Meal Ticket: Budget Boozing 101

Posted June 20, 2012 at 5:27pm

Hate to break it to all the would-be Don Drapers, but the days of the three-martini lunch are officially over.

Which is not to say that drinking does not play an integral part in the Capitol Hill experience.

Careers change over clinking tumblers brimming with peaty Scotch. Craft breweries are cropping up seemingly overnight. And award-winning beverage gurus are shaking up intoxicating, new tension-relievers several generations removed from the standbys enshrined within the Mr. Boston guidebook.

In a culture where work-related happy hours and cocktail reception invites pile up faster than constituent letters at the mail-screening center, it’s important for Congressional newcomers — particularly fresh-faced interns — to figure out not only their poison of choice, but where they feel most comfortable enjoying it.

To that end, we present our crash-course in libation appreciation. Here’s to (hopefully) learning something new.


Lounge 201

201 Massachusetts Ave. NE

The week’s just getting started. So let’s pace ourselves.

Lounge 201 rarely gets crazy this early — go ahead, stretch out on one of the zebra- or leopard-print-covered perches — which makes it a prime candidate for easing into our exploration of potent potables. Its standard happy hour deals — house wine, beers, rails drinks and signature martinis are half-price from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday — invite experimentation with frou-frou drinks that typically cost an arm and a leg at tonier establishments.

Sucking back a cold, frothy Dark and Stormy, marrying dark Gosling’s rum with spicy ginger beer, is a fabulous entree to the tastes of the tropics.

The Perfect Pear encapsulates the pleasures of the garden. Fresh basil dominates the early sips, spunky lime wedge injects some acid, pureed pear brightens each swallow while the underlying vodka packs the requisite punch.

The Sinatra is as spirited as Ol’ Blue Eyes. The icy concoction disappears faster than President John F. Kennedy’s ties to Chi-town mobster Sam Giancana, thanks in large part to the sweet-tart sensation created by the comingling of white cranberry juice and blueberry vodka.


H Street Country Club

1335 H St. NE

Drinking is not a game. But it sure does spice up friendly competitions.

The designers of the H Street Country Club have seized that conceit, intertwining joyful distractions with cut-rate beer and margarita specials ($3 Dos Equis and Bud Light, $5 margaritas, regular and frozen, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday).

Classic margaritas could become downright habit-forming, the dichotomous preparation nailing the anticipated tangy and salty notes — orchestrated by the generously salted rim and citrus-laced tequila — with ease.

The frozen version proves even better. Barkeeps hedge their bets by emptying a long pour of tequila into the highball glass BEFORE dispensing the crystalline margarita mix. Drifts of tequila-infused snow push back against the lips with every slurp, the free floating booze and freshly liberated sodium chloride rushing down the gullet while the more obstinate slush slides back and forth with each tilt of the glass.

Gaming options include communal shuffleboard tables, traditional skeeball, Buck Hunter and, of course, the D.C.-centric mini putt course spanning most of the second floor (free with any entree purchase Sunday through Tuesday; $7 a pop otherwise).


The Li’l Pub

655 Pennsylvania Ave. SE

Need a little help overcoming Hump Day? The Li’l Pub may just have the cure for what ails ya.

Staff at the unimpeachably blue-collar hangout claim they’ve been cranking out catch-all Jell-O shots since time immemorial. (Which is to say, longer than the famously ornery bar maidens care to cop to serving them.)

“Some nights … kids come in here and they order one, two or even three apiece,” staff said, estimating that they distribute at least 100 liquor-filled gelatin shooters per night.

Featured flavors — think cherry lemonade, lime and, occasionally, red, white and blue (Fourth of July special) — rotate at the whimsy of the presiding barkeep. As does the base material. “Whatever we want to get rid of, that’s what we dump in,” one seasoned enabler told HOH, though she noted that most of the time they unload plain vodka.

The frat-party staples — “Oooh, I think these are glow in the dark!” one excited patron squealed pre-slurp — are $1 and are joined by $3 domestics and rail drinks, available from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday and all day Sunday.

Just make sure to show up early. And often.

“Nothing worse than when the Hill rats discover this place and pile in for a few weeks. They soon discover they’re not welcome,” one grizzled regular griped about the slew of Johnny-come-lately’s she’s seen pass through the joint over the years.


Kelly’s Irish Times

14 F St. NW

No mere Irish pub, Kelly’s is a Capitol Hill institution unto itself.

“This bar is a classic. … It never changes!” proclaimed a D.C. native who hadn’t darkened the watering hole’s door in nearly three years upon once again bellying up to the always-bustling bar.

The sense of nostalgia is infectious, aided by walls plastered with campaign memorabilia (JFK for Congress posters, President Ronald Reagan beaming back at you from yellowing magazine covers) and other political ephemera (sardonic editorial cartoons, the cheeky snapshot of President Richard Nixon glad-handing Elvis Presley).

Cheap drinks abound, including $3 cans of National Bohemian and tallboys of Pabst Blue Ribbon, $4 Miller High Life and $5 Red Stripe lager. Which makes this the ideal place to learn about the all-important beer back.

For $6 the bartenders will fix you up with a jumbo Miller High Life (noticeably creamy but still easy drinking) and a shot of Old Overholt rye whiskey. The distinctly American spirit initially feels a little hot but finishes mellow, releasing a slow burn as it races toward the belly.


Union Pub

201 Massachusetts Ave. NE

If you’re still upright by this point, it’s time to celebrate. And come summer, Union Pub’s expansive patio is ground zero for decompression.

On any given weekend all three bars (front, back, patio) can be crawling with dedicated fun-seekers. The crowd ranges from lanyard-toting staffers to gray-haired professionals casually admiring the parade of daringly short-shorted sun worshippers.

Staff keeps the party rolling with progressive rails ($3 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., $4 from 8 p.m. to close on Fridays), $5 martinis and $6 craft beer flights.

The flights provide beer novices the opportunity to sample small portions of rotating craft beers — recent offerings included Bell’s Oberon Ale, Goose Island American Wheat, Chocolate City Cornerstone Copper Ale and Old Dominion Oak Barrel Stout, among others — a skill-set worth developing in today’s small batch brewery-embracing environment.

Knocking back that first sip of D.C. Brau’s Citizen Ale might come as a shock to the average light beer drinker, given that Citizen is an extra hoppy and particularly aromatic brew.

Wading into Goose Island’s Nut Brown should be a treat for robust beer lovers. The chocolaty stunner coats the palate like maple syrup, ultimately fading to coffee notes and a definitive nuttiness that ensures hours of joyful sipping.