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Ready for ‘The Dance’

Hill Bars Offer Their Game Plans for March Madness

With the endless number of national concerns that unite and divide those who work on Capitol Hill, perhaps no issue creates stranger bedfellows than that of college sports.

Throughout the halls of Congress, shared team loyalties can bring together polarized partisan enemies as easily as interoffice collegiate rivalries can strain the working relationship of otherwise tight-knit Hill staffs.

Cross-conference matchups and post season play can cause the enemies of one week to become the friends of the next, and the arrival of a big game always means that there will be a chummy press conference and ridiculous bets made by Members from the opposing teams’ home districts.

But amid all this confusion, two great truths can be found in the intersection of college sports rivalries and Capitol Hill politics. One is that the competition is never more heated than during college basketball’s yearly NCAA tournament, and the other is that staffers always need a good place to drink while cheering on their favorite teams.

And with just a week to go before the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament comes to Washington’s MCI Center and a mere two weeks before “The Big Dance” kicks off around the country, many Hill bars are gearing up their food and drink specials and holding promotional events to draw in faithful hoops fans.

Doug Heye, a spokesman for Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), said the Senator’s staffers usually rotate around Hill bars depending on what teams are playing and what specials are being offered. He said the office’s divided college loyalties — the Senator, who graduated from Wake Forest, has staffers from his alma mater as well as Duke, North Carolina State and the University of North Carolina — can sometimes make it tough to get along when big games are being played. But, Heye added, “it makes it more exciting, especially during March.”

In general, most Hill bars tend to take the diplomatic route during tournament time by not claiming themselves as the home bar for any one particular team — a smart move when you’re catering to the drinking needs of patrons from every state and territory as well as various out-of-town visitors.

“If anything, we get a lot of Maryland fans, but we really don’t get just one particular team … we’re non-denominational,” said Mike Liapis, general manager at Bullfeathers on Capitol Hill (410 First St. SE).

Liapis said the bar’s prime location — just two blocks behind the House office buildings — makes it easy for staffers to rush over and catch part of a game during their lunch breaks, and many come running back as soon as the work day ends.

Bullfeathers’ large bar area and six TVs, including one massive 60-inch flat screen, make it easy to refill your glass and maneuver back to your table without missing a second of the action.

If you’re a Senate aide whose chief of staff won’t let you watch your favorite team on your office television, one of the closest bars showing all of the tournament action is Senators Sports Grill, located in the Holiday Inn on the Hill (415 New Jersey Ave. NW). With 22 TVs and a tournament package that allows the bar to show every game that’s being played, even the fans of the smallest “Cinderella story” school will have no trouble finding a TV showing their game. And with $3 off on all martinis throughout March (the bar’s martinis usually run around $9), the crowd is sure to be rowdy.

Hanif Mohamed, the Holiday Inn’s director of food and beverages, said the bar is happy to accommodate large groups of fans on game days and encourages groups to call ahead and reserve one of the bar’s two large flat-screen TVs for prime viewing.

If Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast is more your bar scene, then you should definitely check out the Pour House (319 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) on game days. No other place on the Hill offers the sheer viewing capacity that the Pour House’s 35 TVs, including a 61-inch plasma television on the main floor and another 44-inch screen downstairs, offers.

“Last year we were packed for the Final Four,” said owner Colin Laverty. “It was kind of crazy.”

And Laverty expects the madness of March to continue this year, as he’s offering $8 Miller Lite and Bud Light pitchers and $5 wing plate specials during all games.

Another bar with ample TV options is Barracks Row’s newest addition, The Ugly Mug (723 Eighth St. SE). No seat is a bad seat for game viewing, with 10 flat-screen televisions throughout the bar, including a large plasma screen mounted over the pool table in the separate room at the back of the bar. The Ugly Mug is offering $3 Miller Lite and Ugly Mug Ale pints and 10 percent off appetizers and pizzas on game days.

Across from Eastern Market, the local watering hole Tunnicliffs (222 Seventh St. SE) is also sure to be a hot spot for game watching. Though the bar area can boast only two televisions, what Tunnicliffs lacks in viewing options it makes up in food and drink specials — $2.50 Bud Light drafts, $3 Jagermeister shots and $4 chicken wing specials during games. Manager Lance Cook said the bar has also teamed up with Sam Adams to offer a $3 pint of Sam Adams White Ale special. Tunnicliffs will also host a number of “barstool basketball” special event nights, where patrons can win free Sam Adams giveaways by sinking shots on a bar-mounted net.

But no matter where Hillites choose to go to experience the thrill of victory or the agony of defeat with their favorite teams, rest assured that the atmosphere is going to be intense.

“I’m assuming this year it will be even more crazy,” said Stephen Borg, chief of staff for Illinois Rep. Tim Johnson (R), whose alma mater, the University of Illinois, is ranked first in the current Associated Press and ESPN/USA Today men’s basketball polls.

Borg said that wherever Fighting Illini fans go to watch games this year “we’ll probably need a lot of room,” as he expects lots of other Hill offices will very soon start jumping on the Illinois bandwagon.

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