In Defense Of Adams Morgan Nightlife by Robyn


Ed. Note: Robyn’s post on the defense of Ruby Tuesday’s Salad Bar got a really interesting debate going and it has sparked a new series. You know in DC sometimes we tend to be reflexively negative about certain things. I find myself doing it too from time to time. Like I hate Georgetown. And in reality the last few times I’ve went to Georgetown, I’ve loved it. I love the old homes, the waterfront, etc. But I feel like I said “I hate Georgetown” so often it just became automatic. And not at all true. So with that in mind Robyn has come up with the idea to debunk some of the automatic negative stereotypes about certain things in DC. Thus a new series is born.

Ever heard the soundtrack to Adams Morgan at 3AM on a Saturday? It goes a little like this – to the tune of Beethoven’s 9th.

“Yeah bra!” (high five) “That chick let me touch her boob!”

“Dude, don’t step there. Someone puked up their Jumbo slice, haha!”

Thud. Squish. (sound of inebriated human passing out spontaneously on pavement on top of their own Amsterdam falafel)

Yes, I know. The thought of venturing to Adams Morgan on the weekend seems like buying a one way ticket to an underage college frat party. The abundance of cheesy bars, keg-stand record holders, and flush-faced twenty-somethings who act like teen-somethings after they just pounded a bottle of Boones Farm does not paint a pretty picture for the 18th street strip. Yet, I find something very endearing about Adams Morgan. If you get past the jack and coke chaos cover, there’s a warm, welcoming center to the strip that’s full of culture and cool people. My motto when I go to Adams Morgan? If you can’t beat them, join them.

Reasons why Adams Morgan isn’t so bad: Vegan bar food + 50 cent High Life countdown at Asylum. 4 shots + 4 beers for $12 at Tom Toms on Thursdays. Live music at Bossa. A good bourbon recommendation at Bourbon. Frou frou Felix martinis. Dance # 145 of the night and I’m still not tired at Habana Village. Lying about being in college, and doing a shot with a student because you have the same Finite Math teacher. Who cares if it’s top #40 music? Rooftop deck at the Reef. The crowd at Bedrock Billiards. Ok, Jumbo slice isn’t ALL that bad, especially after 3AM. The chill-pill effect at Pharmacy Bar. OMG! Your (insert accessory) is sooo cute. Let’s be friends. – overheard in line for bathroom at Madams Organ. DJ nights at Napolean.

And last but not least – cheap beer and make-your-own liquor drinks at Dans Café. Pure danger.

What did I forget? Any closeted Adams Morgan lovers out there?

46 Comment

  • I love this series! It definitely is a good counterpoint to the reflexive negativity of American society today (and there was surely a lot to be negative about over the last 8 years).

    There are lots of really good bars in Adams Morgan, beyond the standard bars for which it is known. Get out of your comfort zone and check out spots like Bukom, Rumba, Bossa, Meze, Ghana, etc and there’s a very different side of Adams Morgan. There are also some loungier places I don’t frequent, but they also go agains the prevailing sentiment that Adams Mo is just for drunken frat people. My friends tend to go to only the drunken frat places, which is why it’s easy to think that’s all that’s out there. But that’s their fault as much as Adams Morgan’s…

  • I feel ya. I mean, I lived there for three years of my life many years ago and loved it. So, while Tom Tom is not exactly my go-to when I want to meet some people out, The Morgue has it’s time and place.

    I love Asylum too, it’s crazy as a crack house rat. And good brunch too. I still frequent The Diner semi-regularly, and The Reef rooftop can’t be beat for a drink after work. And there are some institutions, like Pasta Mia, Mille & Al’s, Cashion’s, Grill from Ipanema, Chief Ike’s, to name just a few, that you will find nowhere else. But overall, I can’t honestly say you’ll find me there very often on a Friday or Saturday night…

  • Adams Morgan is my absolute favorite neighborhood in DC hands down. excluding the hours of 10pm-4am Friday and Saturday. But of course I bring my friends from out of town there to behold the spectacle.

  • sunday brunch. wandering the adams morgan streets in the spring time. a lot of character. I will lament the loss of the ginkos and angled parking and the introduction of pebbled walkways.

  • Maybe I’m old, but 4 beers and 4 shots for $12 does not sound like a good deal, I can’t remember the last time I drank so much!! OK, really I used to live in Adams Morgan, and used to drink more 🙂 Generally the bar scene never appealed that much to me (except for people watching on 18th St when I walked home after shows at the 9:30 club), but I loved having so much to do a short walking distance away. It was fantastic, and something I missed a lot when I first moved to Petworth.

