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The 13-year-old brooding freakshow in me loved the soundtrack coming out of the speakers at The Pinch, a new watering hole on 14th Street NW in northerly Columbia Heights. Giants of grunge like Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, and Alice in Chains played, along with less glorious alt-rock acts like Candlebox, Marcy Playground, and Collective Soul.

The 18-year-old college greenhorn in me felt comfortable under the missing panels and water stains on the ceiling. It brought to mind the empty storage tunnels under my freshman dorm, where weird things were rumored to happen. Weirder even than the Monday night improv comedy performance that I saw in the basement event space of The Pinch after I ate. In traditional style, a group known as That Was Awkward came on stage and asked the crowd for a word to get things started. I’m sure they were hoping for something like “cheese” or “Michelle Bachmann,” but instead, some hipster in the crowd yelled “FORTITUDE.” With all due respect to the folks with the fortitude to be on that stage, what followed was…awkward.

The 22-year-old enterprising intern in me felt like I was living on after-work bar food again. All the beers on draft were discounted $2 at happy hour. The Miller Lite rung in at $2, total, and I splurged $5 for a delicious Chocolate City Cornerstone Copper Ale. All appetizers are also $2 off at happy hour. When the $6 plate of pterodactyl-sized wings came out, I felt a bit of nostalgia for bygone cheap wing nights at Stetson’s on U Street NW, which seemed to have a lock on steroid chickens in 2004. I devoured happily, but couldn’t get to the bottom of the bowl.

The 25-year-old in me, surly and bitter at quarter-life, identified with the bar manager, who kicked a bunch of people sheltering from torrential rain out of his entryway, only to set a chalkboard so close to the door that it was hard to walk inside. The pulled duck slider appetizer ($7) reminded me of the slow-cooker phase of my mid-20s. No matter how many different things I cooked, they all came out tasting generally the same. The duck, piled on three buttery mini rolls, could’ve been horse for all I know. And I would have enjoyed it all the same.

The wise sophisticate in me now was in for the greatest treat of all. The Pinch serves pickles rolled in pretzel crumbs, then fried, for $4 during happy hour. They arrived when I was feeling full, and I thought for a moment about asking the handful of other folks at the bar whether they wanted to try one. After the first taste, however, I nearly ran out the door to find a tree to climb and finish the rest.

As I was preparing to leave, Soul Asylum’s preachy grunge hit “Runaway Train” came on the speakers. No, Dave Pirner, don’t try to convince me I’m “never coming back” to The Pinch. I think I will.

The Pinch, 3548 14th St. NW; (202) 722-4440; thepinchdc.com

Photo by Sam Hiersteiner