Given the current economic climate, you wouldn't think I'd be happy to find Recessions on L Street. But given the state of my finances, I am. Recessions, the bar and restaurant once hidden in the basement of the Commerce Building at 17th and K streets NW, was a poorly lit, somewhat dreary space popular with neighborhood suits and office drones, who stopped in for the happy hour buffet and $2 drink specials on weekdays. Weekends found 18-and-over college students packing the bar for all-you-can-drink beer specials and a small dance floor that shook to hip-hop and top 40.
In November 2002, though, the owners moved Recessions to a new location two-and-a-half blocks away, closer to 19th and L. It's a similar formula. In the old building, patrons took an unmarked stairwell from the lobby and walked past mysterious closets to reach the bar. Now, you descend a flight of stairs and wander past pay phones, meeting rooms and some kind of executive sales office before entering the bar. It's still a basement bar, all right -- this time it's the clean and brightly lit lower level of the Lincoln Suites Hotel. (Yes, that's the same hotel that houses Mackey's Public House.)
It really is quite a stunning change, even if the decor is bewildering (and rather unattractive). The rough stone-covered walls suggest a medieval castle, but the faux-stained glass panels covering the neon lights overhead are (I think) meant to make you think of an Irish pub. Framed vintage advertisements (cars, tires, etc.) and photos of Abraham Lincoln are pure Americana jumble sale. And then the bright lights, flowered carpet and industrial furniture bring to mind the lobby bar at HoJo's.
Just try to ignore it. Have a seat at the large, central island bar, or, with a group, one of the many booths and tables along the walls. Old Recession regulars will look for a hint of the familiar, but there's no dance floor (although one is planned in the future), no jukebox, no all-you-can-drink specials, no complementary buffet. Karaoke, however, runs from 7 to midnight on Friday.
Instead, the draw here -- as it was in the old location -- will be cheap food and cheaper beer. Quarter-pound hamburgers are $2.95. Hot corned beef sandwiches are $4.50. And here's the real kicker: Daily happy hour specials, which include $2 bottles, $2.50 rail drinks and $2.75 "King Kong" 26-ounce draft beers, start at 5 p.m. and go until 8 p.m.. Depending on the day, there are other specials, too -- for example, on Thursdays, two-for-one drinks are offered until midngiht. Food specials include a $2.50 item of the day. Downtown, at least, Recessions is one of the best ways to make the most of your happy hour budget.
-- Fritz Hahn (Updated June 2003)