  • Adams Morgan makes me scured. My nieces best friends sons daddy got shot there a few weeks ago. There also is no Rubys there.

  • Eh, I am not feeling too positive about 18th Street right now, but that is mostly because some girl spilled her beer all over my new pea coat last Saturday at the Reef. Hot tranny mess.

  • When I first moved to the city when I was 21, AdMo was a mecca for me. Coming from Alabama, I had never seen anything like it. Now, since I’m going on 29, I avoid it, not because of what it is, but more because I don’t lead that type of lifestyle anymore, so I can’t diss it. There ARE places to go on a weekend in AdMo that are not drunken frat places. Go off the strip and check out Napeolon’s, Evolve, and Chief Ikes to name a few.

  • $1 jello shots at Millie and Al’s and $10 pitchers… how can you beat that?

  • I have to say I despise Adam’s Morgan on Friday and Saturday night. Unless I really want to get my ass grabbed while walking down the street. Seriously, the only place in DC that happens to me.

    But when the big lightbulb starts flashing for $1.00 jello shots at Millie & Al’s on a Friday night after a really long, crappy work week and everyone bum rushes the bar and just starts passing them around even to strangers, I think damn- this is a great ‘hood.

  • If those places aren’t drunken frat parties, then it’s only because the drunks are in their 30’s instead of their 20’s. Old school.

  • anyone else see adams morgan becoming more like the meat packing district in NYC over the next 10 years? with Hstreet becoming the new hotzone of debauch? and what will be next after H street? is there going to be a drinking corridor in anacostia?

  • @ PetworthRes – Did you used to go out to bars when beers cost a nickel and you had to walk there in a 4 feet of snow barefoot?!?! 🙂 $12 for 4 beers and 4 shots is a great deal pretty much anywhere, let alone in DC!

    Anyway, AM is what AM is. I liked it much better 5-7 years ago but I sort of outgrew it. It seems to have gotten a bit more dangerous lately during the weekends, but I still like to go there for an occasional meal or to relive the glory days. I still need to try Pasta Mia someday too; I still hear people rave about that all the time…

  • I love Las Canteras in Adams Morgan! And $10 pitchers at Millie&Al’s? Great! While it’s not my scene on Friday and Saturday nights, I love a lot about AM. The older I get the more inaccessible it seems, but I think it’s time for me to reacquaint myself. I used to love Asylum, Pharmacy, and Bedrock, and have never drunk so much for so little as I did at Tom-Tom one night. Thanks for the reminder, Robyn!

  • Pasta Mia is way overrated. a major case of “group think” is going on with people who rave about it. everything tastes better after having to stand in line for an hour though.

  • I dont know if 4 beers and shots for 12 bucks is enough to get me to go to tom tom. the crowd in there wrecks of ode du douche. but sure beats 1 beer for 12 dollars at marvin. I stick to the real hole in the walls. try hitting up some latino dives. they might rip you off at first for being a gringo but they will warm up to you and start charging you 2 bucks a beer like everyone else.

  • Pasta Mia is the closest thing to real Italian food (you know, when I lived in Italy) that I’ve had in the States. Whether you think it’s good or not is another question, but it’s affordable homestyle Italian cooked by an old Italian lady. Not sure what’s overrated about it since it’s not trying to be some fancy schmancy place… maybe your expectations were far too high

  • Chewy, I meant that having 4 beers and 4 shots just sounds like a bad idea. I’d rather pay $8 for one beer, have it be fantastic, and call it a night. But maybe I’m just old…

  • overrated about Pasta Mia was that everyone keeps raving about how good it is. as in the food is good. and it isnt. and Im not saying its BAD. I mean its kinda of hard to fuck up pasta. but its just blah. Ive been to italy too by the way. thats right yr not the only one. what are the chances! maybe i went to better places while there. or maybe they werent authentic italian, italian, places…? or maybe you are just drinking the kool aid. but there is far better italian to be had in this town. thats not the point of this post though so Ill leave it at that.

  • If you like to really get your drink on (and sadly, I haven’t really done so for years), there is no place better. I don’t know if it will ever be the same, though, without rhe Common Share and its $2 everything (at least back in the day) anchoring the Southern end.

  • Wow…Although I have a secret love for mix-your-own drinks and chest-bumping brohans, I’m surprised to find out that there are normal, run of the mill females who also enjoy heading out to Adams Morgan. I watch football there with my homeys almost every week, but usually the only chicks we see are the sorority types, dressed to the nines for a trip to the convenience store. Glad somebody else is with me on the area’s high concentration of cheap drinks.

