“Eat, Drink, Be Happy.”

Bar Louie‘s tag line called out from the store front, the menu, and practically every printable surface I could find. I wasn’t sure if my bar order would neatly conform to that slogan.

I’d come here to try the Szechwan chicken wings on the recommendation of four dudes I’d met in the middle of a wing crawl.  Once a year, the epic event takes them all over Northwest, looking for some of the District’sbest chicken wings.  I was hesitant to take their recommendation seriously, but their enthusiasm was infectious — and the idea of spicy Szechwan flavors married with deep-fried chicken wings and blue cheese enticed me.

Did I mention my wing Sherpas might have been drunk?

My wings arrived in an oversized basket with a paper liner imprinted with even more sloganeering, but I was too sad to care.  The Szechwan sauce, a deeply colored concoction sparsely flecked with chili seeds, would have been at home in a basement Chinese buffet.  Thick and sweet, the sauce clung to my fingers with such tenacity that my thin paper napkins didn’t stand a chance.  Only soap and water could remove the last traces of the stubborn coating, which reminded me nothing of Szechwan cooking.

I was hoping for the searing, lemony, mouth-numbing heat of fresh chilies and Szechwan peppercorns.  What I got was a dumbed-down knock-off apparently designed to please a mainstream palate — not too hot and plenty sweet.  I’m glad I tried them, though, if only to spur a hunt for a better rendition of the snack.

Eat, Drink, Be Happy?  I’ll reluctantly give Bar Louie two outta three.