Cafe 227

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

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

Here they are, the Washington, DC metropolitan area's worst bars, ranked from "barely tolerable" to "execrable." Be sure to first read the introduction, which I posted earlier this morning. And remember, this is a work in progress - I'm more than happy to modify or append this list if I hear any compelling arguments to do so.

Without further ado:

10. Wonderland - I hesitate to put this bar on the list at all, because I know I'm going to catch some flack from my friends. To me, Wonderland is the Modest Mouse of the DC bar scene. Everyone I know whom I consider to be culturally attuned tells me I should like Modest Mouse. I've picked up their album, I've listened to them over and over again, I've tried real hard to like them, but it's not working. I'm sorry, Modest Mouse sucks. And so does Wonderland. Occassionally they have great DJs, but when they do, it’s packed to the hilt. And when it’s not packed, it's sparsely populated with angst-ridden hipsters who appear to be mocking me and my painfully unironic garb. Look, just because a bar is located in a sketchy neighborhood on the cusp of gentrification doesn’t make it a good bar.

9. Dan's Cafe - Similarly, age doesn't automatically equal character. Dan's Cafe has been around since 1965, so ostensibly it's been sucking continuously for the past 41 years. It's small, always cramped, filthy, the toilet constantly overflows, and the proprietors force you to mix your own drinks. Granted, some people think the net effect of all this is charming. But then again, some people enjoy getting peed on. That doesn't make it universally fun.

8. Both Pool Halls in Ballston - Yes, I'm talking about the two-headed fun-sucking monster of Carpool and Bailey's. This isn't a knock against Northern VA, which has some genuinely great bars. These two places would be bad anywhere. Now that Rockland's is no longer located there, there's really no defensible reason to ever go to Carpool. (Although I hear it's going to demolished soon, so things are looking up.) As for Bailey's, they can fill it with as many TVs and checkerboards as they want, but it's still a contrived, cavernous monstrosity located in a shopping mall. The last time I was there was over a year and a half ago, and I'm still waiting for my jack-and-coke.

7. Madhatter - Narrowly edges out Rumors as the worst bar on that particular block of M Street. Jam-packed with GW students, who are generally loathsome. I've never not seen the bathroom floor covered with vomit - but hey, when you allow 17 year-olds to drink like that, those things are bound to happen.'s review of this place doesn't look like it has been updated since the early 1990s. I don't blame them - I wouldn't go back to this place either.

6. Rhino Bar and Pumphouse - Easily the worst pumphouse in DC. Before I go on, let's get one thing straight - I'm not at all opposed to places like this in theory. DC needs a place where obnoxious, pretentious, self-indulgent Georgetown students can congregate, get hammered, and fight each other. For instance, back when I was such a Georgetown student, we went to Champs. And I loved it. But Champs - being a larger venue and located in an alleyway - was somehow able to contain the debauchery, like one of those ghost traps from Ghostbusters. (I really don't know how else to explain it.) Rhino, on the other hand, is unable to control it - and as a result, the depravity of the place routinely spills out and pollutes the neighborhood at large. It's not fair to the residents of Georgetown, and it's not fair to society. On top of that, Rhino caters to Red Sox and Eagles fans, two groups of people that I generally find abhorrent. No sir, I do not like this place at all.

5. McFadden's - I'm going to be intentionally parsimonious here, because nothing I could say would accurately convey how much I despise this place. I actually considered moving away from DC after spending a few hours here one night.

4. Kelly's Irish Times - This place wasn't fun when I was 17, and it's not fun now. The's review of this place, written by Michael Dowd, incorrectly states: "pretty much anyone could appreciate its Old World feel." I guess being an inaccurate, overwrought hack runs in the family. (Ed. Note: Since I've already taken gratuitous shots at both GW and Georgetown students, I originally intended to say something disparaging about Catholic U students here. But I think we can all agree that they've suffered enough.)

3. Royal Palace - For years, I thought this was a quaint little Indian restaurant. Well guess what? It's not. I'm not sure what the exact opposite of "a quaint little Indian restaurant" is, but this might be it. Even if you're overcome by a seemingly irresistible sense of morbid curiosity, do NOT go into this place. In the name of all that is good and righteous in this world, just don't.

