Irish Pubs of DC: A rant and a guide. Part two: The Royal Mile, Irish Times, Dubliner
There’s an oddity in Wheaton, MD: A Scottish-themed bar. Though the theme is about as far as it goes. The only thing Scottish about the food is that all the dishes have names like “The Nessie Fish and Chips” and so on.
The Royal Mile, over the years, has changed dramatically. It used to be a kooky place with a weird, islanded, crowded bar that could only really seat a handful of people, and an equally crowded sea of table-service butting up against it, with a third of the bar given over to service.
It is often crowded and noisy, but was always a real destination for the otherwise lacking in anything interesting Wheaton.
As Wheaton has gentrified, so has the Royal Mile. Prices are up, the menu is less daring (I didn’t see the dreaded haggis, always poorly prepared, when I last visited), and the feel of the place has shifted to a grim sort of hospitality management 101 style as opposed to the groovy family-owned sense that allowed the casual diner and drinker to tolerate eccentric service.
What they have not lost, however, is their beer and scotch selection. By far, they remain the best place to go to for scotch in Montgomery County. Though I did notice that the scotch list is shrinking, and the somewhat joyous embracing of the drink – the owner used to circulate and talk endlessly about it – is lost. But they do still hold regular scotch tasting nights that are still worth your money and time.
As the scotch menu slowly shrinks, the beer menu grows. Always a pleasure to see and, at the moment, the main draw for the modern Royal Mile (which was never really lacking in the beer department).
Remember yesterday’s ratings? 1-5, in service, food, and atmosphere. Royal Mile gets a 1 for service – you’re pushed towards table service. They get a 2 for the food. Again, the only good stuff are the American staples. There’s absolutely nothing Scottish on the menu. Atmosphere is a 2. It should be a one, but there’s still a bit of the weirdness there that draws you in. Again, their drinks selection saves the day and is worth checking out. Actually, ignore the low rankings and get a visit to the Royal Mile under your belt. If only to experience the Scottish theme as an interesting academic study related to my Irishness rant.
And, so, we leave the suburbs and head into DC. Following the Red Line down from Wheaton, through Silver Spring, and across the border, the first notable hit is Union Station.
These days, the neighborhood around Union Station has been gentrified beyond recognition and rebranded “Noma” – North of Mass. Ave. But this isn’t the first time the Union Station area has seen gentrification. In the 19th Century, the neighborhood had the much more entertaining name of “Swampoodle,” an often violent Irish slum. In 1901, it was decided that DC needed a proper railroad station, instead of a clumsy terminus outside the Capitol (the current National Mall, which always looks like they just ripped up the 19th Century tracks yesterday).
The Irish were relocated, and Swampoodle vanished into obscure DC history to make way for big ass Union Station.
Within a couple blocks of Union Station are two Irish-American joints. The Dubliner, a hotel bar and, next door, the grand old Irish Times, located in a historic building that will give you a quick glance back to Swampoodle life.
Of course, the atmosphere is long gone.
The Dubliner acts as the more-or-less proper dining establishment as opposed to the ruckus often raised next door at the Irish Times. The Dubliner features the better balcony, so-so food, limited bar service, and a quieter, darker interior. The Irish Times is almost always a zoo, with a wildly active bar, lots of noise, and a sense of fun occasionally displaced by an invasion of college kids.
In the end, if you must choose, I’d lean towards the Times. If only for the sense of history. Though I am, currently, banned…so meet me at the Dubliner.
The ratings! For the Times: 2 for service. You’ll be drawn to the bar, and the patio and tables are all attended by waiters. 1 for food. You’re going to the Times to drink, okay? 4 for atmosphere. The historic building is a great plus, and the bar somehow conveys the sense of a small town high street pub. Which just might be as “authentic” as you can get in DC.
For the Dubliner: 1 for service. It’s very much intended to be sit down. 1 for food. Even the cheeseburgers are a miss. 3 for atmosphere. They have a great patio space, from which you can enviously watch the patio over at the Times, and the interior has a certain chaotic watch-your-step feel that is very pub-like.
For Monday, I’ll look at the Irish Channel, Fado, and the dueling joints at Cleveland Park.