Best Jukebox

Pharmacy Bar
(202) 483-1200
Photograph by Darrow Montgomery

A good bar trades not in liquor but in the temporary suspension of reality. The public house’s particular rabbit hole operates on the following principles: First, eliminate light; second, dull the senses; third, deprive would-be bar DJs of the ability to access Journey’s Escape. The net-linked jukebox, which offers thousands of songs at the touch of a screen, can forge an unnatural portal between the insular bar and the outside world, where the availability of Gary Wright’s “Dream Weaver” threatens to compromise any pub’s delicate atmosphere.

The most pressing concern, though, is that the Internet-enabled jukebox is threatening to send the disc-shifting variety the way of the Walkman. Vintage jukeboxes offer two main advantages. An eclectic, hand-picked repertoire encourages creativity but still forces you to interact with the bar’s aesthetic. And the physical flipping of pages, poking of numbers, and grinding of discs far outweighs the Internet box’s stock animation of a virtual needle hitting a virtual record.

Several D.C. haunts have opted to hold on to their vintage jukeboxes. The Black Cat (1811 14th St. NW, (202) 667-7960), the Raven Grill (3125 Mount Pleasant St. NW, (202) 387-8411), and Dan’s Café (2315 18th St. NW, (202) 265-9241) all still offer the real deal; Garrett’s Restaurant & Railroad Tavern in Georgetown (3003 M St. NW, (202) 333-1033) boasts three well-stocked jukes, two old-school, one Internet, but all, unfortunately, are located within Garrett’s.

D.C.’s best old-school jukebox rests above a couple of beer kegs at Adams Morgan’s Pharmacy Bar. Pharmacy’s Rowe International model, bedecked with wicked lightning bolts, offers 100 full albums, which bill at three songs for a buck, 18 for five—no coins, please. The selection spans from My Bloody Valentine’s debut full-length, Isn’t Anything (select 00) to Spank Rock’s YoYoYoYoYo (99), between, find jukebox favorites old—Neil Young’s Harvest (31), Bowie’s Diamond Dogs (57), Sgt. Pepper’s (39)—and new—Au Revoir Simone’s Bird of Music (25), Battles’ Mirrored (8). The Pharmacy jukebox’s real draw is its showcase of local boys and girls made good—see Darkest Hour (53), the Aquarium (82), and, of course, Chuck Brown (03-04). It also leans heavily on the nostalgia factor; long-defunct D.C. hardcore outfit the Crownhate Ruin’s Until the Eagle Grins (55) currently holds the title of the box’s most popular selection.

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