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Bar Review: The 51st State Tavern

Submitted by on June 18, 2010 – 11:45 AMNo Comment
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2512 L St.
Washington, DC

Hours of operation:
Sun. – Thu.   4:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m.
Fri. – Sat.  4:00 p.m. – 3:00 a.m.

Best time to visit:  Any time (especially Happy Hour, during any big NY game, and in good weather for the terrace)

For a bar that’s been around less than six years, the 51st State Tavern feels well lived-in.  Since 2004 it has become a local hangout far on the West side, drawing its share of regulars, GW students, and lost tourists.  And what it lacks in distinctive character is balanced by its nonchalance and surprising selection and specials.

The bar is an amalgam of standard “local haunt” esthetics, including a pool table, vintage booths in the dining area, two antique bars (on two narrow, town-house floors), and an exceptional array of old Guinness posters.  The digital jukebox is one modern fixture, and though a “classic” might fit the style of the place, the wider range of musical options is undoubtedly appreciated by regulars and staff alike.

But the most notable modern touches are the six flat-screen TVs – including one 60-incher.  New York sports are openly celebrated here, which does indeed distinguish the 51st State from most DC bars.

But it is the selection of 16 tap beers (actually 14 beers plus Strongbow and Bud Light) that are the 51st State’s biggest surprise.  Notable oddities include the Widmer Hefeweizen, the Dogfish 60-Minute IPA, and the Hennepin Saison.  Most of the draughts go for between five and six dollars, so the Happy Hour special – pints are all $3.00 to $3.50 from 4 to 7 p.m. – is a sweet deal.

Furthermore, Happy Hour runs seven nights a week.  With additional nightly specials (either overlapping or after Happy Hour), the 51st State might be justified in claiming to have the best H.H. on the West side.  50-cent tacos on Mondays, 20-cent wings on Tuesdays from 4:00 to 11:00 (or until they run out), and $5 nacho plates on Friday until midnight are among the favorites.

The menu in general includes all the standard pub-dining requirements, with occasional Tex-Mex flare, as with the chips & black bean salsa appetizer.  One may or may not be drawn in by the cuisine, but nor will it drive anyone away.

For a bar that, at first glance, seems quite ordinary, an above-average food selection may in fact be the closest thing to ordinary in the place.  The collection of subtle features – the antiquities, the specials, the tap selection – are almost buried in the plain-brown-wrapper appeal of the 51st State Tavern.  But for anyone willing to come in, relax, and explore the details, this could become a go-to option.

Pros: Good specials and selection

Weak first impression

Rating: 3/5