The Tombs: A Basement Space Defined By Its Shape
Following the recommendation of a food friend, I found myself at The Tombs in Georgetown this past weekend. I'd chosen a lazy and cold Sunday afternoon to avoid what I thought would be a typical college crowd. I anticipated nachos, wings, and what's said to be a great burger, but the menu ended up being irrelevant. The owners responsible for the basement bar on 36th Street NW also run the Clyde's restaurant collection, in addition to Old Ebbitt Grill downtown, and The Tombs' upstairs neighbors, 1789.
To describe the food here would be redundant. All the Clyde's Restaurant Group's locations offer predictable but well-executed bar food. What sets The Tombs apart, however, might have something to do with the space it inhabits.
D.C. has plenty of bar and restaurants that fill long and narrow spaces, many former rowhouses or smaller commercial structures. New construction sometimes offers larger, more open floor plans, but often at the cost of that warm feeling only older architecture can afford. The Tombs, however, has both history and space working to its advantage.
It also has a good bar, as in the physical bar structure. It's a three-sided affair studded with brass accents and the scars of pre-smoking ban cigarettes. Embedded name plates note sparse details of Tombs employees. The name plates offer a conversation starter for drinkers who face each other, instead of the staff.
Given The Tombs' proximity to Georgetown University, students definitely dominate. Although I'm removed from my undergraduate days by more than a decade, I didn't feel slightly out of place. On an extended visit recently, I talked to seniors, recent graduates, and long-time neighborhood residents. A food runner stopped by on his day off and joined in, followed by a writer, a basketball player, and a father toting three kids.
At a standard bar, you might meet two new people sitting to your left and right. A bar with a corner makes interaction easier, creates more eye contact, and opens up the space. A bar with two corners? Well, that's a real find.
The food is straightforward and good. I ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup to keep the cold at bay, and the brunette to my left stole a bite. Still hungry, I ordered some wings cooked double crispy. The kitchen fries them once, hits them with sauce, and fries them a second time to produce a dry crunchy skin. Drenched with a side of extra sauce they were perfect, and I doused the heat with a pitcher of cold cheap beer.
By 6 o'clock, I felt things shift around me. My first bartender cashed out, and was followed by a younger, scruffier, and bow-tied replacement. A human crush had formed near the door and the median age was falling. It was dark outside and students had decided it was time to blow off some steam—a perfect indication it was time for me to leave.
Photos by Scott Reitz