No kitchen, no pool tables, no problem
By Fritz Hahn
Friday, Feb. 19, 2010
The buzz: The Bedrock Management group has made a habit of opening underground pool halls (Buffalo, Atomic and Bedrock Billiards, the newer Rocket Bar) that feel like basement rec rooms with a bar. The new Iron Horse Tap Room, an expansive two-story nightspot one block from Verizon Center, is anything but.
There's a large above-ground bar with expansive windows overlooking the sidewalk, filled with gleaming hardwood and couch-filled nooks. Down a flight of stairs, the basement feels less like a cave than any below-ground space in Washington, thanks to 18-foot ceilings. It's spacious, too, with room for about 300 people -- something to be thankful for after a Capitals game.
There's no shortage of things to do: four shuffleboard tables, two Skee-Ball machines, Big Buck Hunter and a strange tabletop game called Fireball that seems to be the offspring of air hockey, foosball and pinball machines. Just don't plan on playing pool.That's not a bad thing. Without pool tables, there's more space to hang out, whether at high chrome-topped tables, on couches that hug the walls or, my favorite, a sectional hidden under the staircase with a perfect view of a flat-screen TV.
Iron Horse is the kind of place you want to hang out for a while, especially at happy hour, when the 20 draft beers are discounted $2, putting most in the $3-to-$5-a-pint range.
"Chinatown needed a new bar -- that's for sure," says Ian Winkler, 25, a consultant who brought a group for happy hour specials and shuffleboard. "I like the games, and the beer selection is good. It can definitely accommodate bigger crowds [than some nearby places]. I think it definitely has staying power."
The scene: The bar's name refers to the motorcycles that decorate the space. A gleaming 1963 Norton hangs in the picture windows, luring passersby. A low-slung 1967 Triumph Thunderbird overlooks the first-floor bar area. And a row of 1970s Honda street bikes are displayed overhead in the expansive downstairs bar.
To call this a biker bar, though, would be a mistake. Unlike the tough-guy leather-and-Harleys decor of the Tattoo bar, Iron Horse celebrates the spirit of the open road. The walls feature re-creations of old posters painted onto columns and metal racks of old tires, with vintage maps, '70s motorcycle magazine ads and Evel Knievel comics laminated under the various bar counters.
"It's something that the neighborhood didn't have," says Lish Ephraim, 31, a project supervisor at a marketing agency. "It's a place where people can get together after work."
In your glass: The 20 draft beers are a mix of the standard Miller Lite and Heineken and hipper microbrews including Dogfish Head, Victory's Golden Monkey and Clipper City's Loose Cannon. Bourbon fans will find a solid selection of whiskeys behind the bar.
On your plate: Iron Horse doesn't have a kitchen. Instead, customers are welcome to bring in carry-out food from nearby restaurants. Your best bets within a couple of blocks: Nando's Peri-Peri, Austin Grill or California Tortilla. Just don't show up with a bunch of food at peak times when seats are scarce, or you'll have to eat standing up.
Price points: Draft beers primarily range from $5 (Miller Lite) to $7 (Dogfish Head), with some odd exceptions, such as $12 for a goblet of Chimay. Mixed drinks are about $8.
Shuffleboard rates are $12 per hour for two players and $16 for four or more Sunday through Wednesday, and $14 per couple per hour and $20 for four Thursday through Saturday.
Need to know: Iron Horse opens at 4 p.m. daily, but when there's a sporting event at Verizon Center, doors open two hours before game time.
Nice to know: A weekly Skee-Ball league (seriously) is starting in April, with games on Thursday nights. See http://www.unitedskeeball.com for more information. For now, if you're playing Skee-Ball, here's a tip: A game costs 50 cents, but if you pay with a $1 bill, you get three games.