Dive bars are beautiful places. Sure, they’re dirty, loud, and cluttered. But in that chaos beauty exists. Authenticity exists. That authenticity is not something that can’t be manufactured, though many bars and especially craft brewery taprooms try (no, that giant Jenga set isn’t making your space any more real). This is where dive bars find a niche as places where real people want a real beer with no frills and on the cheap.
No place is this truer than with one of DC’s best-kept secrets, The Pug. A lighted bar sign above the entrance proclaims, “YOU ARE WELCOME HERE.” The message is put into practice at the Pug as its patrons are people from all walks of life from the diverse, though quickly gentrifying, H Street neighborhood. According to owner Tony Tomelden, referred to as Tony T, the Pug is meant to be the anti-Hill, anti-exclusivity, punk rock watering hole.
The Pug checks all the boxes for a great dive bar. The aforementioned requirements of a dirty and loud atmosphere are instantly noticeable. There’s also an abundance of Christmas decorations adorning the walls, all year long: “I have three more storage containers full of that kind of shit,” says Tony T. The one rule in the bar is “no shooters, no bombs, no idiots.” You can buy a Natty Boh tallboy for four bucks, or kick in an extra dollar for a ‘Gannsett or PBR.
Surprisingly, The Pug also features a great craft beer lineup as well, with offerings from Atlas and DC Brau among other local and regional brews. Maybe the solution to unlocking a new customer base for craft brewing lies not in fancy new taprooms, but in dive bar establishments like The Pug. Certainly, the clientele and gritty attitude of The Pug is the image many breweries are hoping to project. Yet, even when a brewery aims for that persona, do they actually reach the people they’re hoping to? Food for thought.
As the redevelopment of H Street continues, one wonders what might happen to neighborhood hangouts like The Pug. While the streetcar line may increase the economic activity of the H Street Corridor, it also brings the threat of rising property values and customers opposed to the gritty nature that makes places like The Pug so authentic. For now, though, The Pug is still a place to go order a Boh, cheer on the Nats, and meet your neighbors.
This article was written by John Harry, a grad student at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee. He’s recently published a book on the Stevens Point Brewery, the second oldest in the U.S. This summer he was an H Street resident as an intern at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. He worked closely with America’s Beer Historian, Theresa McCulla, Ph.D., Historian, American Brewing History Initiative, National Museum of American History, Smithsonian Institution. He was kind enough to share his thoughts on one of our favorite watering holes.