This boxing-themed watering hole is the baby of Tony Tomelden, who has earned a loyal following after 11 years managing and pouring drinks at the Capitol Lounge on Pennsylvania Avenue. His philosophy is spelled out on nine small chalkboards hanging over the bar: No idiots. No specials. No shooters. No politics. No bombs. Relax. Be cool. Drink. Behave.
With rules like that, you'd expect a low-key place with plenty of regulars, and you'd be right. This is a beer-and-a-shot kind of joint, where you can get $2 cans of Natural Light and $3 cans of Schaefer and Natty Boh, often as a chaser for whiskey, and sink back into vintage theater seats that came from Baltimore's Orpheum Cinema. A short selection of draft beers is also available.
The Pug is short for the Pugilist, and it's decorated with the iconic shot of Muhammad Ali knocking down Sonny Liston, old Time magazine covers, antique gloves and portraits of turn-of-the-century boxers with extravagant facial hair. It also has a sense of humor. Ali's "I Am the Greatest" album is framed on the back wall, just above DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's classic "I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson" single. At the front of the room is a Rock 'Em Sock 'Em Robots game. (People can get a little aggressive with the plastic pugilists, Tomelden says. "I've gone through five of those.") He also has added his own non-boxing touches, including rows of police badges behind the bar and soccer scarves from England, Germany, Ukraine and Ireland.
Tomelden had planned on a jukebox, but after years of listening to tipsy congressional staffers play '80s rock and hair metal at Capitol Lounge, he decided he'd rather set up playlists on his laptop. "Hearing U2 once a week is cool," he explains. "Hearing them nine times a night is not. And never hearing Jon Bon Jovi is awesome."
Food options are as basic as the drinks: hot dogs boiled in a pot behind the bar or bowls of (free) neon-orange cheese balls. "We're going to start making panini soon," he promises, using -- what else? -- a George Foreman grill.
-- Fritz Hahn (Updated August 2011)