Mug Shots: From Candy Martinis to Jell-O Wrestling, Fun for All

Posted January 9, 2009 at 4:37pm

In recent years, Eighth Street Southeast has been working to transform itself from a small street that fell victim to the 1968 race riots to a commercial destination known as Barracks Row. This revitalization effort has yielded a cluster of fun bars that are convenient to the Capitol and also to Nationals Park.

[IMGCAP(1)]Lola’s Barracks Bar & Grill (711 Eighth St. SE) is the créme de la créme of Barracks Row bars. When it first opened last fall, owner Xavier Cervera said he was turning away some 100 people each night because the bar was filled to capacity. With only 40 seats, Lola’s draws throngs of thirsty Washingtonians who are looking to drink in a classy environment where their feet won’t stick to the floor. One big perk is the back patio, which features a fireplace and four tables. It is ideal for summer drinking, but the fireplace helps it transition into a hot spot for chilly autumn or spring evenings.

Not only is Lola’s beautiful — it features imported African mahogany — but the staff is friendly and the food is delicious. Sliders are served at a slew of bars on Eighth Street Southeast, but Lola’s offers a fun twist by serving sloppy joe sliders. These mini sandwiches, ordered in plates of three ($7) or six ($12), are a delight. They burst with flavor, but beware: The juice runs all over your hands. While they’re hard to eat gracefully, they are well worth it. For those who are looking for a healthier option, the menu also offers a large hummus plate with pita bread and vegetables.

Speaking of sliders, the Ugly Mug (723 Eighth St. SE), located a few doors down from Lola’s, made a name for itself by serving these delicious mini-burgers in orders of three, six or nine. The juicy burgers live up to their reputation. They’re smothered in cheese and served alongside fried onion straws.

In addition to sliders, the Ugly Mug offers cheap beer and good specials. The bar, adorned with several flat-screen TVs, caters to sports fans on game day by turning the volume up loud. If you can handle the noise, the specials make a visit worthwhile. For example, on Saturday nights the bar offers $10 pitchers of Miller Lite and $6 Jack and Cokes.

If you like your bars to be a bit cheesy and your margaritas unique, swing by Banana Café & Piano Bar (500 Eighth St. SE). This Barracks Row establishment offers a wide variety of cocktails served at an upstairs bar decorated with a bicycle built for two, a Pee Wee Herman doll and neon lights. All of this is accompanied by entertainer Gordon Kent playing a keyboard and taking songs requests in the front corner.

The bar offers a namesake beverage, the banana margarita ($6.75), that is different from any of the other drinks that Mug Shots tried on a visit to Eighth Street Southeast. Made in a blender with a whole banana, banana rum and tequila, this drink tastes like a watered-down, alcohol-flavored smoothie. The budget-minded drinker should note that margaritas are $2 off after 7:30 p.m. on Wednesdays. If margaritas aren’t your style, Banana Cafe also offers an extensive martini list, including the Mounds bar martini. Flavored to taste like the candy, the drink ($9) is made of Malibu rum and white crème de cacao.

Another option for Barracks Row boozing is Phase 1 (525 Eighth St. SE), which claims to be the oldest lesbian bar in the country. Since 1970, Phase 1 has operated a cash-only bar that also offers a DJ, dance floor and pool table.

On most nights there is a $5 cover to get in, and the place is small so it fills up quickly. The bar also hosts such events as Thursday night karaoke, Jell-O wrestling contests and watch parties for the Showtime drama “The L-Word.” Guys beware, though: The bar’s Web site says all men must have a female escort to enter.