Ballston’s bar scene has received a shot in the arm over the last two weeks, with World of Beer and A-Town Bar and Grill opening to large happy hour crowds. Here’s a look at how the newcomers stack up.
World of Beer
The World of Beer chain has 31 locations across the U.S., primarily in Florida but stretching as far away as Tempe, Ariz. and Naperville, Ill. The only one in the D.C. area opened in Ballston on Aug. 8, to giant crowds and no amount of frustration. Despite 11 people behind the bar at one point during the bar’s first weekend, it took more than 10 minutes to order from the swamped bartenders.
The appeal is that World of Beer has a selection on the level of ChurchKey’s: 50 beers and ciders on tap and 500 in bottles. You won’t find any real rarities here — there were four Starr Hills and three from Goose Island, for example — but the choices are better than most Arlington bars with selections from the Bruery, Devils Backbone and Terrapin.
The majority of draft beers are in the $6 to $8.50 range, though you can knock a buck off of all drafts during happy hour, which runs from 3 to 7 p.m. on weeknights. Other deals include half-price ciders and beers for women after 7 p.m. on Thursdays, and a “Bark After Dark” happy hour with $1 off all dog-related beers (think Flying Dog, Sea Dog or Dogfish Head breweries) and free treats for pups on the patio from 6 to 9 p.m. on Tuesday.
I have to admit I’m impressed with World of Beer’s loyalty program, which comes in the form of a smartphone app, t-shirts and mugs for trying different beers and happy hours for members. The app keeps track of the beers you drink and offers details about them, in case you can’t remember whether Terrapin’s Hopsecutioner or Monk’s Revenge was the double IPA that you enjoyed last night. It also offers access to the restaurant’s current menu, sortable by beer style, country of origin or even color. (The program costs $15 to join but the app itself is free.)
The weirdest thing about World of Beer is the food menu. Due to kitchen issues, the only food made in-house are just-okay soft pretzels and sausages. If you want something more substantial, you can order delivery from the neighboring BGR, Vapiano and P.F. Chang’s; tell them which “zone” of World of Beer you’re sitting in, and the order is brought to your table. I haven’t tried this on a weekend, but I imagine it’s pretty hectic.
A-Town Bar and Grill
Earlier this year, Caribbean Breeze’s owners decided to give the tropical restaurant a complete overhaul. Farewell salsa nights and rum drinks, hello A-Town Bar and Grill, a stripped-down spot with sliders, chocolate martinis and cornhole games on the expansive patio.
The indoor bar has a modern feel, but it’s the covered 100-seat outdoor space that will be the draw for the next few months: Two cornhole games sit near the building’s “waterfall wall” of rushing water, and customers sipping cocktails take over the low, bright-red cushions that serve as lounge furniture. (Just watch out, because hookah smoking is allowed outside.)
Happy hour runs from 3 to 8 p.m. daily, with $5 appetizers, $2.50 domestic drafts, $3.50 microbrews, $4 rail drinks and $5 glasses of red and white wine. (There are also $5 mojitos, a signature item at Caribbean Breeze.)
The cocktail menu is as long as the food menu, and most of it reads like a mix of old “Sex in the City” trends: think key lime pie and mocha martinis. All drinks run $8 to $10.
DJs spin a mix of hip-hop, Top 40 and club tunes from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursday through Saturday, and there’s never a cover charge.