D.C. Needs a Signature Beer

Baltimore has Natty Boh, Chicago has Old Style, Milwaukee has Schlitz, Minneapolis has Hamm’s, Austin has Lone Star and an amorphous swath of the Midwest has Busch Light — so why doesn’t D.C. have a signature cheap beer?

Not to say there’s any shortage of cheap beer in D.C. — I’ve been swilling it for years at various spots around town. But we don’t have that one cheap beer that’s synonymous with the city. Why is that?

One theory: All the cheap beers cited above were guzzled by a previous generation of blue-collar types — truck drivers and steel workers, who punched out at the union-mandated end of the day, retired to the bar to get soused, then stumbled home to yell at their wives and kids and then pass out face-first in the mashed potatoes.

For the next generation of urbanites, there’s an ironic appeal in tapping into that history — and it doesn’t hurt, after several decades of flat wage growth, that these beers are cheaper than dirt (and taste like it).

By this logic, the reason that D.C. doesn’t have a signature cheap beer is that Chocolate City was never a big blue-collar union town with a manufacturing base. But there’s another possibility.

What if D.C. does have a signature cheap beer, but it’s one that’s SO cheap that it can’t be sold in bars, and thus the millennials reading this article on their phones have no idea it even exists?

I lived in Shaw for a decade, paying minuscule rent in a rundown rowhouse, slumming it on unemployment for five or six of those years (long story), and in my experience, there was one beer that almost everyone bought in that mini-rush before the corner stores closed: Steel Reserve. I’d go so far as to say that if you took a survey among D.C.’s broke folks, bums, winos and general ne’er-do-wells, you’d find that Steel Reserve was actually D.C.’s low-key official cheap beer.

Why? Because a tallboy was 99 cents. And at just over 8% alcohol, it’s by far the cheapest way to get drunk on beer.

But even though it’s got an excess of street cred, it tastes really, really bad.

Let’s be honest, when people say beers like PBR taste bad, what they’re actually saying is that they don’t have a taste; they taste like tap water. But Steel Reserve very much has a taste, and that taste is shockingly, appallingly bad.

Imagine lawn clippings and urinal cakes soaked in leaded gasoline, left in the sun for two weeks.

It’s worse than Natty Ice, worse than Bud Light Lime, worse than actual pee (probably). You couldn’t even charge a dollar a pint for it in a bar; I’m pretty sure you couldn’t even give it away.

But who knows? If I walked into a bar, and they had Steel Reserve on tap, I might not order a pint (no, I definitely would not order a pint), but I would laugh and take an obnoxious photo of it for Instagram.

Could the pull of nostalgia, street cred and a savvy social media campaign be enough to overcome rock-bottom quality? In 2019, it’s not only possible, it’s an absolute certainty.

Maybe it’s time for D.C.’s signature cheap beer to step out of the shadows and into the zeitgeist.


Celebrate Oktoberfest for an Uber Good Time

Oktoberfest is in full swing in bars and restaurants all over the DMV, so don your lederhosen, braid your hair and hoist a mug in a toast to this revered, two-week festival dedicated to drinking beer.

The tradition of Oktoberfest comes specifically from the Bavarian section of Germany, in the southeast part of the country. According to Time magazine, the festival originated with the wedding of Prince Ludwig of Bavaria to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen more than 200 years ago. Imagine if your wedding was so epic the celebration became a worldwide holiday?!

As much as we love to drink beer out of steins during Oktoberfest, the truth is, Germans drink different beers from many different vessels. For instance, glasses are considered more appropriate for lighter beers. Steins, on the other hand, are sturdy and meant for longer binges. You may have seen decorative steins with lids — these were originally intended to help prevent the spread of plague.

German beer glasses, mugs, and steins get waaaaaaaay more complicated than this — check out German Girl in America for a real in-depth analysis.

While the focus of Oktoberfest is on beer, traditional Bavarian music is also often a part of the fun. And as far as the food is concerned, you may be familiar with Bavarian cream donuts, but you have to eat your dinner first. This may consist of bratwurst, Wienerschnitzel or spatzle. Many of our local German eateries offer foods from all over the country, including pretzels, potato soup, burgers, hot dogs and sausages.

