Black Jack

Black Jack photo
Michael S. Williamson/The Post

Editorial Review

Black Jack courts bocce lovers
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, Nov 11, 2011

You might not think bocce is a perfect bar game, but it's pretty darn close. After all, you need only one hand to roll a ball down the court, so you can hold a drink with the other. The only problem comes when those heavy poly-resin composite balls start flying everywhere, bumping into people and knocking over glasses.

Perhaps that's why the two full-size indoor bocce courts at the new Black Jack bar -- located above the Pearl Dive Oyster Palace - are in their own room, well away from the bar and separated from spectators by a waist-high chain-link fence. And why, since the place opened in mid-September, I've never been able to get a game without a wait.

Indoor bar bocce, like many other bar trends, started in hipster-fied Brooklyn. Here, local restaurateur Jeff Black, looking for something to set his bar apart from the 14th Street competition, settled on bocce and drafted members of the DC Bocce League to set up the courts, which customers can play on free of charge.

To get a game, just sign into the ledger by the court gates and wait your turn: Everything runs on the honor system, so you have to keep checking back to see who's next. (Don't remember the rules? The DC Bocce folks have posted them on the wall, but here's one to remember: All games go to 10 points. After that, it's someone else's turn.)

It's a handsome, high-ceilinged space that feels more small-town than D.C., from the huge bull's head over the courts to the scoreboards operated with thick wooden pegs. Rows of old wooden theater seats are set across the courts, stadium style, so spectators can watch while waiting their turn. Thankfully, there are servers who come through the room taking drink orders, even if the scene is a little scattered.

Surprisingly, bocce is only half the attraction.

The front bar has a different vibe - a comfortable and stylish cocktail lounge that charms with its eccentric decor: heavy red velvet curtains, a blinking sign advertising "GOLF," mod-looking sofas, glittery vinyl bar stools and a huge round booth that seats at least 10. Old movies - I've seen everything from "Planet of the Apes" to black-and-white musicals - are projected onto brick walls.

Drinks are easily affordable: Natty Boh - one of almost 50 canned selections - costs $3, and the nine drafts, which include Honker's Ale from Goose Island and Lagunitas's Czech Style Pilsner, are around $6. Cocktails are a bit more, starting at $10 and going as high as $16. They're good, though: The Maple Derby uses maple syrup to mellow bourbon and a touch of ginger; the fruity Cobler, served from a frozen margarita machine, combines peach and apricot liqueur with rye whiskey and mint.

I'm not sure if the Maple Derby improves my game, but it sure made my night.