Tommy Joe’s, Bethesda, MD
I’ve started collecting a file of dives and unique bars in the suburban DC area, because that’s the sort of thing you do when you don’t own a TV. Though, for the last week, I was house and dog sitting in Rockville and staring vacantly at the big wide screen TV in the living room.
The reason I don’t own a TV is because I do the thing where I’m intensely frustrated by commercials, but I keep watching the program anyway. For example, last Monday, Animal Planet was having an Animal Cops marathon. Sadly, the show doesn’t feature dogs and cats in police uniforms solving crimes. It’s about the various ASPCA and Humane Society “police” who go around writing citations. It’s exactly like Cops, except it features fat women who live alone and love cats. Though the New York ASPCA are full on cops – they get guns and police cars and the whole thing. They even got in a firefight with a horse owner in one episode. And the New York team has the lovely Anna Marie Lucas on staff. I like women with guns.
But most of them – Miami, Detroit, etc – don’t get guns. So some asshole boils 13 kittens and the animal cops write a citation. Then the kitten killer throws it on the ground and tells the animal cops to fuck off…and they do.
The commercials come about every three minutes, yet I blindly watch the episodes until I fall asleep.
The other thing I do is get sucked into the Sci Fi channel’s marathons. So I’ll make breakfast, sit down in front of the big screen, tune in and, ooh! Stargate’s on! So I’ll watch Stargate and, while the end credits are rolling, Sci Fi will announce that another episode will follow. And I go, ooh! Stargate’s on. Next thing I know, it’s eight hours later and I look at my half eaten breakfast and wonder about dinner.
Needless to say, I don’t look forward to dog sitting. Every summer, my friend goes off to an island resort, so I know it’s coming. I’m thinking about next summer even now. It’s like getting to use heroin for five days each year. Except I also have to take care of an animal. I’ll walk the dog twice a day, a half hour at a time, and I’m usually thinking about what I’m missing on TV while the dog shits on my shoe.
So, to break up the monotony and get away from the drug (and because Sci Fi was having a Dark Angel marathon on Friday and fuck that show), I went out to lunch near my old high school in Bethesda. A friend of mine now works for the Writer’s Center, so I thought I’d be both nostalgic and sociable.
The Bethesda bar scene has changed dramatically. Flanagans, the “Irish local,” has become the Harp and Fiddle. It’s also moved from a clammy basement with scary steps to a proper shop front. That was the last call for dive bars in Bethesda. Everything else is an atrocious theme bar – the hideous Union Jack’s, which serves “British food” like huge cheeseburgers, fries, and a coke. Then there’s Ri Ra, the ubiquitous Irish-American pub. Then there’s Rock Bottom which makes their own beer. I think they use storm water runoff from the street and old shoes.
There are a few other theme bars that make you want to buy a machine gun, and then there’s the fancy Tommy Joe’s. That’s where my friend brought me. Tommy Joe’s has a faux-dive exterior and an alarmingly huge, indoor-outdoor, faux-New Orleans interior. So at first glance, inside and out, there’s a good feeling. Faux is fine in the modern urban setting.
Strike one came when I looked at what was on draft – the usual assortment of domestics and mainstream indie beers. There was the always present and always disappointing Blue Moon, there was Stella, and there was Shiner Bock which, though I enjoy it, always seems weird coming from a tap. I think, if a bar is going to serve Shiner, they should have a beer garden full of pickup trucks. Then we can all go sit in the bed of the trucks and drink cans out of coolers and throw them into the bushes.
There’s not a single interesting beer to be had, so I settled for Stella.
Strike two was the service. I suggested we sit outside. It was 82 degrees, fairly low humidity, and the sort of beer garden back porch was covered and had ceiling fans. When my friend and I said we’d take a seat out there, after waiting five minutes to find someone who could seat us, we were met with incredulous stares and blubbering from two waiters and the bartender.
“It’s hot out there!” the bartender shouted in horror, as if we had just asked permission to rape an eight year old and film it. (Or, as if we hadn’t just fucking walked into the bar from the outside.)
We replied that, hey, this is summer in DC, buddy. If you think this is hot, then you’d better get the first bus back to Fargo before fucking July and August when the fires of hell are licking at our feet. So we sat outside, in that sort of bullish suburban yuppie way. And nobody came to serve us. Taking the hint, we went inside and sat at the bar, where the bartender cracked about half a dozen temperature jokes (“Want some hot coffee, fellers, hahaha!”) even though we sat there staring blankly at him. Finally, and I had to ask three times, we got ourselves two Stellas. Ordering refills was a chore. I asked for a second Stella, the bartender said okay, and then he spent several minutes milling around and organizing shit. I had to flag him down again and ask a bit more aggressively. And this was at an empty bar!
Strike three – the food. Tasteless and boring.
I’ll not be heading back to Tommy Joe’s unless I’m in the mood to fight real hard for an expensive Stella. Maybe they’re better in the winter when the staff are willing to step outside?