Lots of local bars will feature German beers as the festival continues through Oct. 6, but try to include a stop at one of these authentic, local biergartens, many of which have outdoor seating and are dog-friendly:

Happy Birthday Bhlen!

Sometimes it seems like we just started this venture yesterday, and other times we can hardly remember what life was like before it.

We’ve poured our hearts and souls into this app, helping locals, tourists and business travelers find bars, restaurants and fun things to do throughout the DMV.

One of the first posts we did last year was about Oktoberfest, and as it’s almost upon us again, we took a moment to look back on all the exciting events we wrote about in our first year in business. We covered DC Fashion Week, Dia de los Muertos, the H Street Festival, DC Cocktail Week, Zoolights, Howard Homecoming, the Chocolate Lovers Festival, Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, Chinese New Year, Cupid’s Undie Run, the Cherry Blossom Festival and Cinco de Mayo. We also reviewed dozens of happy hours and hotspots throughout the greater D.C. area.

We formed a partnership with the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington and helped direct patrons to bars and restaurants participating in Cocktail Week, Restaurant Week (winter and summer) and Spring Wine Fling. We did the same with the city’s first Black Restaurant Week last November.

We also partnered with Joonbug.com and helped with their bar crawls in D.C. and New York during Cinco de Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day. We gave City Winery a hand in helping to bring more attention to their weekly live events.

In short, if you can eat, drink or have fun there, we’re on it.

The future looks bright for Bhlen.com. Last week we attended the IMEX worldwide exhibition for incentive travel, meetings and events conference in Las Vegas. There, we were identified and validated as an upcoming innovative platform expected to thrive within the global meeting space. We also made deals with promoters and event planners in Las Vegas to begin assisting visitors and locals there with day and evening parties.

We are excited about our new opportunities and look forward to growing. We plan to keep you all happy and smiling as we continue on this journey.

Party on, D.C.



Cirque de Soleil’s Volta is Electricfying

Cirque du Soleil’s Volta only has 11 days left in its run in Tysons, so get your tickets now, before it’s too late!

If you’re not familiar with Cirque, FYI, it has little in common with the now-defunct Ringling Bros. circus. This show has no animals, clowns or tightropes; entertainment is centered around acrobatics. In fact, Cirque du Soleil started out as a small band of performers who juggled, danced and performed other acts of derring-do in the streets of Quebec in the 1980s. Their fan base grew, and today they perform 13 different shows in cities all over the world.

In Volta, Cirque stays true to its origins of street but adds in sports, treating audiences to performances incorporating jump ropes, unicycles, bicycles, makeshift apartment buildings and other common elements of an urban landscape — even washers in a laundromat.

Acrobats leap from “buildings” and bounce off a trampoline only to soar back up and land on two feet like a boomerang video. BMX bike riders tear up vertical ramps, fly into the air and twist and twirl before making a perfect landing as they shoot back down again.

Mr. Wow

A group of double Dutch jump-ropers leap and flip through the twisting ropes as if the obstacles aren’t even there. Individual acrobats take turns jumping and soaring through a series of hoops they stack higher and higher. A unicycle rider balances a passenger in innumerable positions as he adeptly pedals in circles.

While the show is amazing to watch and the costumes are a kaleidoscope of stunning colors, there’s a deeper message in Volta that transcends the flashy “Wow” factor, and it’s to reject and rise above judgment and be yourself, no matter what others think.

This idea is conveyed through the show’s main character, Waz, who has blue feathers for hair. This anomaly brings him shame, and he tries to hide his difference to gain acceptance and admiration from others. Spoiler alert: He learns to embrace his differences and lives happily ever after.

Volta is entertaining, beautiful and magical. Don’t miss it.

Volta, through Sept. 29, 8025 Galleria Dr, Tysons, VA; tickets, $49-$255.


The Reach: Please Touch

The Reach: Please Touch

The Reach Opening Festival is under way at the Kennedy Center, and you can get free tickets to events through Sept. 22.

