The buzz: At happy hour, BlackFinn can be so crowded it's difficult to move. That's partly because of the narrow aisles and rows of tables and booths near the bar and partly because of the number of groups packed around the tables for drinks and snacks. The deals are great -- including $2 Miller Lites, $3 cocktails and glasses of wine, and $4.95 flatbread pizzas -- and the crowd is lively.
"The prices are very good," said Brie Morrow, 30, who works for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and had a table with her friends in the middle of the crowd. "We work right next door, so we're here a lot," she said with a laugh. "The pours are very good."
The scene: BlackFinn, which fills the first floor of an I Street office building, is an upscale saloon with sports bar touches. The leather barstools and booths have brass buttons, the wood is dark and all manner of bric-a-brac hangs on the walls, along with 30 plasma TVs. There are two bars: one by the front door and one along the back wall, though the rear area is often roped off for private events and happy hours.
If it feels a bit contrived, that's because it is. The first BlackFinn opened in New York 15 years ago, and now there are BlackFinns in such places as Dallas, Charlotte and Bethesda. Still, friendly staff, decent food and good drink prices go a long way toward battling chain-phobia.
Every month, Jaber Altaki and his friends choose a different place to gather for happy hour. This time around, the group chose BlackFinn, and on his first visit, Altaki pronounced the place "a good happy hour bar."
The 44-year-old IT professional said he likes the inexpensive pizza, the "good selection of draft beers and a young crowd. They have lots of tables and seating. And how many bars have two bars: one in the front and one in the back?"
In your glass: The dozen drafts include Miller Lite, Newcastle and Boddingtons, and the menu has a short selection of wines by the glass. Cocktails are fairly basic, but the bar also offers "special" drinks made with the always-delicious Firefly sweet tea vodka.
On your plate: Think modern bar food: pizzas topped with veggies or blackened chicken and a long list of specialty burgers.
Price points: Outside of happy hour, prices are average: $3.75 to $6 for draft beers, $6 glasses of the house wine, $8.99 for sliders. Don't miss the nightly specials: $3 domestic beers on Mondays and half-price martinis for women after 7 p.m. on Thursdays.
Nice to know: Downtown is traditionally a dead zone on weekends, but BlackFinn is trying to drum up business by catering to football fans. Tennessee, Pitt and Northwestern alumni gather every week to cheer on their teams, and the list of game-time deals includes half-price wings, $10 pitchers of beer and a special burger menu.
-- Fritz Hahn (Oct. 2, 2009)