So the new trend in D.C. drinking establishments these days seems to be the return of the “public house.” Note that as it takes 5 years or so for the trends to trickle down from NYC, to you New Yorkers this is probably old hat, but here it seems to be the new thing. What is a public house, you might ask? Well, it seems to be a fancy title for your local pub. The main difference between a pub and a bar traditionally is that a bar serves liquor and a pub serves only beer and wine, though I’m sure almost all the pubs here have all three.
Along with the public houses have come the biergartens, following the German/Czech tradition that, again, started popping up in Queens several years ago and has now made its way down the coast. This shift in style has brought back long community tables, large draft beers, and a sense of the neighborhood. I like it. There is a feeling of mingling and shared space. I’ve wondered at this old tradition making its reappearance, pushing out the chic bars with fancy mixology and lavender-flavored cocktails, and I came up with a few thoughts:
1. Space. With large community tables, you can fit more people into a small urban space. It’s efficient, and you don’t get the problem of 2 people taking up a whole table.
2. Accessibility. As craft and microbrew become more popular and easily accessible, the market for them also increases. Not only have we had an increase in the number of local breweries over the last few years, but we are getting them imported from out of state. For example, D.C. just started carrying Fat Tire, my favorite Colorado beer, manufactured by New Belgium. With so many options, specialty beer bars can now focus their entire establishment on a wide beer selection as opposed to carrying only 4 or 5 wide label beers on tap.
3. The economy. Beer is cheaper to drink; even an import or craft beer will generally still run a good deal cheaper than a cocktail. The Beirgartenhaus, for example, sells imported Germany Hefe-Weizen on tap. The cost ranges generally from $11-14 for a whole liter of good beer, which is the same price you’ll pay for a good 6 oz cocktail in D.C.
4. An older drinking culture. As many of us late 20- to early 30-somethings are still without children, we still want to go out and drink and hang out with our friends. But we no longer have the desire to get trashed on rail drinks and go grinding it up a club. We like low key. We want a good beer and a good conversation with people we care about.
I find it funny how much you can tell about the times, the culture, and the city you live in just by following the local bar trends. This is one I’m happy for. You get a real sense of the neighborhood, especially in the smaller establishments. I’m finding that I run into people here, see friends, catch up. I imagine it’s what a small pub in a small town was meant to do. It’s amazing that in such a young and transient city it’s possible to create such a sense of familiarity and community. Lift a glass to the public house!