The Reach is taking ars gratia artis (art for art’s sake) to a new level with the opening of their $250 million complex where the line between artists and audiences is intentionally blurred.

The facility describes itself as “a living theater where diverse art forms collide to break down the boundaries between audience and art.” Kennedy Center President Deborah Rutter said in a Washington Post article that what happens in the Reach is “the opposite” of what happens in the Kennedy Center. It’s not sitting and watching, it’s standing and doing. It’s not gowns and tuxes, it’s jeans and flip-flops.

All day, every day, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m., the Reach is hosting events that are free and open to the public. What can you do and see there?

  • In the Moonshot Studio, learn to draw, write poetry, mix beats and choreograph.
  • Be part of the Royal Swedish Opera or the Lion King in the Virtual Reality Lounge, or get a taste of what Traveling While Black is like.
  • Finally figure out how professional dancers work their magic in Installation: Slow Dancing, a film showing dancers in 10 minutes of extreme slow motion.
  • In between events, step out on the Skylight Pavilion and immerse yourself in music, projected images, sounds and live performances
  • Area schools can get into the game too, with field trips scheduled every day in which D.C. public school students get to watch a performance and participate in workshops.
  • Teachers can attend special events as well, including a conversation with renowned children’s author Mo Willems (author of Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus).
  • Watch films, including Black Panther, the 2018 blockbuster starring Chadwick Boseman; America to Me, a documentary about students in elite Chicago neighborhoods; and Showboat, a Washington National Opera production of the 1920s classic musical.
  • Collaborate with friends and strangers in Infinite Monster, a space you can go into to draw a monster without being able to see what the others are drawing until you come out again. See your creation after online!
  • Listen to Olmeca, billed as an artist, activist and scholar, talk about art, culture and politics as seen through the eyes of struggling populations. He’s a first-generation American who has lived in the jungles of Chiapas, Mexico.
  • See comedians Rachel Dratch and Jon Glaser perform sketch comedy with members of Second City.
  • Master Class: Dancing for All Abilities with MYB Music in Motion is geared toward children with disabilities, though anyone 5 and older is welcome to participate.
  • Learn more about the Peace Corps, a program in which volunteers assist those struggling with poverty, famine and other major life stresses in other countries. Started by President John F. Kennedy in 1961, this highly respected organization is still thriving today.

All events are free. Most are open to the public, but some are invitation only. Peruse the entire schedule, then get your free passes.

The Reach, next to the Kennedy Center, 2700 F St NW

Art All Night — Enlightenment Past Your Bedtime

When you’re done sampling some of the brews featured at bars throughout the city for DC Beer Week, feed your cultured side at Art All Night, a free arts festival in eight neighborhoods starting at 7 p.m. Saturday and continuing into Sunday morning. Watch dancers and painters, hear musicians, take a look at photos, sculptures, films, fashion and more.


This neighborhood is the birthplace of Art All Night — where it all started in 2011. This year, at ShawtasticVoyage, from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., you can participate in interactive events, watch the parade, try some do-it-yourself art and check out the street performers and face & body painters.

Congress Heights

Enjoy live art demonstrations, music and a fashion show at this neighborhood’s All Night Homecoming, 7 p.m. to 3 a.m., 3109 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. & 5th Street SE. Music genres include rap, go-go, swing, soca, funk, R&B, hip hop and more.

Deanwood Heights

This is Deanwood’s first year participating in Art All Night, and they plan to have music, dancing, food, poetry and photography, plus a bus that can take you to all the Ward 7 participating locations. See circus spinners, a Chinese lion and more, 7 p.m. to midnight.

Dupont Circle

Experience music, dance, painting, sculptures and photos in more than 22 locations — including the embassies of Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, Cote D’Ivoire, Guatemala and Peru, 7 p.m. to midnight.

H Street

Feast for the Senses, running from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., includes music, dance, photos, fashion, film, poetry, literature and … fire!

Minnesota Avenue

Music, dance, poetry, interactive activities and more will be on tap for Swinging in the Streets, running from 7 p.m. to midnight. For details on performances and their locations, visit the Community Welcome Center at the Benning Road Library, 3935 Benning Road NE.