2. Coyote Ugly - If it were possible to capture the essence of clinical depression, bottle it, mix it in with a drab acrylic, and paint the inside of a bar with the resulting concoction, I believe you would be able to replicate the ambience of Coyote Ugly. I've never so palpably felt such mass despondency at a bar before. Sad, old men stand by their tables and gawk at the "Coyotes" on the bar, their mouths slightly ajar, each of their expressions telling a unique, unbearably sad tale of desperation and hopelessness. But on the bright side, they serve free peanuts. Bonus reason to hate this place #1: It replaced the Rock, which in retrospect wasn't such a bad sports bar, especially in a city notably devoid of good sports bars. Bonus reason to hate this place #2: Ever since Polly Esther's, LuLu's, and Tequila Beach closed, this place has become bachelorette party central. I think you can deduce how I feel about bachelorette parties.

1. Smith Point - Come on, you knew this was coming. It was inevitable. Don't act so surprised.

I don't know what else I can say about this place that hasn't already been said, but I'm going to try to add to the conversation anyway. First of all, despite the erratic hours (I'm not exactly sure which days they're open), Smith Point is actually a very capable restaurant. Second of all, this ranking is not indicative of "sour grapes" - I'm on all the proper lists and I get the Jetties e-mails every week. I can go whenever I want.

Which is precisely never. Smith Point not only embodies, but epitomizes everything I hate in a bar. What do I like in a bar, you ask? I'm not that picky. Give me a place with a genuine atmosphere, a diverse and open-minded customer base, no barriers to entry such as outlandish cover charges or "member's-only" policies (ostensibly to falsely portray a sense of exclusivity that just doesn't exist in DC), some good music, a solid beer selection, and friendly service. Places like Saint Ex, Aroma, Science Club, Russia House, Mantis, Tonic, Stetson's, Cantina Marina, Cafe Nema, Bossa, and Capital Lounge all pass muster.

Smith Point is the exact opposite.

Now, I know Smith Point may be some people's cup of tea. For instance, the Bush twins used to frequent it. And the members of the super-exclusive social club LateNightShots consider it their favorite bar, as you can plainly see here on their super-exclusive online newsletter.

But these are my rankings, so we'll just have to agree to disagree and leave it at that...


  • Excellent post--sounds like we have similar tastes in bars. Cheers!

    By Blogger bettyjoan, at 4:18 PM  

  • F**k-ing Genius... you cracked me up.

    EXCELLENT work, good sir!

    By Blogger Chico's Bail Bonds, at 4:24 PM  

  • Ahhh, but the Royal Palace sounds so...regal.

    By Blogger demanda, at 4:39 PM  

  • I must ad... the McFaddens here in NYC is a total meat-market shithole too.

    I do miss St. Ex.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 5:00 PM  

  • I have one hidden gem you missed... Recessions, next to Mackey's. Picture descending into a Holiday Inn-like hallway with card-entry conference rooms with double doors on the end. Enter the double-doors to find a craptacular kareoke bar lit like your office and populated by tired mid-40s people too cheap/ugly to go anywhere else. Don't even try to go for the sake of "irony". It can only end in (unironic) tears.

    By Anonymous Beamtendave, at 5:28 PM  

  • Two reasons I didn't include Recessions: (1) they actually have a pretty cool R&B-themed karaoke night, which is unlike anything else in this city, and (2) I used to work for Kazi and Haji (the owners of Recessions) as a doorman at the Charring Cross in Georgetown, before they were compelled to shut down. Gotta give Kazi and Haji some love...

    By Blogger Johnny Shades, at 6:14 PM  

  • outstanding stuff! How did you miss Sign of the Whale and Porters?

    Smith Point is like that Frat House in college that was filled with douchbags who could only get ass by keeping all non-preppy dorks off their list.

    Congrats on a job well done!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 8:06 PM  

  • Thanks so much. As for your questions: (1) Sign of the Whale is closing soon, so I didn't want to rub salt in the wound. Also, they have a pretty good Bloody Mary bar on Sunday mornings, which is one redeeming quality versus zero for the rest of those places. As for (2) Porter's, if I were to extend this list to 15, it would definitely make it.

    By Blogger Johnny Shades, at 9:20 PM  

  • Nice work Johnny. I enjoyed that you worked the word “parsimonious” into the post (definitely had to look that one up). When I saw this, I immediately opened my notebook of random thoughts to the page with a list I created about 9 months ago called: "DC/Arlington Nightspots that Suck." The one thing that I base my decision on as to whether or not a place sucks is that when I walk in, I immediately want to fight myself. And pretty much every place on this list fits the bill. In no particular order I settled on Clarendon Grill, Mister Days, Mr. Smith's, The Guards, 3rd Edition, Millie and Al's, Angry Inch, Clarendon Ballroom (except for the rooftop in the Summer), Sign of the Whale, Mad Hatter, and Porter's. You wouldn't have to sell me on either Bailey's or Carpool being awful though. Recessions and Rhino Bar are also pretty beat-rancid, however, being an Eagles fan, I’m actually glad that it upsets people to see all that Green and White on Sundays. At least it’s not Politiki.

