Young and Hungry

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

  • jtonzi

    I love Trusty's. We'd go after ultimate frisbee games and spend the afternoon eating greasy bar food and playing drinking games with whatever board game or cards we felt like turning into a boozefest. Definitely a dive bar, but truly worth visiting.

  • esquire

    Cheesesteaks should have nothing but cheese and steak...anything else is an abomination before Homer.

  • monkeyrotica

    Cheesesteak snobbery. How quaintly regional. I will agree a Philly cheesesteak is all about cheese and steak, a DC steak & cheese is a symphony of ribeye, provo, mayo, pickles, mustard, slaw, and violent explosive diarrhea. The acidity of the mustard and pickles helps cut richness of the cheese and meat, like cornichons and paté. Also, the Chinese carryout nextdoor to Trusty's makes a pretty decent loaded version. Get the footlong. You'll swear you've gone to hell.

  • esquire

    monkey - you used the words acidity. acidity has no place in the salty sweet cheesy beefy goodness of a real cheesesteak.

    maybe drizzle a bit of truffle oil and throw a dash of garlic powder on it, but those other things will just give you heartburn.

  • Scott Reitz

    I'm with the key. I'm glad I'm not from Philly. I can order my steak however I want.

  • Eric

    Cheese steak my @ss. If you go to Trusty's try the buffalo chicken cheese steak. I haven't eaten anything else there in 2 years since I first had one. It's a work of art. Trusty's claims to have invented it. I find that a bit of a stretch, but they certainly perfected it.

  • Bryant Turnage

    Great write-up. Trusty's is my favorite bar, being just a couple of blocks from my apartment. It really earns the moniker "dive bar" in the best of ways. I actually always get the burger, having had it the first time I was there and loved it from the first bite, but now I'll definitely have to give the cheesesteak a go. Oh, and I have it on good authority (my girlfriend) that the white bean chicken chili is far better than you'd expect in a beer-and-beef joint like Trusty's.

  • monkeyrotica

    @esquire - And yet otherwise sane people continue to stick hot, vinegary cherry peppers on their cheesesteaks, rendering the commode uninhabitable for days.

  • monkeyrotica

    The also serve cheesesteaks in Philly with L/T/M. They're called "cheesesteak hoagies" and they're nothing to be ashamed of.

  • Tommy Greer

    Scott I guess I make cheesesteaks like u report or critique. Last time I counted I had all my digits after 5 years. That might take care of the clumsiness. On the other side I'll not report on the times u ate there while shitfaced at the bar. You travelled from U st, to come there and eat. I guess we must do something "clumsily" "oversized " and right. Thanks for the heads up on the e-mail u were supposed to send also. From one true pro to another. Tommy G. Jackass.

  • Taz

    I've also been to Trusty's on many occasions and enjoy the company of the bartender you mentioned. I never knew his name prior to this article because he's usually on his I-phone and sometimes not so friendly. I've heard him Growl at a few folks at one time or another if they're not a Liverpool supporter as he is. It's a great place and I'll go again and again, but I must disagree with the comment about his T-shirt, I've never seen a loose one on him.