Bringing the Beach Home
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, June 12, 2009
The buzz: Memorial Day weekend is one of the greatest times of the year. Until, that is, you have to come back to work Tuesday and realize you're not going to get back to the beach until July 4 or sometime in August or maybe even (gulp) Labor Day. What you need is some of that beachy atmosphere. Tiki masks, Jimmy Buffett tunes -- and would $1 margaritas help?
In that case, you should head for the Village at Shirlington, where the Bungalow (formerly known as Bungalow Billiards) offers cheap drinks in an atmosphere that mixes beach tacky with a neighborhood hangout.
The scene: The Bungalow feels like a couple of different venues cobbled together in one space: The area behind the large bar is decorated to look like a two-story beach house, complete with windows and doors. Colorful bar stools and nearby walls are covered with tiki torches and masks. Beyond some tall dividers are 10 pool tables, four dart lanes and dinner booths. I'd rather head for the Love Shack, a semiprivate nook with cane-back chairs and tables and the feel of a rustic beach house patio.
Thursday night's happy hour, with $1 longneck beers from 5 to 8 p.m., is as packed as any in Dewey Beach, and it can even be tough to find a seat on Monday nights, when $1 margaritas and $2 Coronas join half-price burgers on the menu of specials.
But regulars say that under the kitschy decor and cheap drinks beats the heart of a neighborhood bar.
"I think a lot of us in the neighborhood like the atmosphere, and the prices, and the beach theme and the customer service," says Dave Wechsler, 37, a former Arlington police officer who lives in Fairlington and visits the Bungalow so often that he knows the staff and customers by name. "It's taken the place of the old-school Arlington bars like Whitey's and the Royal Lee. You get a lot of military and police in here . . . but there are young people, too."
He has a point. Pop in after work and you're likely to find Marine T-shirts and Navy caps among the 20-somethings in sundresses or kickball uniforms sharing space at the bar, having drinks on the patio and waiting for a pool table to open up. It's hard to find one destination that can appeal to multiple demographics, but the Bungalow is doing a pretty good job of it.
In your glass: The draft beers are as diverse as Budweiser and Boddingtons, and are served in pint glasses or in extra-large 32-ounce Mason jars. (There's something exotic about drinking out of a Mason jar.) Bartenders shake up the mixed drinks well, though this is more of a margarita and Jack-and-Coke kind of place. The house wines are primarily from California's Fetzer vineyard: basic but serviceable.
On your plate: Grilled Angus burgers, grilled pizza, blackened chicken sandwiches: Bungalow serves satisfying bar food. The burgers are what everyone around me recommended, including the Cheeseburger From Paradise (topped with cheddar and a couple of strips of hickory-smoked bacon) and the Blackjack, a blackened burger with pepper jack, bacon and habaero barbecue sauce. They're not gourmet, but they're good.
Price points: Monday's happy hour includes those $1 margaritas and $2 bottles of Corona. In a weird, head-scratching twist, Coronitas (those baby-size, 6.4-ounce bottles of Corona) are just a buck, so you actually get more beer for the same price if you order two of the little guys instead of a regular 12-ounce bottle. Go figure. You can also pick up a shot of tequila for $1 when you order a beer.
Regular prices aren't bad, either, with most regular-size draft beers for $5 or less, and mixed drinks just a little more. Hot wings run $8 for 10, and burgers are $7.99.
Nice to know: Women play pool for free on Wednesday nights.