    By Blogger Wavy Gravy, at 12:20 PM  

  • I agree with most of what you said. But I do see a need for Wonderland, at least until someplace better comes alon. If Wonderland weren't there, the residents of CH would have to walk all the way to U street to abuse their livers.

    By Blogger HomeImprovementNinja, at 1:46 PM  

  • great work on that one. Agree entirely (though I have to add that some of the places go without saying, which is why I haven't ever been to Carpool, that other pool place in the mall, and Coyote Ugly). This brings me to an interesting thought -- please tell us why in the world you ever went to each of those bars.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:21 PM  

  • Interesting question. The reason I've been to all these places is this: as I was starting my bar-hopping career years ago, blogs like this didn't exist to tell me where to go and not to go. Hence, I had to learn the hard way - by rolling up my sleeves and getting my hands dirty in the mudpits of Carpool, Madhatter, etc...

    (As for Wonderland - for residents of Columbia Heights, I suppose it's indespensible.)

    By Blogger Johnny Shades, at 3:01 PM  

  • Mantis is the best bar in DC, and it's not as good as it used to be (no more 40's), but still supersolid.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:40 PM  

  • Just FYI, the phrase is "without further ado", no "adieu". What does "without further goodbye" mean, anyway?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 7:07 PM  

  • Wow. You're absolutely right. Consider it changed.

    By Blogger Johnny Shades, at 7:21 PM  

  • Ok, I do understand the Rhino scene and you hating the Eagles (red sox fan here, and yes I am obnoxious about it), but they do have some very hot and tasty wings. Also KIT is a great place for kickballers who are sweaty and can just dirty the place up more. I would add the Third Addition Tiki bar to the list as I got dragged there last year and the bouncers refused to believe that, yes, I was actually 26, and still gave me crap after I pulled out my US Passport.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:16 AM  

  • Johnny Shades,

    You really need to defend yourself for having ever stepped foot inside Coyote Ugly, man. Let's hear it.

    ... I'm picturing you wearing a white veil and tiara? Say it ain't so.

    By Blogger Lonnie Bruner, at 10:17 AM  

  • Ok, in order: (1) Rhino - I'll admit, their wings aren't bad. Their burgers are tasty too. (My friend's sister actually worked there for several years, so were there more often than I'd like to admit for the food "discounts".) But the bad far outweighs the good, and so they must remain on the list.

    (2) Irish Times - sorry, the kickballer argument holds no weight with me. There are always kickballers at Adam's Mill and Bottom Line too, so the Irish Times kickballers should just go to one of those two superior bars and leave Irish Times for the savages.

    (3) Third's - I hate Third's. But I actually had a good time there one night years ago, which is more than I can say about the other places on the list. Also, I'm down with (former) DJ Frankie FIngers and (current) DJ Barak (Doza, is that how you spell his name?). So I gave Third's a pass. BUT, if this list were any longer, I would be hard-pressed to leave them off.

    (4) Coyote Ugly - LB, my presence there was indefensible. I was meeting some peripheral people who I hadn't seen in a while, yada yada yada. Whatever - I've learned from my mistakes.

    By Blogger Johnny Shades, at 11:15 AM  

  • Rhino delivered pizza (which was surprisingly good) to me to VA at 3:00 am, but that may be because I used my sex voice when I was talking to the owner.

    By Blogger Garfield, at 4:14 PM  

  • Recessions is a great bar. It's cheap. It has polite regulars. It has great specials/happy hour. It has no frills. The owners/bartenders are always working hard, they remember your drink and they know how to pour one. If Recessions would have been on this list, I would have gone on a personal quest to salvage the name of a bar that is known as "the bar next to Mackey's," when it should unequivocally be the other way around....Mackey's sucks!

    By Blogger u8555, at 11:18 AM  

  • excellent post. i'd like to give an honorable mention to Sign of the Whale for particularly sucking and having too many drunk, horny military dudes and under age college students.

    By Blogger VP of Dior, at 3:19 PM  

  • Dude, don't knock Dan's Cafe - you're full of shit on that one. When I started going there you ordered a rum and coke and they plopped down your own pint bottle of rum, a bucket of ice, and a glass for $10. "They make you mix your own drinks"? That's why people liked it! I've never in my life been anywhere that did that, and questioning its legality I once asked the owners. They said they got their liquor license at a time when that was legal and they had a grandfather clause which allowed them to still do it - how great is that?.

