Midtown Loft

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Editorial Review

If You Come Early, the Beer's Free
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, September 25, 2009

The buzz: As I walk up to the bar at Midtown Loft, the bartender greets me with a friendly smile and a string of magic words. "Hi! Would you like a free beer?"

"Sure," I say, and less than a minute later, I've got a glass of the house amber in hand, with no strings attached and have settled in on a comfortable leather couch at the front of the airy room. I'm keeping an eye on the foosball and shuffleboard tables, where play is free until 8 p.m. (The beer deal, sadly, ends at 6 p.m.)

Welcome to the city's cheapest new happy hour, which starts at 5 p.m. every weekday.

"I think the happy hour is great -- it's hard to beat free beer!" says Jennifer Hardy, 24, who works at a nearby law firm and is out with co-worker Rami Bardenstein. She knows that timing is key, though, after coming with friends on a Friday afternoon. "We walked in right at 5:10, and by 6, there was a line down to the middle of the room."

Bardenstein, nursing his free beer, also has his eyes on the games, and he looks more excited when he finds out they, too, are free. "I love shuffleboard," he says. "It's just another reason for me to be here."

The scene: Midtown Loft, whose name sounds more like a new Massachusetts Avenue condo development than a bar, is the latest nightspot from Michael Romeo, the man behind velvet rope lounges Lotus, Midtown and Tattoo and the warehouse-size Fur nightclub. For this project, which sits above Midtown on the third floor of a Connecticut Avenue building, Romeo decided to take things in a decidedly different direction: No dress codes, no cover charges. Lots of drink specials. Buckets of beer ($20 for five) replace bottles of champagne. DJs play "Don't Stop Believin'" and "Sweet Child O' Mine" instead of techno, and Dewey Beach, Del., troubadour Doug Segree stops by with his acoustic guitar on Tuesday nights. Fancy art and lighting? Think neon beer signs and exposed brick walls.

"Everybody's on a budget now," Romeo says. "People don't want to go out and spend $1,000 on a table [for bottle service]."

Of course, you can get bottle service at Midtown Loft; the menu has $120 bottles of Grey Goose vodka and $300 for Patr?n Silver, which come with reservations for tables and couches. But that's not really the point. Midtown Loft wants to be a neighborhood tavern where you grab a beer and shoot pool or try to beat the high scores on the Megatouch games. If you're wearing flip-flops or baseball caps, so much the better.

In your glass: Midtown has three beer taps pouring Peroni, Miller Lite and Midtown Amber. Beers seem to be the beverages of choice, probably because they're the cheapest things on the menu ($4 for bottles and drafts). Cocktails are $5 until 8 p.m., then the prices double. (Want something better than rail liquor? That will be an extra $2.)

On your plate: Eat elsewhere. Even though Midtown seems like the ideal venue for mozzarella sticks or wings, there's no kitchen.

Price points: Nightly specials include $5 cocktails and free pool, shuffleboard and foosball all night on Mondays, "buy one, get one free" drinks all night Wednesdays and half-price drinks for women until midnight on Thursdays. The "Power Hour" happy hour on Saturday features $1 beers from 8 to 9 p.m., which rise to $2 between 9 and 10 p.m. and $3 between 10 and 11 p.m.