Comey Hearing Is ‘D.C. Super Bowl’ Party

Bars open early for patrons to watch much-anticipated hearing on big screens

A crowd gathered at The Partisan bar watches as former FBI Director James B. Comey arrives to testify during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
A crowd gathered at The Partisan bar watches as former FBI Director James B. Comey arrives to testify during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted June 8, 2017 at 11:27am

As former FBI Director James Comey testified on the Hill on Thursday, some Washingtonians played hooky to have a nerdy day drink.

Union Pub, the popular Senate-side bar, promised free drinks if President Donald Trump tweeted during Comey’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing, but the president was off his favorite form of social media. The crowd was disappointed, some even left, but those remaining kept the mimosas and beers flowing until the hearing was over, after which many patrons bolted, presumably, back to work.

Several D.C. bars took advantage of Comey’s testimony to throw open their doors early, fire up their big screen TVs and offer food and drink specials. Some of them filled to capacity with lines stretched down the street.

A Peek Inside the D.C. Bars That Held Comey Watch Parties

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The Capitol Lounge

“This is the D.C. Super Bowl, right? This is what we do,” said one patron at the Capitol Lounge, a House-side hotspot that opened at 9 a.m.

“Let the games begin!” the bartender said, while propping open the doors.

The Capitol Lounge didn’t serve alcohol until 10 a.m., which caused one patron to walk out.

“I’ll have some water until 10,” another said.

When the TV screens showed Comey walking into the hearing room, no one in the bar reacted. But when CNN turned off its commentary in favor of Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr’s opening statement, the bar got quiet and everyone focused on the many screens.

A D.C. street sweeper popped in to take a look while a few patrons worked on laptops at the bar while they watched. One woman walking down the street popped her head in while her dog stood outside.

The drinks started flowing. Many people stuck with drinking beer or mimosas during the first hour.

During Vice Chairman Mark Warner’s opening statement, a man in a Budweiser shirt gave out free Bud Lights to patrons.

When Comey started talking, the bartender was asked to crank up the volume and everyone went silent.

As the hearing got underway, there were a few dozen people in the bar. By the time senators started questioning the former FBI director, there were 75.

Shaw’s Tavern

Shaw’s Tavern opened at 9:30 a.m. but people started lining up an hour earlier. At one point, the line stretched down the block and the room filled quickly after the doors opened.

After the room reached capacity and no more patrons were allowed in, people remained in line for at least an hour, watching the TV screens through the open windows.

Employees said they hadn’t expected this large a turnout. They said they have hosted watch parties for debates and other political events, but nothing like this.

Marsha Thomas, who lives in Chicago, said she just happened to be visiting her friend Ellen Hackler in Virginia on Thursday and the two agreed that the event at the tavern was the perfect way to spend the day.

After arriving at 8:30 a.m., the friends went to get tea down the street. When they returned 40 minutes later, 80 people had already lined up.

Upon making their way inside, the women witnessed a hush come over the crowd as the hearing began. Hackler said she was impressed by how intently people listened.

“It was a momentous occasion to participate in an event that is really live news and impactful on today’s history,” Hackler said.

Besides the occasional outburst of applause or laughter, the crowd kept its voices low. Most had their eyes glued to the five TV screens while others were more fascinated by the various “Comey Covfefe” food and drink specials.

Among the offerings in the morning were the “Covfefe Coffee, and the “FBI Breakfast,” consisting of French toast, bacon and ice cream. Patrons could order Stoli Russian vodka starting at 11 a.m.

As the hours went on, the “FBI Sandwich,” a twist on the classic BLT, became a popular choice for patrons.

Hackler and Thomas said they opted for the “FBI Breakfast” and one alcoholic drink each.

“I had a bloody mary, my friend here had a beer,” Thomas said. “And we didn’t drink too much — it’s a little early in the day for us. … We’re too old for that.”

The Partisan

At The Partisan, a downtown bar usually full of lobbyists and businesspeople, the crowd of 100 or so let out a collective chuckle when Comey said he was “confused” by Trump’s assertion that he fired the FBI director for his role in the Russia investigation.

During Comey’s questioning by Burr, the audience stood silently watching the two flat-screen televisions perched among empty spirits bottles above the bar, their attention interrupted only by the clattering of pans from the adjoining kitchen at the Red Apron restaurant next door and the occasional “Excuse me” from the wait staff serving coffee to patrons at the two high-top tables in the bar area.

Jeremy Bonhomme, 34, a Louisiana native who works in the service industry, arrived right when the bar opened to watch the hearing.

“It should have been on everybody’s radio, it should have been streamed on everybody’s computer, it should have been readily available so everybody could participate in some way in the senators’ hearing,” he said.

The Partisan crowd laughed when Comey said that “the person I was dealing with,” referring to Trump, made him feel like he needed to record their conversations afterward.

But the biggest laugh came when Comey said, “Lord, I hope there are tapes,” referring to Trump’s tweet in the days after Comey’s firing suggesting — or threatening — there might be tapes of their conversation.

For Bonhomme, the hearing didn’t quite deliver on the promised excitement, but he said Comey came across as “wholly trustworthy.”

“I did not believe he was in anyone’s pocket, any particular party’s pocket. I thought he was just doing the best that he could,” Bonhomme said.

Union Pub

At Union Pub, the popular Senate-side bar that promised to buy drinks for the house whenever Trump tweeted during the hearing, was jampacked and hard to even walk though. But the crowd was silent during Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden’s questioning and almost half of the patrons were working on laptops.

By 11:15 a.m., Trump had not tweeted and it appeared as though only a handful of Union Pub patrons were having a drink. Many were just standing to watch and not ordering anything.

A school group from Illinois touring the Newseum in Washington pauses to watch Comey. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
A school group from Illinois touring the Newseum in Washington pauses to watch Comey. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

Griffin Connolly and Kyle Stewart contributed to this report.