Exotic beers draw patrons to Dodge City, Columbia Firehouse and Lyon Hall

By Fritz Hahn
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 28, 2010

It wasn't that long ago that beer aficionados who wanted to try an exotic brew had to make a special pilgrimage to a landmark beer bar like the Brickskeller or visit certain restaurants -- say, a Belgian restaurant -- to enjoy unfamiliar Belgian ales.

But then the revolution came, bringing temples of ale such as Birreria Paradiso, ChurchKey and Brasserie Beck. And as more people have tried good beers -- IPAs, English ales, off-the-beaten-path lagers -- there has been a trickle-down effect. Now even laid-back neighborhood spots are likely to have a couple of above-average beers on tap that you can sip while hanging out with friends.

The trend shows no sign of slowing down, and here are three of my recent favorites.

Dodge City

917 U St. NW. No phone. Open Sunday-Thursday 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., Friday-Saturday 6 p.m. to 3 a.m.

Dodge City has street cred in spades. It's an offshoot of the neighboring Velvet Lounge, the most underground-minded of D.C. clubs hosting live rock. There's no sign outside (of course), so you have to look for the blue awning advertising the long-gone America's Bounty market. Two of the partners are longtime fixtures behind the bar at the always popular Black Cat. Weekend DJs rotate in from places such as Marvin, Wonderland and Cafe Saint-Ex. And it has taken the place of Kingpin, a legendary D.C. dive bar that closed after a Christmas 2004 fire.

The brand-new two-level space is anything but a dive, with exposed brick walls, muted blues and grays throughout and plenty of framed art and photos on display. Tables and benches provide plenty of seating, especially on the wide-open first floor. Upstairs, the space is split between bar, lounge area and a small dance floor.

What I wasn't expecting to see, though, was a craft-heavy draft lineup, which stars Great Lakes' Dortmunder Gold, Bear Republic's hoppy Racer 5, Green Flash's Hop Head Red, Victory's fruity Golden Monkey, Troegs Pale Ale and the crisp Scrimshaw Pilsner, all $6 or $7, except for the Troegs, which is $5.

The goal wasn't to compete with ChurchKey or Birreria, says bartender/partner Patrick Mucklow, but to choose beers that he and fellow bartender/partner Angie Hopson were into. That meant no macrobrews (other than Guinness) and lots of beers with character.

There are cheaper (and lesser) options in bottles, including Pilsner Ace and Miller High Life, plus Stone's Levitation Ale.

What to do while you sip? Thursday through Saturday, the upstairs DJ booth is home to some great D.C. spinners, including Neville C. (of Saint-Ex's Brazilian Rhythms), DJ D-Mac (Marvin), and DJ Nitekrawler (U Street Music Hall and Wonderland), playing funk, hip-hop, disco, Latin American tunes and go-go. (Actually, the last one is essential, since the place takes its name from the 1988 stop-the-violence go-go single "D.C. Don't Stand for Dodge City.")

Columbia Firehouse

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company