See more than 200 artists at 19 venues in this neighborhood — including a silent disco, pop-up comedy club, bluegrass showcase and an arts market — celebrating from 7 p.m. to midnight.

North Capitol

Attend concerts, see a fashion show and shop at an art and fashion bazaar at Visual Candy: Good & Plenty. Experience more than 100 artists in eight locations from 7 p.m. to 3 a.m.





Beer Events All Week!

We’re in the thick of DC Beer Week, with fun events scheduled all week to celebrate this yeasty libation.

  • Stop in between 4 and 11 tonight at Churchkey, 1337 14th St. NW, where all 55 taps are pouring local beers. Buy a 4-ounce taster or a whole glass.
  • Taste local Montgomery County beers and vote for your favorite, 5-7 p.m. Tuesday, Dawson’s Market, 225 N Washington St, Rockville, MD.
  • Taste and vote for one of six barrel-aged beers from 6:30 to 10 p.m. Tuesday at Boundary Stone, 116 Rhode Island Ave. NW. Tickets, $30 advance, $35 at the door; VIP tickets $60, early entry at 5:30 to meet with brewers, free snacks, glass and T-shirt.
  • Listen to two beer connoisseurs talk about their experiences with beer all over the world from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Heurich House Museum, 1307 New Hampshire Ave NW; tickets, $10.
  • Meet the strong, beer-loving women who create brews in and around D.C. and listen to the panel discussion, 6-10 p.m. Thursday, Red Bear Brewing, 209 M St. NE.
  • Go on a tour of 19th-century brewer Christian Heurich’s home that is now a museum, 1307 New Hampshire Ave NW, and sample a flight of three local beers from 5 to 6:30 p.m. Friday.
  • Hop aboard the Potomac Riverboat’s Miss Mallory for this DC-Brau sponsored sunset cruise; 6-8 p.m. Friday. Departs from The Wharf near Transit Pier in Southwest D.C. Tickets, $75, includes one beer and hors d’oeuvres, additional beer available for purchase.
  • Get limber with beer yoga from noon-1 p.m. Saturday, Right Proper, 624 T St NW. Flight of three beers, free tote bag, jelly bean bar.
  • Head out to Union Market, 1309 5th St. NE, Saturday from 2 to 6 p.m. to sample beers from more than 40 local brewers. Live music, schmooze with brewers. Tickets $60-$80.

You can find other beer specials throughout the week at Brookland Pint, Red Bear Brewing Company/Distillery Lane Cider Works, Area Two, Brookland Pint, Pizza Paradiso, Port City Brewing Company, The Partisan, City Tap Penn Quarter, Redrocks, Bronson Bier Hall, Anxo and Aslin.



Feel the Heat at Sneaker Con This Weekend

Pull your kicks out of your closet — or your special velvet-lined, humidity-controlled box — lace ’em up (or Velcro them closed) and head out to Sneaker Con DC this weekend.

The sneakerheads are coming together at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to buy, sell and trade top brands, including:

  • Adidas
  • Jordan
  • Nike
  • Vans
  • Converse
  • Yeezy
  • Reebok
  • New Balance
  • Balenciaga

Plan to spend money — the Air Jordan 11 Jeters are $27,000. No, that’s not a typo — 2-7-0-0-0. Will the owner bring them to the show in a suitcase handcuffed to his arm, like a jeweler?! Yes, I’m using sexist language. Sneakerhead women exist, but they are few and far between. 

Although the Jeters are by far the most expensive pair of sneakers at this convention, you will find dozens more for several thousand dollars each.

If you can’t afford your fire sneakers, take heart — you can get a pair of Barkley Posite Max Sixers for $10. In fact, there are dozens of options under $50.

Once you’re out of money, roam around with the pack of dudes you came with and gawk at what 10 grand looks like displayed on top of a cardboard box.

Remember when teenage boys had to have jobs serving fries or stocking shelves instead of making big bucks trading shoes online?

