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Bar Review: Old Ebbitt Grill

Submitted by on June 4, 2010 – 11:38 AMNo Comment
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675 15th St.
Washington, DC

Hours of operation:   Mon. – Thu.  7:30 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Fri. 7:30 a.m. – 3:00 a.m.
Sat.  8:30 a.m. – 3:00 a.m.
Sun.  8:30 a.m. – 2:00 a.m.

Best time to visit: After the polo match; before the opera

There is something to be said for the über-fancy – that ivy-league, polished mahogany, where’s-my-tuxedo atmosphere.  The Old Ebbitt Grill doesn’t go quite to that extreme, but that may just be due to the economic crisis.

This is a place frequented by Presidents and Senators and other Capitalized Dignitaries.  Established before the Civil War, the Old Ebbitt hints at a century-and-a-half of upper-class elbow-rubbing and policy lubrication.

And yet people now go here after work, businessmen and secretaries, politicos and interns alike.  On their website the management even specifies that there is no dress code – although most would feel out of place here in a tank-top and cut-offs.

It is a sprawling establishment, implying that either literal back-room deals used to be commonplace here, or that perhaps the servants’ quarters were converted some time back to make more room for the working-class rabble.  Yet now each section is resplendent and cultured, and quite full during Happy Hour.

Yes, a place that has Happy Hour can’t be too stuck up.  But beer drinkers, don’t get too excited; the Happy Hour features half-price raw-bar goodies.  Right – no beer, but all the shrimp, oysters, and various other crustaceans you can handle!  Well, at half price.  Still, though Happy Hour at the Ebbitt only goes from 3:00 to 6:00, each night brings a reprise from 11:00 to 1:00.  As the oysters are quite renowned, it may be worth while to down a few during one of these windows of time.

At the same time, the tap selection is broad, if not distinctive, and a pint will run you less than you’d expect in such an environment; about the same as at other spots downtown. (Six, seven bucks will get you something good.)  Bass, Stella, Blue Moon, Sierra Nevada, or Sam Adams should satisfy, and the Guinness is well poured.

But really the reason to visit the Old Ebbitt Grill is simply to see how the aristocracy used to (and sometimes still do) live, like visiting a European manor or a Rhode Island mansion.  The interior is lush and rich and dark, almost feeling oil-lamp-lit.  And there is room – at least during “off-peak” hours – for any sized party, including a courtyard space which is pleasantly airy in Spring and Summer.  There are multiple large dining room, four nice, big, wooden bars, and enough ornamentation to stimulate anyone with even a passing interest in interior design.

Visiting the White House and the heart of DC, one might as well see where the likes of Teddy Roosevelt and Ulysses S. Grant hung out (and most likely drank their political adversaries under the table).  The food and the beer may or may not be worth the price, but the Old Ebbitt Grill is worth the experience.

Pros: Extraordinary décor

Cons: Can be crowded; pricey; potentially pretentious patrons

Rating: 3/5