By Fritz Hahn
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, April 25, 2008
The new Nationals Park neighborhood has undergone much development, including the massive Department of Transportation building, a new hotel, a Starbucks and chain dining options.
Something is missing, though. In the 23 months since the stadium groundbreaking, it seems that no forward-looking entrepreneur thought, "Hmmm. If I got a sports bar up and running by opening day 2008, I'd attract all those fans before and after the games, and give the workers at the Navy Yard and the Department of Transportation and all the new buildings opening down here somewhere to go for happy hour. I'd make a mint!"
(The only place where fans might gather for a beer before the first pitch is the tiny bar off the lobby of a Courtyard by Marriott that boasts no more a half-dozen bar stools.)
Although hundreds of thousands of square feet of restaurants and bars are supposedly in the pipeline, the only options for a pre- or postgame drink are, well, elsewhere. Roughly a mile west, Cantina Marina offers dockside drinks at the Washington Marina, and fans can always walk from the Eastern Market Metro station, passing a number of restaurants and bars along the way. But those are far from convenient.
Enter: the Kegbus. The private company that rents out customized school buses picks up passengers at Capitol Hill bars before Friday and Saturday home games, ferries them to the stadium and makes a return trip after the final out.
Anyone 21 or older can catch the free shuttle (sponsored by Miller Lite) at the Pour House, the Hawk and Dove, Finn MacCool's or the Ugly Mug, beginning about an hour before the first pitch.
The bus starts its circuit at the Pour House (if you want a guaranteed seat, that's the best place to go), then stops on Pennsylvania Avenue and along Barracks Row before dropping its passengers at Second and L streets SE, about three blocks from the stadium gates. There are two runs before the game. About 15 minutes after the last out, the bus begins another pair of trips back to the Hill. All that's required to board is a wristband, which is given out by staff at each participating bar.
Though it began service to the new Nationals stadium only two weeks ago, the Kegbus has plenty of fans. It ran limited service to RFK Stadium last year and is a well-known company hired for private events, such as bachelor parties or trips to concerts.
Donn Appleman and Mike Feinberg met at the Pour House recently before catching the Kegbus to a Friday night game against the Braves. "We took it [to RFK] last year," Appleman said. "They drop you off right at the stadium -- we don't have to worry about parking or fighting the Metro crowds."
More important, he added, "we work at the USDA downtown, and [the Kegbus is] giving us a chance to come here and get a beer and something to eat before the game -- and not spend $7.50 for the beer."
That's one clear advantage the Kegbus offers: The Pour House's Friday happy hour, which runs until 9, offers substantial savings over pricey ballpark fare, including $3 Yuengling drafts, $3 Budweiser, Bud Light and Miller Lite bottles, and a plethora of $5 bar-food plates, including pierogies, mozzarella sticks and chili.
All participating bars have their own slates of pre- and postgame deals: The Ugly Mug's includes $4 Leinenkugel drafts and Bacardi cocktails, while Finn MacCool's offers $10 Miller Lite pitchers.
On its first night, the Kegbus pulled up in front of the Pour House and Hawk and Dove at 6:30, and dozens of Nats fans were waiting to hop on board. Looking like a school bus that has been made over by the "Pimp My Ride" crew, the Kegbus has traded the standard high-backed green vinyl seats for cushioned banquettes that run along the walls, a booming sound system, glowing light-emitting-diode lights and a large bathroom. "It felt like I was transported back to a '90s bachelor party in Vegas," said passenger Don Kerr.
A standing-room-only crowd filled the bus (there are handrails over the aisle), and there was plenty of talking and flirting as it headed for pickup points on Barracks Row. Now, for the warning: Traffic delays near the stadium held up the bus's second trip, so those passengers arrived at the stadium after the game began. If seeing the first pitch is a priority, make sure you're on that first bus.
After the game, the driver was waiting at Second and L streets as promised, and he idled long enough for the fireworks to finish before heading back to the bars.
While noting the smell of stale beer, the delays and the "young and rowdy" crowd that filled the bus to capacity, Kerr, a marketing director for a computer company, said "the fun and convenience of the bus -- and the inconvenience of just about any other transportation to the new ballpark -- will get me back for more."