Devotees have been all about that sneakerhead life since the first convention in NYC 2009. The venues have grown in size and the tour has gone international. Just a few years ago, Sneaker Con DC was held at the Armory. Then it moved to Gaylord and now it’s at the convention center. Sneakers aren’t just a fad like Beanie Babies and Cabbage Patch kids were. It’s become a way of life.

Organizers say each event has its own flavor, depending on the city it’s happening in. Here in D.C., expect attendees to be looking for Yeezys and Jordan 1s.

Wear ’em, store ’em, buy ’em, sell ’em — just get yourself some sneakers!

Sneaker Con, noon to 7 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 7 and 8, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, 801 Mt. Vernon Place NW; tickets, $28 one day, $40 both days.


Pancakes & Booze Tonight

The founders of the Pancakes and Booze tour want you to take the time and trouble to learn a little bit about local art. So to draw you in, they are selling booze and offering free, all-you-can-eat pancakes to go with it!

View more than 500 pieces of art — including drawings, paintings, photos and sculptures — by more than 100 local artists. Vendors will also be on hand, selling items such as handcrafted jewelry, hand-painted sneakers and more. Demonstrations include live body painting and other creative arts. Hear music by local DJs and producers.

I attended this a couple of years ago — the crowd was a freaky group of all ages and backgrounds and the atmosphere was lively and throbbing. The price this year is three times what it was two years ago, so that speaks to the show’s success and popularity.

Get there early, the line is long.

Tonight, 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the Howard Theater, 620 T St NW; tickets, $15 general admission, $18 line-jumper


Get Started Early on DC Beer Week

Did you know next week is DC Beer Week? Maybe every week here in D.C. is beer week for you, but organizers are trying to make next week special with a slate of events paying homage to everyone’s favorite fermented grain beverage.

A few (unsanctioned) beer-themed events precede the start of the official festival Sunday, Sept. 8, so why not start celebrating early?

District ChopHouse & Brewery 9th Annual Cask Night + 5th Annual Cask Day

Stop by this downtown stalwart to sample beers from 20 local breweries. Your $55 ticket gets you a bottomless tasting cup and light snacks.

6-11 p.m. Friday, Sept. 6 and noon to 5 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, District ChopHouse & Brewery, 509 7th St. NW

Brews Around the World: D.C. International Beer, Wine & Food Festival

They’ve got wine and food, but the focus is on beer for this all-day celebration, where you get to taste more than 80 beers from around the world. (Please consider Metro, Lyft or a DD.) Tickets are $30 per session (Session 1, 1-4 p.m.; Session 2, 5-8 p.m.; pay $40 and get in early at 12:30 or 4:30 p.m.); prices go up to $54 and $74 as the event gets closer.

To placate your girlfriend or your wine snob buddy, festival organizers will offer at least 24 wines, 10 hard ciders and several hard sodas as well. A separate Oktoberfest area will feature a dozen beers from Bavaria. No word on whether there will be any Bavarian cream doughnuts, but the festival will offer nibbles and snacks throughout the day. If you get a hankering for more than a pretzel, hit up one of the food trucks that will be there (but that’s extra $).

12:30 to 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7 at The Bullpen, 1201 Half Street SE

Tacos ’N Taps Festival

Channel college-you at this all-you-can-drink beer, tequila and taco fest. General admission, which includes more than 60 types of unlimited drink tastings, souvenir cup, contests, games and more from 1 to 5 p.m., is $36.

More than 15 vendors will sell tacos and other Mexican food, with prices starting at $3. The VIP experience ($71) allows you to drink for longer (you get in early — at noon!). You also get four taco tickets, a sombrero, your own separate port-a-potties and “some surprises.” Designated driver tickets are $25; kids under 12 are free, but no kids activities are planned.

12-6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 7, Akridge Lot (next to Audi Field), 1880 2nd St. SW

DC Beer Week Fun Run

Chug a beer, run 1.5 miles, then get another beer as a reward. The beer is free, but it costs $10 to run — $25 if you want a T-shirt. Proceeds go to the DC Brewers Guild, a 501(c)(6) organization.

10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 8, Right Proper Brewing Company Brookland Production House + Tasting Room, 920 Girard St. NE.