Ivy & Coney: A taste of Detroit and Chicago in Shaw

December 31, 2013

Ivy & Coney
1537 Seventh St. NW. 202-670-9489.
Opens Wednesday, Jan. 1 at 10 a.m.

From the murals of Sparky Anderson and Harry Caray to the "autographed" photos of Kwame Kilpatrick and Barry Sanders, Ivy & Coney is a Shaw bar for people who miss Detroit and Chicago.


Ivy & Coney co-owner Chris Powers, a Michigan native, created the mural of Detroit Tigers manager Sparky Anderson in the main bar. (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

That's not to imply this bar, located in a second-story walk-up two blocks south of the Shaw Metro station, is a kitschy theme tavern with old Ford ads or photos of the Billy Goat Tavern; there are too many inside jokes for that. If you're not familiar with the Motor City, for example, you won't laugh at the picture of former mayor Kilpatrick inscribed to the owners with the message, "Thanks for letting Bobby bid on your rooftop deck!" (Kilpatrick was convicted earlier this year of charges including steering city construction deals to his friend Bobby Ferguson, a Detroit contractor who'd then share the proceeds with Kilpatrick.) Less cheery is the large Marvin Gaye quote that covers a wall in the entry stairwell: "Detroit turned out to be heaven, but it also turned out to be hell."

The four owners -- two from Chicago, one each from Detroit and D.C., two of whom also own Kangaroo Boxing Club –- wanted to recreate an archetypal Midwestern corner bar, the kind where, partner Adam Fry jokes, "guys stop for seven or nine beers on the way home." The main bar is dark and simple, with gaudy gold wallpaper, murals and a pair of TVs, plus a few Vienna Beef ads. The smaller back room has ornate-yet-chintzy furniture that could have come from your grandma's house. The total capacity is no more than a few dozen.

Ivy & Coney (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)
A mural of Cubs broadcaster Harry Carey sits at the top of Ivy & Coney's stairs. (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

The menu is basic: You can order a Chicago Dog ("dragged through the garden," with toppings including onions, relish, tomato and the all-important sport pepper), or a Detroit-style Coney Dog with chili, onions and mustard. Sides? You can have a free basket of peanuts (toss the shells on the floor) or buy a bag of Cracker Jacks. The dogs come from a hot dog cooker behind the bar.

Bell's Two-Hearted Ale and cans of Stroh's represent Michigan on the beer list, while Chicago can claim Goose Island's 312 wheat beer (named for the city's area code) and a draft that partner Jamie Hess dubs an "Old Style-ish" lager, since the bar hasn't received any of the iconic Chicago beer yet. He won't say what they're currently pouring, but it reminds me of Iron City. Let's leave it at that. More interesting: Jeppson's Malört, a Chicago tavern staple that tastes as if someone poured wormwood into a bottle of Fernet, with a lingering bitter finish.

Prices are cheap: $4 dogs, $4 microbrews, $3 domestic beers. Just know that the bar doesn't take cards, so bring cash or use the ATM near the stairs.

Ivy and Coney has the feel of a dive, something the owners want to shrug off. Doing so will be easier next summer or fall, when they open a large rooftop deck with its own bar, "food truck-sized" kitchen and a retractable glass roof that will allow them to serve in all weather. They also have a "liquor locker" program that allows customers to purchase and store their own bottles of spirits behind the bar for a minimum spend of $100 a month.

On opening day, Ivy & Coney will get things underway with a brunch of Fruit Loops cereal and a shot of Jameson for $8; they'll also be showing the Winter Classic, featuring the Detroit Red Wings, at 1 p.m. While you're waiting for the game to start, you can play a few rounds of Mario Kart or Super Mario Brothers on the Nintendo in the back room.

Once baseball season starts, the hierarchy for showing games with volume on the big-screen TV is that the Cubs take priority, followed by the Tigers and then the Nationals, though that can change if one team has a large group of fans present. By the way: You'll notice that it's a Chicago bar, but White Sox fans don't even get a look-in, other than one photo of Michael Jordan in a Sox uniform. Sorry, Southsiders.


The main bar at Ivy & Coney is no bigger than the studio apartments springing up around Shaw, but it's plenty comfortable. (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

The small back room at Ivy & Coney contains couches, armchairs and a Nintendo system for late-night Mario Kart. (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)

A Marvin Gaye quote covers the wall of the entry stairwell.  (Photo by Fritz Hahn/The Washington Post)
Fritz Hahn has written about bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. A product of Prince George's County public schools, Fritz majored in journalism at the University of Maryland and lives in the District.
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