Somehow is a new, infrequently recurring, column in which DCBeer editor emeritus Bill DeBaun considers surprising phenomena in the DC beer scene that exist… somehow. Today, how Georgetown of all places has somehow become the best beer neighborhood in DC.
I’ve made a lot on Twitter over the past year about how the floor for the average bar or restaurant’s beer selection rose tremendously over the past decade. Honestly, it’s a double-edged sword: great for consumers and not-so-great for said bars and restaurants. The distribution of spots with decent-to-good beer lists is much wider than it used to be (though, notably, not everywhere across the city; the first beer bar to open in Wards 7 and 8 will surely get a food media bump).
Finding good beer lists in more places doesn’t mean they aren’t still geographically concentrated. Over the years Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, Navy Yard, and H Street have all laid claim to high concentrations of beer bars. At various points, each could have probably claimed the title of best beer neighborhood in DC. Though DCBeer once had a “good beer guide” for Georgetown, perhaps the most nationally well-known DC neighborhood outside of Capitol Hill, it was largely in the craft beer wilderness for years. No longer. Somehow the tony, infuriatingly inaccessible (geographically and financially) neighborhood has become the best beer destination in the city.
It pains me to make this claim. Truly it does. Georgetown is a pain in the ass to get to from most of the rest of DC. The first person to point me to all of the various bus lines that run to it is getting Stanley-from-The-Office-eyeroll.gif’ed. I don’t enjoy getting over there, and I personally rarely do it. That said, a beer venue lineup of Pizzeria Paradiso, The Sovereign, The Berliner, and Church Hall is strong enough to put Georgetown on top of the beer neighborhood rankings.
It’s not just the volume of beer bars that makes a neighborhood great (though I’d contend that no other DC neighborhood has four good craft-focused beer bars today, and no, four bars serving craft beer is not the same thing). The quality of the lineups and the variety of experiences matter a lot too. Georgetown delivers on all of these.
Pizzeria Paradiso, the second outpost of the long-running restaurant group focused on pizza and craft beer, opened in 2002 and has long anchored the neighborhood’s craft offerings. Whether upstairs in the restaurant or downstairs in what used to be a warmer, cozy nook of a bar but is now a game room, the beer menu here is somehow broad, representative of styles and regions, and thoughtfully curated. The environment is good for families, the younger set, the younger set with families, and everyone in between and beyond.
The Sovereign is the Neighborhood Restaurant Group’s monument to all things Belgian. The 50 draft/300+ bottle beer list covers an eye-popping assortment of Belgian (and Belgian-style) beers, and if there’s a better selection in the United States for these styles I don’t know about it. Per usual with NRG, you can get four ounce pours to take a flier on whatever weirdness you’re not sure you’re going to like (or don’t want to drink a full pour of). There are some bargains to be found on the draft and featured bottled lists if you know what to look for, but those with deeper pockets and an unquenchable thirst for lambic can drop a car payment plumbing the depths of the bottle list.
The Berliner is my personal favorite among the four, but even in an inaccessible neighborhood, this spot’s location (34th and Water Street, nearly to the Key Bridge Boathouse) takes the cake for being off the beaten path. The airy spot is just a good, comfortable place to spend an afternoon, or evening, or morning if they’d let me in (they won’t). Unsurprisingly, the beers come in half and full liters and feature a good mix of German classics, local favorites, and some oddballs from regional and national breweries. The menu is inspired by German street food, and if you can stop at one mettwurst with mustard chili sauce you’re a less hungry person than me, I guess. Be sure to watch the Instagram feed to get details on spur of the moment beer specials, live music, and other charming quirks that make this a place I keep coming back to.
Church Hall isn’t that different from other cavernous sports bars that have more TVs than a Best Buy and a normie crowd of people discussing Big 12 sports and/or The Bachelor(ette) (whatever those are) except that its beer menu is slightly more adventurous and the bar food is genuinely quite good. If you’ve been to its sister bar, Franklin Hall, you’ve been here. Is the beer selection as good as the previous three entries here? It is not. Are the chicken fingers, wings, and burgers excellent and extremely suitable for mid-afternoon pre-gaming and late night beer absorption? They certainly are. Plus after you’ve dragged your friends to try a bunch of De La Senne collabs at The Sovereign and/or convinced them to drink a Kostritzer liter (“it’s like Guinness… but lager!”) you owe it to them to take them to somewhere more their speed.
The challenge, again, unless you live in Georgetown, Glover Park, Rosslyn, or somewhere up Wisconsin Avenue is that getting to this fearsome foursome of venues isn’t as easy as just going to whatever your local is. The benefit is that each of these venues is different from the other, and each has something to offer. Making an afternoon and evening touring the four of them would give a great cross-section of what makes DC’s beer scene great: a combination of good locals, reliable regional and nationals, and, in The Sovereign’s case, the use of gray laws to bring in things you wouldn’t be able to get elsewhere.
Collaboration isn’t the norm in Washington, right now, to put it mildly (see, you came to DCBeer for our astute political analysis), but I wonder if there isn’t something to be worked out among these venues to draw more people to the neighborhood. Some kind of arrangement where showing a receipt over $X from one venue unlocks some kind of discount at the others (discounted wings, discounted sausage, discounted pizza, etc.). It could be time-limited for that day only, or within a week, or within six months. Be creative.
Maybe this is unnecessary and maybe my own biases about traveling to Georgetown are shining through; I don’t get over there much, so I don’t know what the books like for any of these four places. It just seems like when you have a concentration of venues a little teamwork could go a long way to take advantage of it and build the neighborhood as a destination. I truly never thought I’d be writing about Georgetown as a craft beer destination, but somehow it is, and beer lovers should take note.