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Odds are, a guy having a beer with lunch on a weekday is going to be a pretty happy dude. But, to be having that beer underground, hidden from the threats of Trump-era Washington and the disapproving eyes of coworkers is even better. The District’s subterranean watering holes can be among the most convivial joints in the city, so don’t overlook them because of their diminutive street presence or the fact that the view is often of an evacuated dance floor. Here’s where to find five of them and what they have to offer.
1029 Vermont Ave. NW
One of the more intimate below-ground bars, Stan’s is known for bar food and generous pours.
Décor: Old-school neighborhood bar
Food: Almost adequate. My Italian sausage sandwich is smothered with so many vegetables and so much cheese and tomato sauce that the soft sub roll disintegrates.
Mood: Friendly! On a recent visit, a bar-wide discussion ranged from Charles Oakley’s removal from a basketball game to a relitigation of Super Bowl 51.
1001 Connecticut Ave. NW
Currently undergoing external renovation, Bravo Bravo offers bar food and drinks in an enormous space with three separate bars. Just don’t expect any IPAs on the bar’s basic beer list.
Décor: ’80s-era hotel banquet room blends inexplicably into ’70s discotheque.
Food: Almost adequate. There is so little cohesion between the top and bottom of my personal pizza that it’s possible to believe it was assembled after baking.
Mood: Sullen. On the day I was there, too few people were distributed over too many hundreds of square feet to facilitate interaction.
1226 36th St. NW
One of the few underground bars out of the city’s center that’s open for lunch, The Tombs serves bar food and drinks at the bottom of an abandoned-looking stairwell.
Décor: The vaguely remembered basement of your uncle who was obsessed with WWI propaganda posters
Food: Almost adequate. The Nashville “hot chicken” sandwich does not pack enough heat to even qualify for a kiddie menu in its namesake city.
Mood: Friendly! Some random loon (and apparent regular) was regaling the bar with his experiences living with Secret Service protection. (His security detail was not present, but a lively discussion followed his departure).
The Meeting Place
1707 L St. NW
This brightly lit tavern serves bar food and drinks in a utilitarian atmosphere.
Décor: ’70s era Midwestern college cafeteria—if that cafeteria had a bar
Food: Adequate! A cheese steak sandwich tastes and looks like it was cut in house, though the portion could have been more generous.
Mood: Sullen. The bright lights and uptight atmosphere did not encourage loosening up.
1823 L St. NW
Located past a defunct business center at the end of a long hallway, Recessions offers bar food and drinks.
Décor: ’50s rec-room meets French chalet
Food: Almost adequate. A sandwich of presumptively pre-frozen gyros strips is flavorful enough, but the accompanying French fries are underdone.
Mood: Friendly! I got into a discussion with strangers about mobile computing.