Silver Spring’s historic dive bar, the Quarry House, is dead. What it used to be, that is. The old Quarry House.
It’s taken me six years or so to come to grips with this.
I’ve tried to stay loyal, largely because I respect the new owners. They tried to preserve the memory of the old Quarry House. Their makeover was lovingly done, with a true sense of Silver Spring’s history and reverence for her endangered landmarks. The grimy basement dive bar received a much welcomed upgrade. Good food, a full bar, and a beer and whiskey menu that seemed almost to be a ray from heaven.
But…it lost its soul. And, again, on the surface, initially, that seemed acceptable. The Quarry House was an anachronism, and it was on the ropes. It would have closed and long vanished otherwise. That, alone, has kept a thin strand of loyalty alive. It would be insane to defend, or even pine for, what it used to be, especially in those final days of dying.
It was a filthy basement bar, serving food that only a fool would eat. The bar only served a limited selection of beer and wine, and the long back room was almost always roped off. The days of live bands or entertainment of any sort were long over. The old Quarry House was for drinking. So we sat in the front room where we could be easily tended to by salty waitresses with eidetic memories and a bartender who knew your name and shook your hand.
There were always ten or twelve regulars, and they were real men. Well-armed dwarves, country folk, and blue collar workers with horrific stories about how frequently elevators fail. All of them steely-eyed drunks with their own barstools. But, as with any true dive bar, the presence of these men didn’t repel interlopers. There was a begrudging acceptance as long as you were the right type. No fags, pencilnecks, or yuppies. No ball caps unless you owned a tractor.
It was a proper man’s bar. Get away from the whining bitches and drink up. Deconstruct yet another terrible day on the job and try to let go of the quiet, creeping rage that crawled just behind the eyes. A bar for primates, and the occasional visitor could absorb power from the filthy, cockroach-infested floor.
These men were a dying breed as the Clinton Era and its ongoing legacy pasteurized our culture with political correctness and false sensitivity. A breed that wasn’t fit to survive the unimaginable events of 9/11, a shock that ripped the soul out of this country and reduced us to a weeping mass of apathy.
The new Quarry House has no room for these sorts of men. It’s now home to Silver Spring’s new demographic – aged-out hipsters, faux neo-hipsters, frat guys, passive bullies, and those dreaded pencil-necks and yuppies.
The service has lost all its former abrasiveness – and unerring quality.
It’s become a fashionable pantomime of its old self. And it’s a success. It’s a hotspot, back on the map, and crowded all the time. The fault is not the people behind the Quarry House – a demand was recognized and very ably met. The problem gets to the heart of a larger issue that’s haunted us for the last couple decades (historians can go ahead and say since the 1972 Republican convention) – America has also become a pantomime of her old self. But not a fashionable one.
But that’s okay. I know I’m in the minority on this. And the DC area has never really been known for its culture, anyway. We pretend that we have some sort of scene here. Theater, film, art, writing, music… But it’s all just lonely bleating in an open field peopled by a community of transient government workers and awkward transplants. Those people in the arts, those advocates of DC’s imaginary culture, are really just too afraid or too old to leave the sandbox. Or just deluded when it comes to recognizing that this particular imperial capital is really just a funny, sleepy little town that wants nothing more than to roll up the carpet and go home early at the end of the day.
While I love the current Quarry House for it’s food, whiskey, and hard-to-findness, I understand what you mean: true dives aren’t supposed to be hip. As a dive aficionado myself, here’s a question: are there any in the DC metro-area that, in your book, come close to the old Quarry House?
Nothing comes close to the old QH.
If you squint,you can find some comfort in various places around town. For the MoCo set, I’ve always found a bit of nostalgic joy in the somewhat far-flung but never-changing Stained Glass Pub by the Glenmont station. It feels like some weird country bar that you’d find by the highway in Ohio, and has managed to defy Glenmont’s slow development over the years. But it’s really just a sports bar once you scratch the surface. Hank Dietle’s Tavern in White Flint has a similar unchanging quality. It’s well worth checking out — probably the only “dive bar” experience left in the DC area. It’s one of those places that can be touch and go, though. You either love it or it gives you the hinks.
Tommy Joe’s in Bethesda, on a weeknight, could easily win me over as a regular. It’s nightmarish on weekends, though. Again, not really a dive bar…but it certainly is an unusually crooked tooth in the Bethesda bar scene.
In Silver Spring — the last bastion of Weird, Old Silver Spring is the Golden Flame on Fenton (which I’ll be writing about tomorrow). The Flame is truly unchanged from the old days. It’s a very far cry from a dive bar, but it shares some of the human elements that make dive bars so comfortable. Insane staff (occasionally surly), regulars, and a general air of strangeness that you can’t quite put your finger on.
In DC, check out My Brother’s Place on 2nd, and East St Cafe on the top floor of Union Station ($3.50 imports all day). Both have staff who’ll get to know you and, in the case of East St Cafe, remember your poison and have the bottle on the counter for you before you sit down.