Lyman’s Tavern: Warm Atmosphere, Cool People

Not all bars have a mascot. In fact, most probably don’t. But there’s a lot that’s different about Lyman’s Tavern, a beloved neighborhood bar at the southern tip of Piney Branch Park on 14th Street NW in Petworth, and the most memorable may be their affinity for the (mythological) jackalope.

Stationed at various intervals throughout this dimly lit local watering hole, the jackalopes bring a little humor and campiness (as well as a few cobwebs).

People complain about the gentrification of Petworth, but Lyman’s Tavern, on the block for five years, isn’t to blame. They didn’t have to beat their furniture with chains to get that distressed, shabby-chic look — it was already like that. The paint is chipped, and the shelves are crowded with odds and ends, including a pencil holder, an old radio, a gumball machine, an old seltzer bottle and a cocktail shaker — it’s like a flea market or the Mansion on O Street.

It’s comforting. Not like the bar at the Four Seasons, where terror strikes your heart if you spill your drink or have to throw up.  

The pinball machines at Lyman’s are another fun throwback. I was there on a fairly low-key Sunday evening, when most of the seats were taken by young hipsters who preferred conversation and laughs to flashing lights and flippers. In fact, this bar is so hip, local artist Robin Bell — extra-famous of late for getting hassled by Capitol Police for projecting “Discrimination is Wrong” onto the Capitol building — stopped by. He plugged his exhibition at the The Atrium Galleries at GWU to my companion before joining a jovial crowd out on the patio, despite the evening’s chill.

The bartenders at Lyman’s are efficient, friendly and helpful. Although I frequently drink Angry Orchard hard cider, they didn’t have that, so bartender Arnold Robles recommended Supreme Core’s Nother Mother, a grapefruity cider with hops that made it seem more beer, less apple juice.

It was actually a bit too beery for me, so next he offered me the locally brewed Anxo District Dry, which was more my speed. It was drier and less sweet than my go-to cider, but less bitter than the Nother Mother.

My companion, a repeat customer at Lyman’s, usually enjoys their tacos and well-considered whisky list, although he opted for local beers the night we were there.

If you enjoy a relaxed atmosphere, super-cheap happy hour specials and free popcorn, Lyman’s Tavern is the place for you.


Lyman’s Tavern, 3720 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20011

 

Shake off Winter with Margaritas at Mexicali Blues

There’s no use trying to resist that funky hot-pink-and-aqua building with the West Coast vibe on the corner of North Garfield and Wilson Boulevard in Arlington. Mexicali Blues, a Mexican/Salvadorean restaurant, fairly beckons to passers-by to stop in and take a break from winter — whenever it snows, margaritas are only $3. Our future neighbor in Crystal City doesn’t even deliver used books at those prices.

The small dining room was just beginning to fill up when I was seated for happy hour at 5:30 on Friday. Word about the end of the government shutdown was buzzing, but that wasn’t the only reason I immediately decompressed. Salsa music, bright colors and boho murals made me feel I was in a cozy neighborhood bar in Key West. The staff was attentive but not pushy. My waiter, Isaac, said the family-friendly atmosphere was what he most appreciated about working there. Right on cue, two guys came in with toddlers in baby carriers.

Isaac swiftly brought me a menu, chips and salsa — and not the standard big-red-bowl/little-green-bowl-with-basket-of-bland-salty-triangles. This serrano pepper salsa had a smoky mesquite flavor and sturdy chips that actually tasted like roasted corn. The aforementioned margarita ($5 at happy hour when skies are clear) also defied convention with its pleasantly surprising Key lime flavor.

The menu has a wide selection of Mexican and Salvadorean dishes for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The priciest entree is the shrimp fajita dinner at $21.95, with the average price being $9. Happy hour prices are a great deal, with two-for-one appetizers and $4.95 guacamole.

Mexicali Blues is known for its pupusas ($3.50) — stuffed corn tortillas — so I ordered the two vegetarian options: the loroco, made of a Salvadorean edible flower, and the bean and cheese. They were delicately browned and delicious, served with an equally tasty side of cabbage and carrots marinated in vinegar —very fresh and very spicy. My Salvadorean-American guest said she enjoyed her plantanas fritas (served with sour cream and refried beans for $11).

The closeness of the tables allowed for easy mingling with other patrons. Caitlin, a 20-something woman who just moved from Boston, was celebrating her escape from two catastrophes — the shutdown and her home city’s quasi-prohibition.

“In Boston, happy hour is illegal, so I’m sold on the $5 margaritas,” she said.

She was seated with Raven, visiting from Newport News, who sang the praises of both the margaritas and the fried onion rings with chipotle ranch sauce.

Other eye-catchers on the menu: yuca con chicharron, $11.95, is yuca (a South American root plant similar to cassava) boiled or fried and served with fried pork, marinated cabbage, tomato and pica crema. Breakfast features the Placido Domingo, sautéed home fries with melted cheddar, fried eggs and ranchero salsa with a side of tortillas, and an option to add steak or chorizo. Huevos rancheros are also on the menu, of course.

Mexicali Blues celebrated its 20th anniversary with a party last summer, which Isaac said was a rousing success. Mardis Gras and Dia del Muertos are also big draws, as is Sunday night karaoke. The biggest crowds are in the summer, when the sidewalk patio is opens. But I, along with many others I’m sure, don’t intend to wait that long. When the polar vortex hits in a couple weeks, I will be taking my seat at one of those umbrella-covered tables buried in snow, drinking my $3 margaritas and not feeling at all cold.

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Mexicali Blues, 2933 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, Virginia 22201; hours, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

 

 

Happy Hour Downright Blissful at Bangkok 54

Can you imagine a utopian bar where it’s happy our seven days a week and they only use premium liquor instead of rotgut?

Not only does it exist — it’s nearby. Bangkok 54, a Thai restaurant on Columbia Pike in South Arlington, VA, is just minutes from the Pentagon and Pentagon City Mall and a few short miles from Downtown D.C. It has long been famous for its food, but not as many are aware of their happy hour.

Over the years, I’ve learned to file venues with happy hours into categories.  The first is location. Bangkok 54 isn’t near a Metro station, but it’s easily accessible by car, as well as the Number 16 Metrobus.

The second is alcohol quality. Bangkok only uses premium alcohol, happy hour or nah.

Third is the ambience. I love the décor at Bangkok — it’s simple, yet elegant. The gray mixed with red give the restaurant a sophisticated look, and the tiny, intricately carved statues deliver a definitive Asian feel.

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While happy hour at Bangkok is only two hours (4 to 6 p.m.), the quality of the drinks and the fact you can partake any day of the week more than make up for it. In fact, Bangkok just may be elevating the standards of our local bars. Rather than encouraging you to drink Bud Lite or a mysterious “rum punch” for four hours, they give you a limited taste of the good life. Take advantage of it.