    It was a nice refuge from the "look how cool I am" scene at many AM bars, and a great way to get a running start for dirt cheap on your buzz before heading elsewhere. Last time I went they were no longer allowed to give you the bottle because people were sneaking them out and poured it all into a glass instead. Oh well, those were the good old days, and now I'm at the age where I can't stand being around drunk 20-somethings so my opinion probably doesn't matter here.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:43 AM  

  • You say tomato, I say tomahto. You say Dan's cafe is good, I say it sucks.

    By Blogger Johnny Shades, at 1:15 PM  

  • First time reading your blog. I never agreed so much in my life with a stranger. Hit the nail on the head. Those bars suck so bad and I am glad someone admitted it. Now I hope my friends will listen. Dont change a thing!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:01 PM  

  • I just want to point out that kickball is lame. I think it's probably the worst thing to ever happen to a city. What ever happened to good old fashioned softball. Kickball is for lame ass dudes and dudettes who can't get laid, so they hope they make some ridiculously "awesome" fourth grade style play during the game, be the life of the after-party for said play, and allow their's and their significant other's beer goggles take over for the rest of the night.

    As for you list, it's a bunch of crap (except I was pleasanlty surprised by your rating of Smith Point). I frequent a lot of the bars you mention and have never had a bad time at any of them (most significantly Dans, Hatters, and Kelly's Irish Times).

    Personally, I'm getting a hard read on your opinion of whehter your pretentious (which you appear not to be because of your Smith Point rating), a club-head (because how could you leave off places like 1223 ? That's a bar... sort of... and horrible), or are just trying to create an uproar (which I prove). So congrats, I guess....

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:12 PM  

  • "I frequent a lot of the bars you mention and have never had a bad time at any of them (most significantly Dans, Hatters, and Kelly's Irish Times)."

    Whatever tickles your pickle bro. My guess is that you're young. I bet once you get old and curmudgeonly like me, you won't like those bars so much.

    "I'm getting a hard read on your opinion of whehter your pretentious (which you appear not to be because of your Smith Point rating), a club-head..."

    Ok, first of all, I'm not pretentious. I mean for goodness sake, my favorite bar in the city right now is Cafe Nema. Cafe Nema! You've probably never even heard of it.

    Second, I vehemently hate 1223 too (although there was a time in my life where I was a bit of a club-head. I would hit 1223 and Five every weekend, and drink red bulls until 5 am. Then I turned 23, and all that nonsense ended.) BUT - this is a list of the worst "bars" in the city. Clubs are a whole other post...

    By Blogger Johnny Shades, at 3:47 PM  

  • Hi, i was wondering if you could point me in the direction of a best bars list--a good one, that is. Thanks.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 4:16 PM  

  • Great post. I totally agree and yet sometimes still seem to randomly end up at some of these places when I'm drunk and hating myself for it the next morning. There needs to be some sort of buddy system safeguard...friends don't let friends go to shit bars.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:51 PM  

  • Anon. - check out the bars I listed in the last paragraph of this post. i.e., Saint Ex, Aroma, Science Club, Russia House, Mantis, Tonic, Stetson's, Cantina Marina, Cafe Nema, Bossa, and Capital Lounge. Of course, these are places I like. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder - you may very well find that places like Smith Point or Third Edition are up your alley.

    By Blogger Johnny Shades, at 4:00 PM  

  • Hey for all you that waste your time sitting on the damn computer and crying about how badly you hate the bars and clubs in dc, how about you leave dc and never come back! We don't need your money and your stuck up attitude, you all probably don't even tip well either, so let me give you a really good tip, Don't come to dc ever again, go home stay there and drink in your house and cry on your computers about how you don't like dc.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 9:20 PM  

  • F smith Point - I just got kicked out for sticking up for my best friend who by the way knows the owner! The owner's asshole red headed fat ass of a brother grabbed my buddy - of course I caused a scene and we were both dragged out - I WILL own that shit-hole and I swear I WILL burn it to the ground!!!! We will all roast marshmellows and toast the day the Smith Point ceases to exist!!!!!!

    ---Jeff Mcain (Yep - that Mcaain)!!! Sorry brah - you are cooked!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3:16 AM  

  • Wow - such hate. What the heck happened there over the weekend?

    PS - Anon., I love DC. I've lived here all my adult life.

    By Blogger Johnny Shades, at 12:02 PM  

  • So what are the good bars for you? Most of the places you don't like are great joints, not "Bars" per say, sounds to me like you dont get out enough to know great places

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:48 PM  

  • Dan's Cafe is amazing and you are stupid for saying it suck.

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