For Nats Fans, a Bar Exam

Hill Bars Vie to Be Destination for Baseball Fans

Posted May 11, 2005 at 5:47pm

A month after Major League Baseball’s triumphant return to Washington, D.C., the Nationals have earned a respectable record in the National League East, garnered a reputation for exciting late-inning rallies and shown the ability to draw a sizable crowd at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium. Indeed, it looks like after a 34-year period of separation, pro baseball and the District of Columbia are falling in love with each other all over again.

But as the spring months turn to summer and the city’s love affair with the Nationals continues to blossom, a few important questions still need to be answered before this relationship can be taken to the next level.

Namely, how easy is it to get a beer at RFK and where’s the best place around the stadium to have a pre- or post-Nationals game drink?

The short answer is that after only 12 home games, it’s too early to tell.

Inside the more than 40-year-old stadium, no real bar area exists (that, is unless you pay $90 for a seat in the “Diamond Club” section which gives you access to a private locale behind right field which offers free food and a cash bar before the game). Otherwise, options can be somewhat limited. You can pay $6 for an imported bottle of beer, or $5.50 for domestic, from vendors walking up and down aisles, or you can pay $5 for a draft beer at the concourse concession stands.

A notable exception to the standard stadium beer selection is the Foggy Bottom microbrew stand, which is located on the concourse level behind home plate and offers the tasty local favorite for $6.50.

Charles Goldsmith, a longtime beer vendor who works at both D.C. United and Nationals games at RFK, said that so far this year baseball games have far outpaced soccer games in beer sales.

“On a scale of 1 to 10 I’d give the Nationals a 7 and D.C. United a 2.5,” he said.

But one problem fans have run into at the stadium is that supply has occasionally not kept up with demand.

When asked about reports in The Washington Post and other local papers about food and drink shortages at some of the early Nationals games, Paul Sisco, an inspector working the concourse at a recent game against the Philadelphia Phillies, explained, “The people in the warehouses are new, the organization is new, everyone is new.” Pointing to one of his beer vendors, Sisco said, “He’s been here nine games and he’s a veteran now. But the fans have been great. They’re very understanding.”

“It gets better every game,” Goldsmith said, adding that the Nationals are “doing better than expected, and that helps our cause.”

But when the stadium beer taps shut down after the seventh inning and the final out is called, thirsty fans must look outside RFK to celebrate the day’s victory or drown their sorrows over a loss.

The immediate neighborhood around the stadium is primarily residential and, as such, offers nothing like the vast food and drink options available in Gallery Place and Penn Quarter near the MCI Center. But fans willing to skip the usually packed Stadium-Armory Metrorail station and walk west 15 or 20 minutes along East Capitol Street instead will find more options.

Just 10 blocks from the stadium is the small and chic Park Café (106 13th St. SE). Though a sit-down restaurant without a bar area, a Park Café manager said the establishment gets fairly heavy foot traffic after events at RFK and is contemplating offering a drink special on Nationals game nights.

But if you’re not looking for a full meal and just want to grab a few beers at a local pub, head over to Eastern Market to Tunnicliff’s Tavern (222 Seventh St. SE), where you’ll be sure to find a number of fellow Nationals fans cashing in on game day food and drink specials.

Whether you grab a seat outside on the tavern’s large patio or hang out watching the pre- and post-game show on two TVs over the bar, you can take advantage of Tunnicliff’s $2 Budweiser and Bud Light drafts and bottles and $3 Sam Adams bottles and $3.50 Sam Adams drafts, which are available every game day beginning two hours before the opening pitch.

After games, bring in your ticket stubs and you’ll receive half off a second entrée — and don’t worry about late games, the kitchen stays open until 1 a.m.

“We’re really trying to be the destination for Nats fans,” said general manager Billy Walls, who also runs ticket giveaways during happy hour. “We usually get pretty packed 30 to 45 minutes after the game.”

Over on Barracks Row along Eighth Street Southeast or on Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast, a number of options open up for pre- and post-game revelry, all of which are easily accessible by Orange or Blue line trains at the Eastern Market or Capitol South Metrorail stations.

Along with the new favorite The Ugly Mug (723 Eighth St. SE), old Capitol Hill standbys like The Pour House (319 Pennsylvania Ave. SE), Capitol Lounge (229 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) and The Hawk ’n’ Dove (329 Pennsylvania Ave. SE) have become de facto Nationals bars before and after games.

Capitol Lounge, which is also known as a popular D.C. United bar, is offering a game day sandwich special that changes each week. The Pour House offers its usual host of beer specials, including $10 pitchers on game days as well as occasional ticket giveaways. Also, The Pour House general manager Duncan Loughridge said a plan is possibly in the works among a number of Pennsylvania Avenue bars to run a shuttle service to and from RFK on game days.

But with 68 home games left this year and Major League Baseball looking like its here to stay, Nationals fans still have some time to find their drinking niche on Capitol Hill — at least until the Nationals move to their proposed new stadium on South Capitol Street in 2008, and the whole process begins all over again.

“There’s something about RFK right now that’s almost like going to a Minor League game, there’s this nostalgia thing going on,” RFK’s Sisco said.

“People are just in to being here. I don’t think it’ll be this way when they move into their new stadium, they’ll get sushi and corporate sponsors and they’ll forget,” he lamented.