  • vonstallin, for the win.

  • I think vonstallin needs his own weekly POP post. I aint kidding.

  • hey, Anonymous at 12:10: Maybe the mustache confused you, but that’s no old Italian lady cooking at Pasta Mia.

  • I agree with the others that commented – I used to love AM. I frequented it quite a bit in my early 20’s, and have some great memories of those times (or no memories at all… thank you, Dan’s Cafe…) Now that I’m in my late 20’s, the weekend crowd is just too much for me – but I still love going there on weekdays.

  • “Pasta Mia is way overrated. a major case of “group think” is going on with people who rave about it.”

    So wrong. I think you are having a major case of “the moment something becomes popular it sucks.” It could, in fact, be that something which has gotten consistently high critical praise and is very popular is that way because… it’s good…

    I don’t know any other place you can get a truly authentic pasta dish in town at any price. Simple cooking, all made fresh, and a single chef (who is also the owner) who does everything. You can’t beat it for this style of cooking.

  • Internet: “Would you like to meet someone new, but are tired of the bar scene?”

    Homer: “No! I will never tire of the bar scene!”

  • I’m not closeted – I’m openly a fan of Adams Mo. I’d live at Asylum if I could.

    Stupid question, I know. Maybe I’m just not around Adams Morganon the weekend. What’s the big frat boy hangout?

    The only issue I’ve had there was 3 years ago coming from a Hawaiian party wearing a Hawaiian shirt and lei walking through Adams Morgan on a Saturday night. Some guy told me it wasn’t Mardi Gras, but asked me to show him my boobs for a $1 anyway. Not sure why – I’m a man but don’t exactly have man boobs.

  • the moment something becomes popular? hasnt Pasta Mia been popular for well over a decade now? At least that as my girlfriends parents dragged me there back in highschool raving about it. Im not a fly by night reviewer. I live a about 2 blocks away now. so I dont have to wait in line. I just pop in on the days there isnt one and I am too lazy to make my own pasta. (which for the record is much better). And everytime I think the same thing. who the hell are these people who line up for this? Its all for the fun of it I guess. its like “omg there is this great little place. they fly in the chef every morning from italy but you have to wait in line for it but its like sooo good” I think when people have it the all think. “thats it?” but its more fun to keep the myth going.

  • I didn’t mean that it just became popular. That followed Phyllis Richman’s rave review in 1996 or something. What is the myth? Fly the chef in from Italy? Roberto is, actually, Italian. He barely speaks English. He doesn’t need to fly in, because he lives here.

    Anyway, I guess there’s no accounting for taste, but the myth or mystique or whatever it is that bugs you so much has nothing to do with my own appreciation of it, since I’ve been eating there since practically the day it opened.

  • Thanks for this post Robyn. Adams Morgan is definitely a hot mess sometimes, but I will have to chime in on the love for Jello Shots and cheap pitchers at Millie & Al’s. I also must confess that I harbor a (maybe not so) secret love for karaoke at Peyote.

  • I also have to reminisce about Dan’s Cafe. I used to go there when I was younger and Tracy the bartender, probably STILL the bartender, would begin to look like L.L. Cool J after I made a few mixed drinks. Prime example of beer goggles.

  • You know what i don’t get though, how come the metro for Adams Morgan is not really anywhere near the bars? When I first moved to DC I walked a mile in the opp. direction and then had to walk a what felt like 5 to get to the bars. I know, I know, this was totally my fault and the math doesn’t add up, but even when you do go in the right direction the first time, it seems like an unbelievably long walk. For those of you who are about to go, pshaw, try it in heels! For those of you who do walk it in heels, kudos you, you probably have big feet.

    wow am I bitter today or what?!?

  • OK PetworthRes, you’re off the hook…I thought you were going to tell one of those “back in my day” drinking stories! Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I’ll go with quality over quantitiy 90% of the time nowadays also.

  • Forget Jumbo Slice, the best pizza by far is Alberto’s. Soooo good. I think we can all share a great moment at Dan’s Cafe. The bathroom may be a little frightening, but it’s worth it to be able to get drunk for only $20. Anywhere else in the city and that’s 3 drinks tops.
    And to Binklesworth… in order to find the frat boy, go to Brass Monkey, Left Bank or Ventnor’s and you’ll find a few.

  • Great post. People are always hating on DC for being “boring” or “conservative”. And then they hate on Adams Morgan for being too wild and crazy. Which is it??

