Young and Hungry

Stetsons’ Cold Food and Warm Beer Do Not Make for a Long-Term Relationship

I just wanted a beer and some fuel before melting into my couch for a much-needed record session. Outside it was dark and cold, and I was so worn down while sitting on a bar stool at Stetsons, I thought there was little that could disappoint me. I waited a few minutes and then flagged down the bartender to place my order.

"Could I get a Budweiser and a burger please?"

She looked as tired as me. She wearily told me that Stetsons no longer carries the King of Beers.

"Huh, how about a PBR?"

"We're out of PBR."

"Miller Lite?"

And off she went to place my order, with a sulky face and shuffled steps.

I've been frequenting Stetsons lately to try to develop a steady relationship with a local pub. I've always had a nearby place where the staff knows me by name, where my first beer is poured before my ass hits the stool, and where a free round is occasionally signaled by two soft knocks on the bar top. At my previous local, conversation flowed as readily as the affordable beer, and the food, while simple, was competently prepared.

Stetsons (for me at least) is not that kind of bar. Here, I've made better friends with the door man than most of the bartenders. The staff seems lethargic most nights, and I rarely find someone to talk to unless I've brought my own company. I'm not sure what could go wrong with a place that combines such a killer 16th and U location with decent prices.

Then I realize the Miller Lite I've just ordered was poured into a dishwasher hot glass, arriving lukewarm. My burger may have been cooked to order, but I was never asked how I wanted it cooked. It arrived with a thick crust encasing a beef patty that was as dry as 1940s-era pork chops. Over the past few months, I've given Stetsons numerous chances, and my last visit convinced me it's time to find a new watering hole.

My search has me asking what makes for a great local, and wondering if other barflies look for similar characteristics. How far does one have to walk before a pub becomes a destination instead of an extension of one's living room?  How much cash should be set aside for two beers and a burger that's cooked properly (at least some of the time), and how should the staff and regulars interact with each other?

I'd love to hear what others deem important when deciding which pub to visit on a frequent basis. In the meantime, I'm hitting up Metro and my bicycle to see what else this city has to offer.

  • http://www.kitchengeeking.com kitchen geek

    Stetson's the classic young political staffer bar of the see and be seen crowd who can't afford the prices at Local 16 every night...ahhh, memories. Gooey cheese fries and too many cocktails in too small glasses with too large crowds around me.

    Head up the street to 18th, hang a right, walk past all the out of control Adam's Morganites and tuck yourself into the Toledo Lounge. I don't think the grease has been changed in a decade for serious dark (and delicious) fries and o-rings to go with your burgers. Plus the "When it Rains We Pour" drink specials on rainy days. It's a dive's dive and a great spot.

  • SW

    Those people don't go to Local 16 because Local 16 sucks. Hard.

    Stetson's isn't great but it is OK. Always lots of hot women there. Don't bother eating there, though.

  • grubscout65

    more of a walk but good bar food & cold beer - look no further than Stoney's

  • Tom

    "I've been frequenting Stetsons lately to try to develop a steady relationship with a local pub. I've always had a nearby place where the staff knows me by name, where my first beer is poured before my ass hits the stool, and where a free round is occasionally signaled by two soft knocks on the bar top."

    TRANSLATION: You're a loser with no friends to drink with.

  • yup

    Service is usually decent at Cafe St. Ex and the burgers ROCK. I pretty much never get free drinks, so am jealous of anyone who does.

  • http://www.districtplates.com Scott Reitz

    I do think the food at Stoney's beats up on Stetsons, but it's another spot I've had trouble making a name for myself as a regular. Maybe it's that the place is so busy and the bartender doesn't have time to shoot the breeze. It's also hard to get a stool many evenings. I'd like my local to be a little more relaxed.

  • http://www.kitchengeeking.com kitchen geek

    Maybe there's been a massive shift in the last few years, but there wasn't much difference (and in fact quite of bit of hopping back and forth) between Local 16 and Stetson's on any given Friday/Saturday. And if the purpose is to find a 'proper local' where the bartender knows your name and drink, then the quantity of 'hot women' probably isn't the driving basis for said bar. In fact, if 'hot women' is the goal, you're better off trekking down to the Hawk n' Dove or Tortilla Coast during skintern season.

    Quite frankly, any neighborhood like that part of U Street/Adams Morgan or the new 14th Street uber-coolness, or Barracks Row is going to be slim pickings for the kind of bar I think Scott's looking for. There's the Ugly Mug in Barracks Row or St. Ex on 14th, but both get a bit too crowded to often to be a real 'dive.' You can, however, get to know the bartenders there. In this part of the world I think you have to sacrifice a little bit of that off-the-beaten-path and be willing to be the guy the bartender knows among the masses that will be at almost any bar.

  • a.merr

    I have to agree with Kitchen Geek, Toledo Lounge is great! After work in AdMo, you can always count on TL to deliver great, cheap, greasy happy hour food. I love the corndogs (I know, I know). If you're specifically looking on U Street though, I've heard Desperado's has great hamburgers.

    And I do not agree with Local 16's food sucking! I had their sweet potato croquettes about 8 months ago, and they were amazing. Their pizza isn't half bad either :)

  • grubscout65

    Regulars drink during the day. Take a weeks vacation, start drinking at noon - a regular you will become.

  • Biggie

    I fill your pain its been some years since my local was burnt to the ground my friend was the manager. I could always stop in for a quick bite to eat and a free round.

    Finding a new local in DC is not that hard avoid Fri/Sat go on a Tues or Wed when its slow. Try the Ugly Mug on Tues, Toledo Lounge, Cafe Ex St, Penn Quarter Sports Taven (AKA Top Shelf)

  • Mr. Bigglesworth

    Somewhere in the background, emitted from a mellow jukebox, a raspy voice crooned: "Waaaaaahm beeya, cooooold women."

  • Amanda

    I had to fill that niche you're describing just last night, waiting for a friend to arrive for a movie in Georgetown. And while, sure, it's kind of a big fish in DC's pond and it's in Georgetown, god dam but that was a great burger and beer. Hit all the right spots, cooked perfectly, beer was icy cold. Toledo Lounge is a great suggestion too; if I lived closer I'd be there all the time.

  • Kev29

    Try The Saloon? I've never had their burger though. Bar staff can be a bit eccentric and worried about all the rules, but nice when I've been there. Or maybe Duffy's by 9:30? Get the Great Lakes Dortmunder and the burger served between two grilled cheese sandwiches.

    And sorry, but this just isn't a Bud heavy town anymore. But with all the incredible beers you can get on tap nowadays, who cares?

  • elwood blues

    Hey 'Tom'. Do you equate going out for a designated nite of binge drinking with so called "freinds" whom you probably offend in the process, something to be proud of? Well, it may come as a surprise to you that a lot of people may just like to pop in for a quick beer on their way home from work at a local place where they know the bartenders, and they can be in and out without battling big crowds or having to make plans with friends to make it happen. Not everyone drinks 10 beers when they go to a bar. Lots of folks are comfortable enough with themselves to stop in at their 'local' and have a pop before heading to their destination. You are mean spirited and ignorant.

  • dan riley

    Toledo fits the bill

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