Cafe 227

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Barbaro Memorial "Worst Bets" Rankings: Worst Bars in DC, Part I

I hate's annual Best Bets contest. The polls for this year's contest closed last week, and results will be announced Monday, August 14. I can't wait to see which contrived, exanimate corporate chain wins in each category.

And therein lies my frustration with the contest - it's not the "best" of anything at all, it's simply a popularity contest. And more often than not, it's a reflection of the metropolitan area's collective poor taste. I would much rather read Fritz Hahn's and Tom Sietsema's best attempts at objectively ranking the region's bars and restaurants than rely on the collective opinion of the area's residents, many of whom have no basis for judgment to begin with.

For instance, check out last year's rankings for Best Gym/Health Club. Now, it's quite clear (to me, at least) that the ultra-swanky Sports Club/LA is in every respect "better" than Gold's Gym. It has better equipment, it provides bath towels (Gold's Gym surprisingly doesn't), it has a basketball court, it has a swimming pool, it has a steam room, it's in the Ritz Carlton - what more proof do you need? There is, however, only one (expensive!) Sports Club/LA in DC, compared with well over 20 (cheap) Gold's locations. The result? Gold's ends up on top, while the Sports Club/LA (in a very Matt Leinart-like fashion) falls to ninth.

See? The Best Bets rankings reveal absolutely nothing about what's actually "best." If they're not going to change the format of the contest, they should at least change the title to something more accurate, such as "Popular Places" or "Our Annual Appeal to the Least Common Denominator Among Us."

So why have I wasted your time with this seemingly pointless diatribe, you ask? Because this afternoon, I plan on partially rectifying the abomination known as the Best Bets contest by providing my own, objective rankings of various establishments in the DC metropolitan area. But here's the twist - instead of ranking the 10 best establishments in each category, I'm going to attempt to rank the 10 worst. It's more fun, and besides - this heat has left me a bit cantankerous.

Since most of my closest friends are drunkards and vagrants, let's start with the worst bars. Before I proceed with the rankings, which will be posted this afternoon, here are a few notes on my methodology:

  • You may be asking yourself, "Johnny, why are you including precisely 10 establishments in your rankings, as opposed to 7 or 12? After all, those other numbers seem perfectly suitable to me." Well, I’ve chosen to use the same arbitraty numeric device employed by's Best Bets contest for simplicity's sake. It requires less thought, and I’m on company time here.

  • While my aim was to be as objective as possible, I honestly don't have an objective set of criteria by which to judge any of these establishments. Overall, I tried to capture the real fun-vacuums in this city. To paraphrase former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, I can't really define what makes a bad bar, but I know it when I see it.
  • One thing to keep in mind, though: a dive bar is not the same thing as a bad bar. Indeed, many of the best bars in the city are real shitholes - Townhouse Tavern, the Raven, and Jay's Saloon immediately come to mind. Conversely, a lavish, expensive bar does not necessarily preclude it from being a bad bar.
  • I didn't consider any LGTB bars in coming up with my rankings. I haven't had the occassion to visit any such establishments, so I really have no basis for judgment. However, I'm sure there are some really crappy LGTB bars in the area (for instance, I've never seen anyone walk out of The Fireplace smiling), so I'd be happy to append my list if I get enough feedback about one or two particular places.

  • Similarly, I didn't consider any Maryland bars in coming up with my rankings. To me, Maryland's kind of like Enceladus, one of Saturn's many moons. I mean, I know it exists, I've seen pictures, I know it's located somewhere north of DC, and I know it has the basic conditions to support organic life. However, I've never actually been there.

That's more than enough by way of introduction. I need to grab some lunch. The full rankings will be up sometime this afternoon, so stay posted.

(Update: Here they are, the rankings in full...)


  • Incredibly well-written, Johnny, but I guess when one is writing on a subject close to one's heart, one takes more care with it, no?

    I look forward to seeing the list.

    Please ensure that Third's makes it.

    By Blogger Chico's Bail Bonds, at 3:41 PM  

  • God bless Jay's. If only I could pick it up in its entirety and place it squarely in my neighborhood.

    By Blogger bettyjoan, at 4:18 PM  

  • Perhaps it was because San Franciscans like lists. But there wasn't a media outlet in SF that didn't have a best of list. So it really fit every taste. I am sure the people at City Paper think the whole concept is beneath them (like the concept of articles that are readable beyond the first few paragraphs and articulate reviews) but damn if CP doesn't need to counter the WaPo and Washingtonian with their own version of Best of List. They could even do it in the style of other alt weeklies: part edited, part reader poll. Something to make me at least pick up the CP once a year would be great.

    By Blogger DC1974, at 5:26 PM  

  • I think you should include Townhouse. Which isn't strickly LGBT (the T brings up the rear, by the way). It's the pretty much the only bar in DC that I find remotely tolerable. Friendly bartenders. Good crowd. Decent prices. And not so crowded that you are reminded that you hate humanity. It's the direct opposite of Cobalt next door (which reminds you only that you hate yourself).

    By Blogger DC1974, at 5:31 PM  

  • I love the Townhouse - which is why I didn't include it on my "worst of" list.

    By Blogger Johnny Shades, at 6:16 PM  

  • Bundle of thanks for Sharing this Interesting One!
    Body Sponge

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:05 AM  

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