    If you don’t like bars, of course you won’t like AM. If you do, AM is great. It’s not all frat boys and bridge-and-tunnel, and has much more variety than it gets credit for, as noted in earlier comments. I consider the neighborhood an oasis of debauchery for an otherwise, yes, pretty tame city.

  • Vonstallin

    PrettySmart Says:
    January 16th, 2009 at 2:01 pm
    Forget Jumbo Slice, the best pizza by far is Alberto’s. Soooo good.

    And to Binklesworth… in order to find the frat boy, go to Brass Monkey,


    True…its pretty much the only spot i get Pizza from when I’m in Adams. It’s also not that crowded when the bars let out. Nice thin crust n healty (is there such a thing) Pizza.

    Oh and make sure that Binklesworth don’t get confused and ask for “The Brass Rail” vs. “The Brass Monkey”

    If he do he might end up with a Brass Monkey laying next to him in the bed.
    LOL 🙂

  • I miss the Share. If it were still there, I would still be there all the damn time. That said, I don’t hate Adams Morgan, but the weekends are just difficult. And, getting a cab to take you home to the Hill at 3am Saturday night can be a nightmare, even if you trick them into letting you into their cab in the first place. But, I still go for Bourbon, Toledo, Angles, and if you need to rent out a spot for a party, upstairs at Adams Mill is great.

  • Kalia- simple answer. Adams morgan didnt even have its name on a metro stop when I was growing up. it wasnt a destination neighborhood by any means. they added “Adams Morgan” to the Woodley Park metro when it became clear there were a lot of confused bridge and tunnel looking to get there via mass transit. One day i am guessing, when MTP finally comes to life with some new restaurants and boutiques, I am sure Mount Pleasant will be added to the Columbia Heights Station name.

  • Millie and Al’s was the first place I went (and went regularly) when I moved to DC from the rural south. I loved that place, and Pharmacy Bar, and Asylum, and the Common Share (RIP) for their accessibility, and, besides, Adams Morgan clearly put itself forward as a party ‘hood. Don’t worry about form or content, just go toward the noise. Once I found a kindred neighborhood and started doing all of my living as close to home as possible, I lost most of my interest in poor 18th and Columbia, only venturing out there with out-of-towners. Now I live in California and, my, oh my what I wouldn’t give for an analogue of DC cultcha, even if that only means a night or two of slumming up the crowded slope of an Adams Morgan weekend bender.

  • Nothing beats Angles, that’s the bar “I grew up with” in DC. I started going there 10 years ago and they have the same 3 bartenders now as they did then. The burgers are truly the best burgers in all of DC, and they’re 2 for 1 on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays.

    Its not the same since they cleaned the place up and got rid of the filthy couch in the back, but I spent a small fortune and probably shortened my life by a few years hanging out in the back room, knocking down pitcher after pitcher of $10 budweiser, and kicking ass and taking names in pool.

  • I don’t love AM anymore, but I did appreciate it in my time. The thing is, the neighborhood hasn’t really changed, so we can’t fault it for “becoming too much of a party scene”… it always has been. It does its job for us who move to the city after college, and then it moves on to the next batch o’ kids.

    I could even appreciate it now, if it weren’t for the masses of dress shirt and tube dress wearing tools.

  • what do you mean when you say the area hasn’t really changed.

    I first discovered Adams Morgan when Kenny and Company used to run RETROspective, the 1950s antique store and the surrounding neighborhood was 50-75% African American.

    I had just decided that Georgetown sucked, so my best guess this was summer 1987 or winter break 1988.

    I don’t think A-M became a party scene until Cities opened. Anyone disagree?

  • Adams Morgan is not just 18th Street. It stretches from 16th to Connecticut and Florida to Havard and there’s a lot more in between those streets than just 18th Street. Many families, rich and poor, black, white and everything in between are raising their children here. There are two elementary schools, a middle school, two great community parks and many pocket parks. Over 30 nonprofits call the neighborhood home. While no one can deny that 18th St. is part of the ‘hood, please remember that a neighborhood is the sum of all its parts and that 18th St. is only one part.

  • was a time not tooo long ago when AM was more about interesting shops and ethnic restaurants in a city where they weren’t everywhere than about twentysomethings (or older) drinking themselves into oblivion and trying to get laid. Of course we tried to get laid but it was in a context of hip knowledge about the world and do-good.

    I used to be an AM resident, then moved to Mt. Pleasant and now live in Petworth. That progression has been good for me. I still go back to AM for dinner at some of my favorite spots: Little Fountain, Cashions, La Fourchette, (sorry San Marco closed), even Left Bank, but I go during the week to avoid much of what folks are talking about here.

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