A great jukebox can’t dispense too much immediate satisfaction. That’s the problem with the Web-wired music stations that dot much of the District’s pubosphere: If you can get whatever you want in one bar—and let’s be honest, what you want is probably by Journey—you can get it in any bar. But sophisticated tipplers of all brows prefer their tunes, like their libations, to come intelligently curated.
Since 2008, the last year Washington City Paper honored D.C.’s best jukebox, the situation has improved slightly: One of the city’s most interesting and eccentrically curated jukeboxes, the glorious hunk of junk at Fox & Hounds, returned to the 17th Street NW bar’s back room after three years in retirement. (In the interim, the bar sported one of the city’s legion of dreaded Touchtunes boxes.) Elsewhere, the news isn’t so happy: The frequently lauded machine at The Raven has way too much classic rock; the excellent jukeboxes at Black Cat and Looking Glass Lounge are frequently out of service.
And so for the second time in five years, the prize has to go to Adams Morgan dive Pharmacy Bar, which sports a gorgeously lightning-bolted Rowe International machine. The selection skews punk—Dischord’s anniversary compilation, Naked Raygun, Crownhate Ruin, The Cramps—with D.C. selections clearly marked as such. Then there are the more eclectic options: the Rev. Charlie Jackson, Os Mutantes, Isaac Hayes, a record called My Shit Is Perfect by Bob Log (I can’t even imagine who would want to play this).
On a recent weekday evening, I started out with “Good Morning, Captain” by post-rock trailblazers Slint, “Obama” by Afro-poppers Extra Golden, and an acoustic version of Johnny Thunders’ classic bar ballad “You Can’t Put Your Arm Rounda Memory.” Then I punched “Suki” by Unrest—and got yacht rock from Loggins and Messina. After that, I tried for “Non-Alignment Pact” by Pere Ubu, but got a brief, abrasive burst of metal from Darkest Hour.
I nearly disqualified Pharmacy Bar on the spot, but soon reconsidered: Even if it’s by accident, sometimes you want a jukebox that’ll set you right.