The Laughing Man Tavern

Bar
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Editorial Review

To Get Happy, Try Laughing
By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 15, 2009

The buzz: Metro Center is the junction of Metro's two most-used lines, and the neighborhood around the station (roughly centered on 12th and G streets) is teeming with offices, law firms and shops. And yet a decent happy hour is hard to come by. No wonder both floors of the Laughing Man Tavern, which opened earlier this year, are packed with suited-and-ID'd young people most Thursday and Friday afternoons.

This is a place that knows its audience: the happy hour crowd. Discounted drinks start at 3 p.m., an hour earlier than at most other bars, and run until 7. Want a beer? Grab a $3.25 Miller Lite or Bud Light, or step up for a $4 Yuengling, Sierra Nevada, Blue Moon, Sam Adams, Sam Adams Seasonal, Sam Adams Light or the house G Street Brew, which tastes vaguely like Red Hook. Mixed drinks are $3.75. The house wines -- a red (cabernet) and white (chardonnay) from BV Coastal -- are $4 a glass.

Then there's the food: $4 plates of jerk wings, calamari, steamed mussels, taquitos, chipotle chicken quesadillas or spinach dip, served from 3 p.m. to close. (That's midnight Monday-Thursday, 2 a.m. Friday-Saturday.)

And the deals aren't done yet. Burgers are half-price all day Monday. Lawyers and law-firm employees who show business cards take 20 percent off on Tuesdays, and bar and restaurant employees get the same discount on Wednesdays when they present a pay stub.

In short, it's a penny-pinching office worker's dream destination, with a very convenient address.

The scene: The Laughing Man is a product of the Bedrock Billiards group, which brought us such destinations as Buffalo Billiards, Carpool and Rocket Bar, and it's one of the company's few concepts that doesn't have a pool table. Instead, the space, formerly home to Reeve's Bakery, is all bars, booths and flat-screen TVs.

You probably won't think much of the place when you walk in: The first thing you see is a tiny bar with eight stools surrounded by a couple of high, round tables. It's cramped at happy hour, and the color scheme is a ho-hum beige and brown. Keep going. Through the back is a larger dining room with a mixture of wooden booths and dining tables, plus a pair of dart lanes.

Down a wide staircase, however, is the much more spacious basement, with a large, U-shaped bar, high-backed wooden booths, a couple of benches and more dart lanes. Past a pair of small bookcases (which are stocked with books you can read while waiting for a friend) is a wood-paneled dining room that's often used for private parties. After you've been downstairs, you probably won't want to hang out at the first-floor bar again.

Happy hour prices are available throughout the entire tavern, not just in the bar, which isn't the case at so many other places. If you want to sit with your friends at a table in the dining room and order rounds of cut-priced drinks and snacks from a waitress, that's cool, and sometimes service even seems to be faster that way.

(Actually, service at the upstairs bar is the biggest sticking point: I feel for the overworked bartender, who sometimes comes out to the nearby tables to take orders and pick up empties when he's not pulling pints. And sometimes, at the same table on the same night, a waitress will stop by. I'm never sure from whom I should be ordering.)

In your glass: This is not a place to get fancy. Most overheard orders when I've hung out at the bar: "Bud Light." "Yuengling." "House white." But Boddington's, Bass and Peroni are also available.

On your plate: It's burger-basic bar food, and execution has been hit-and-miss. The burger is fine, but the appetizers sometimes taste like they were freshly microwaved. You'll understand why your snack was only $4.

Price points: Outside of happy hour, drink prices are distinctly average: Beers start at $5 and climb as high as $7 for imports. Mixed drinks are in the same range (just under $6 for rail, more for the good stuff), as is wine, which starts at $6.60 a glass. Just a reminder: The $4 appetizer plates don't stop when the drink specials do, so you can order a $4 plate of taquitos after midnight. Burgers cost $9 to $10. Go for the Alps burger, which is topped with a pile of mushrooms and a blanket of Gruyere cheese.

Need to know: That basement party area has been rented more and more frequently for private events, says manager Manny DeAlmeida, though he says they rarely take bookings for Thursday and Friday. Still, it's not unusual to show up on a Wednesday and find that a group has taken over the lower level and is asking for a "voluntary donation" if you want to go downstairs.

Nice to know: On Saturday nights, when crowds are slower, the Laughing Man has been hosting charity events. This Saturday is the "Paint the Town Pink" party, which offers multiple open bars, appetizers, a DJ, dancing and a silent auction in support of the Susan G. Komen for the Cure Breast Cancer Foundation. The party runs from 8 p.m. to 2 a.m., and tickets are $50 from http://www.paintthetownpinkdc.eventbrite.com.

What people are saying: "I work a block away," says Brittany Guy, a 24-year-old legal assistant, "and happy hour was like, 'Chef Geoff's or bust,' so when [the Laughing Man] opened, we were really excited." Weeks later, the novelty hasn't worn off. "I'm in here every week that I'm able to," she says, laughing.

"It's my first time, and I really like it," says Charlie Leizear, 23, an assistant director of admissions at George Washington University, on a recent weeknight. "We typically go out to places where there are a lot of college students, so it's refreshing to find a place like this with more young professionals."