The Scene: A fixture on M Street since 1971, the Sign of the Whale is a comfortable (if shabby) watering hole that's served a generation of lawyers, lobbyists, interns and downtown professionals. Once one of the city's top singles bars, it's no longer the meat market of old, but you'll still find plenty of guys on the prowl here, especially on weekends.
The Whale was almost harpooned in the summer of 2006 when radio personality Mike O'Meara announced he was buying the place and turning it into an Irish pub, but the plans fell through, and the Whale was purchased by Britt Swan, who owns Georgetown nightspots Rhino Bar and Modern. By cleaning it up and going back to basics, though, he's breathed new life into a flagging bar.
Heavily weathered brick walls, worn wooden floors, a fire roaring in a stone hearth, a huge bay window and a mile-long wooden bar make the rowhouse saloon feel more like a traditional British pub than some of those Elephant-and-Firkin chains that have proliferated in recent years. A few large TVs for sports -- including a huge projection set mounted high on the wall -- and a large restaurant space upstairs make this a classic neighborhood hangout.
In Your Glass: The house Whale Ale is cheap and hoppy, and the basic gin-and-tonics and vodka tonics are strong. There's nothing here that you can't find anywhere else, but the rotating happy hour specials -- say, $1 off all drafts -- are a good reason to sneak out of the office early.
On Your Plate: The hefty burgers here are legendary, thanks to house combinations like the Starbuck (American and Jack cheeses and some crispy bacon), the Captain Ahab (bleu cheese, gravy and bacon) and the Cajun (blackened spices, jalapeno cheese and more bacon). Go on Monday nights for half-price specials and you'll pay less than $5 for a very filling meal of a burger and fries.
Nice to Know: The Whale draws a packed house heavy on the 30s-and-up crowd on Friday and Saturday nights, when pop songs from the '70s, '80s and '90s are cranked up. You'll hear people singing along to George Michael without irony.
Price Points: Most draft beers are around $4; burgers are $9.
-- Fritz Hahn (January 2007)