuisine will be complemented by an assortment of Belgian beers, and plans are already in the works to offer a “beer of the week” and beer tasting specials.

On the other side of the 500 block of Eighth Street sits two of the corridor’s most popular, albeit very different, establishments.

Marty’s (527 Eighth St. SE) is a spacious and smoke-free bar and restaurant that fashions itself a great place to catch a sports game with 10 televisions downstairs and two upstairs, including a 52-inch plasma screen TV.

Manager Jonathan Frazier said Marty’s is a regular spot for Capitol Police officers and is often rented out for private parties. And with last week’s opening of Marty’s new roof deck, which seats about 40 and overlooks Barracks Row, Frazier said he hopes to bring in more private-party business from the Hill.

Marty’s drink specialty is the SoHo martini. Priced at $8, it’s a tart and tasty mix of SoCo, melon and sour mix served in a martini glass. You might also think about trying a hurricane (Bacardi, Myers, triple sec, pineapple juice, slow gin and lime juice) or a hand grenade (Bacardi, Myers, Blue Curacao, sour mix, pineapple juice and lime).

Right next door to Marty’s is one of Washington’s oldest and best-known lesbian dance bars, Phase One (525 Eighth St. SE). Having been open for 30-plus years, “The Phase” offers a well-stocked bar, a pool table in the back and ample room on the dance floor. The bar is open Thursdays through Sundays. Thursday is open mic night and Sunday offers line-dancing lessons and a house pool tournament.

Toward the Pennsylvania Avenue end of the 500 block sits the Cuban and Mexican themed Banana Café. Bright and festive with a bar on the main floor and another upstairs (which opens after 5 p.m.), Banana Café is known for its ample outside seating, its Sunday and Monday karaoke nights and Tuesday through Saturday piano bar nights.

Ask bartender Steven Hunt for a popular (and very sweet) mojito, or order a specialty martini or large mango margarita in the tropical-themed establishment.

“It’s an older bar,” Hunt said. “On Saturday night the crowd is mostly in their 50s.”

Friday night’s $3.50 rum punch night (made with Captain Morgan’s Parrot Bay rum) draws the 30s crowd, Hunt said, as does $3.75 mojito Wednesdays.

The up-and-coming spot on Barracks Row for the younger crowd is Finn MacCool’s (713 Eighth St. SE). The Irish-themed pub, which opened in December, is one of only two places in D.C. where you can get a dark and foamy Beamish Irish Stout, made in Cork, Ireland. And if that doesn’t suit your taste, Finn MacCool’s always has nine other beers on tap and offers an assortment of specialty whiskeys and single-malt scotches. Monday night’s two-for-one burgers and Tuesday night’s two-for-one fish and chips draws the happy hour crowd in early in the week. Live Irish music can be heard Tuesdays through Saturdays at Finn MacCool’s, and Wednesday night is “pop quiz” trivia night with $30 and $15 bar-tab prizes.

For Hillites, it’s not uncommon to spot a Congressman or Senator sitting at Finn MacCool’s spacious bar, and behind the bar you might also recognize one of the five Hill staffers who also work at the bar part-time.

Co-owner Paul “Woody” Woodhull is also a friendly presence around the pub’s upstairs and downstairs bars. Woodhull, a Hill resident who also syndicates talk radio shows in Washington, is always more than happy to share a drink or talk about the future of Barracks Row.

“The more places that open up on Eighth Street the better we’re going to do,” he said on a recent Monday night. “Pretty soon this is going to be a mini-Georgetown.”

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