Sign of the Whale is one of those party-at-happy-hour bars that newcomers discover soon after arriving in Washington, often in concert with the Madhatter
, Kelly's Irish Times
or Lucky Bar
. That reputation is why it tends to get overlooked as a legitimate happy-hour option.
But the Whale has been under new management for more than a year, and it has managed to reposition itself as a sports bar, hosting Syracuse and Cal alumni as well as fans of various Philadelphia teams. Its happy hour also has had a serious makeover, making it one of the most budget-friendly destinations downtown.
All drinks are half-price every weekday from 4 to 7 p.m., which means you're paying $3 for a rail vodka-soda or $5 for a Grey Goose and cranberry. Beers range from $2.50 for a pint of Budweiser to $3 for a glass of Pipeline Porter from Hawaii's Kona Brewing Co.
The appetizer menu is full of bar staples: a basket of tater tots; fries smothered in cheese, bacon and chili; a pile of cheese-dusted mozzarella sticks with a side of marinara; and, best of all, fried boneless wings tossed in Old Bay with sauces for dipping. (You can also get buffalo sauce or barbecue, but Old Bay is the best.)
The vibe is laid-back and bartenders are friendly, especially early in the week, when it's easier to get a seat.
-- Fritz Hahn (updated January 2013)