Trusty’s on Capitol Hill Has ‘Ugly Faces,’ an Enticing Cheesesteak
If you've come into Trusty's any night but Wednesday and ordered a beer, there's a good chance Tommy Greer poured it for you. The stocky, bearded bartender has been working here since the Capitol Hill joint opened five years ago near the Potomac Avenue Metrorail station, manning the taps and liquor bottles, as well as the flat grill that turns out cheesesteaks, burgers, and dogs.
The native of Derry, Ireland, sports a thick brogue along with his standard uniform of jeans and a slightly oversized T-shirt. On a recent evening, he's wearing a Mr. T number, the tag sticking out the back at the nape of his neck.
There are probably 15 stools lined up along Trusty's bar at any given time. One of them has a leg a full inch shorter than the rest, and for whatever reason, it's always the stool I grab first. Ball jars line the metal bar top, waiting to be filled with Yuengling, Sierra Nevada or Miller Lite. A fourth tap isn't working during my most recent visit.
Rocking back and forth on my rickety stool, I order the same sandwich I've had most times I come. I've worked through most of the menu, but every time a cheesesteak passes by and it's not mine, I feel like I've missed out.
In truth, it's nothing special. Watching Greer slap a frozen slab of shaved rib-eye on the grill, I don't notice anything distinguishable. He looks clumsy wielding a huge bread knife to cut lettuce and onions. But then he grabs a bottle of bourbon.
With the flick of a wrist the bottle is upside-down and he's deglazing the grill with a whoosh of boozy steam. Greer's clearly more comfortable slinging drinks than making bar food. The bourbon evaporates completely, leaving the faintest whisper of oak and caramel. It's very subtle, but nice, and just one of the reasons I've come back here a number of times.
Trusty's is another bar with a strong neighborhood draw where regulars outnumber newcomers. On one visit, I debated the merits of Brett Favre's career when measured up against Cal Ripken's with a young couple who lived nearby. On another, I met an older lady who says she's lived on the Hill for decades, plays bingo at the VFW, and claims to have hung out with Hunter S. Thompson a few times.
When it's dark outside, the lighting fixtures made from old oil cans barely provide enough light. The automotive theme continues elsewhere, and turns menacing in the bathroom. Snapshots line the wall of the men's room: pictures of vintage Buicks, Chevelles, and even a Datsun—all wrecked—some mangled beyond recognition.
Back up front, one of the owners tosses three massive New York strips on the grill alongside a massive pile of potatoes and onions. His staff deserves a break from Trusty's regular menu.
Noting my empty glass, Greer asks if I'll have another. As he pours, I mention I haven't been here much since the Nationals moved to their new stadium closer to the Navy Yard. "That's a long time ago. Lots of shots of Jameson been drank here since then," he said looking over his shoulder as he poured my beer. "Same ugly faces though."
Photo by Scott Reitz