Like Your Basement, Only a Lot Better
By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, July 18, 2008
The buzz: Glover Park is the last place I would have expected to find Breadsoda, a basement-level bar, deli and adults-only rec room that oozes '70s cool. The neighborhood's lackluster commercial strip has two solid neighborhood bar-restaurants in Town Hall and Bourbon, but it's more notable for a pair of gentlemen's clubs than for any sort of bastion of hip.
Yet one wall at Breadsoda is dominated by a huge still from "Bullitt" (dirt flies as Steve McQueen floors his Mustang) hung over a glowing light box. The warm palette features oranges, grays and dark wood, and includes nooks filled with brown leather bench seats and high bar tables along a rough stone wall.
Although you can park at the granite bar with a sandwich and an imported beer to watch the Tour de France or baseball on flat-screen TVs, Breadsoda has enough activities to rival the game room at the nearby Boys and Girls Club: three pool tables, tabletop shuffleboard, a Nintendo Wii and darts. On Tuesdays, one pool table is converted into a ping-pong table.
The scene: The bar casts a wide net, thanks in part to an ownership team whose collective sum includes stints at buzz-worthy nightspots including Eighteenth Street Lounge, Local 16, Bourbon and Bar Pilar. Office workers congregate for sandwiches at lunch and beers at happy hour. They give way to the Glover Park preps in the summer polos, madras and flip-flops; hipsters; and off-duty bartenders who all scout out tables and jostle for a bartender's attention. When Breadsoda gets busy, crowds fill the narrow space between pool tables and the front of the bar, leading to traffic jams.
Music streams from a carefully assembled CD jukebox strong on classic hip-hop (Erik B. & Rakim, Gang Starr, De La Soul) and indie rock (Smiths, New Order, Sonic Youth), with plenty of new selections. Punch up the Beastie Boys, LCD Soundsystem and James Brown back-to-back, and you might even see people dancing between pool tables.
The crowds and the tunes combined can sometimes make conversation difficult at the bar.
When you'd rather take advantage of the weather than sit around in an air-conditioned basement, there's more outdoor seating than you might expect. A handful of tables are at street level, with a few more on the patio at the bottom of the steep staircase. These might be the best seats in the house: You avoid the crush inside while still being able to watch the action, and you can enjoy fresh air without conversation being drowned out by the stream of buses on Wisconsin Avenue.
In your glass: Quality over quantity. Breadsoda offers a fine, if modest, selection of beer and liquor. On draft, microbrews include Troegs, Bell's and Victory and a good number of Belgians. (For summer, it really doesn't get better than a crisp glass of Gaffel Kolsch from Cologne.) Liquors run more toward small-batch bourbons and boutique vodkas and gins.
The cocktail list is short and to the point. In the summer heat, go with a traditional Dark and Stormy (rum and ginger beer) or the Michalada, which adds hot sauce and a spicy house-made bloody mary mix to a glass of very cold Tecate beer.
On your plate: Breadsoda operates as a deli, with a case full of meats, cheeses and toppings. You'll find a better-than-average cold cut sandwich selection, although the Moroccan chicken salad sandwich, which features tangy chicken and harrisa piled high in a croissant, and the overstuffed Reuben deserve special praise.
Don't miss the pickles. Heather Shorter's homemade treats are 25 cents each, and if you grab one that has been fermented with spicy jalapenos, you'll understand why they sell out so quickly: Each bite snaps with tang and heat.
Need to know: Free parking is available after 8 p.m. Also, Breadsoda's last call is one hour earlier than the rest of the city's: They stop serving at 12:30 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and at 1:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. This is a neighborhood regulation.
Nice to know: The name, Breadsoda, is a reference to a Prohibition-era version of beer made with baking soda.
Price points: Most draft beers are $6, though some Belgians are $7. Cocktails are $7 to $8. Sandwich platters run between $5.95 and $7.95, including sides and a pickle.
For pool and shuffleboard, two people pay $12 an hour Sunday through Wednesday and until 8 p.m. on other days. (Four people pay $16.) Thursday through Saturday nights, it's $14 a couple or $20 per foursome. Use of the Wii is $10 an hour Sunday through Thursday, and $12 on Fridays and Saturdays; ping-pong is $10 an hour.
What people are saying: Anna Owen, who's interning on Capitol Hill this summer, says Breadsoda is "not as exclusive and uppity" as some places she and her friends from the University of Alabama have visited in Washington. The atmosphere is "very homey, very inviting," she says. "It's a place where you can come for the first time and not feel out of place."