The Tune Inn
331 Pennsylvania Avenue Southeast Washington, DC 20003-1148
Open Daily 8am-1am
The “Tune” as it’s known to the regulars, is a Capitol Hill institution. It literally is in the shadow of the U.S. Capitol at the end of several blocks of eclectic shops, restaurants and bars. What makes this place so unique is that it has been serving drinks (and breakfast around the clock) to congressman and winos (and congressman who are winos) since 1947. I was lucky enough to spend a few hours at the Tune with my buddy Dan who, if he were on Foursquare, would easily be the “Mayor” of this dive several times over.
Since I’m in DC for work all week, we wasted no time sneaking out the door promptly at 5:15 to catch a cab in an attempt to beat rush hour traffic. While we were unsuccessful at beating the always aggravating DC gridlock (Don’t block the box!) we did have a cab driver that must have trained at the Joey Chitwood school of driving. Never in my life have I seen a cabbie make more illegal turns, cut more people off and somehow swerve his way to the front of every line of cars like this guy. I thought to myself between grabbing the “Jesus” strap in the backseat, “now this is a way to start happy hour!”
First Impression: The place is narrow, like really narrow. If you’re sitting at the bar there’s just enough room for someone to walk behind you. No chance of the bar being three deep to get a drink…there’s not enough room. “Mayor” Dan and I walked in around 5:30 and the place was pretty quiet. There were a few people there already who looked like they had been there most of day (nothing like pounding drinks all day on a Monday I suppose?). Johnny Cash was cranking on the jukebox, the barstools were old, and the beer literally was on ice (in Dan’s personal cooler). Let happy hour begin!
The Bar: It’s a fairly small area and does not seat a ton of people…maybe enough for 12-15 people to grab a stool. There is a cramped area out front for a few tables, but it’s mostly a place for those who are ready to fire-up a smoke go to hang out. As you walk past the bar there are 15 (or so) tables and booths where people can hang out and eat drink and me merry. The back of the bar is just littered with random signs and assorted bear and moose heads (not the beer). They had everything from PBR to Sierra Nevada on tap and just about every type of whiskey you could name. A sign just in front of me read: “Men, no shirt no service. Women: No shirt free drinks”. Every good dive needs, at minimum, at least one sign of this nature.
Crowd: This is what really makes the “Tune” great. It was a mix of everyone from DC policy wonks in bowties and suspenders, to a softball team celebrating their latest victory with a pitcher (or 10). Almost as predicted, U.S. Representative Gene Taylor (D MS-4) (who I see pretty much every time I’m in this place) walked in the door not too long before we were getting ready to leave.
Here was the best part of the night, I was able to do my first bit of market research on if people who frequent dive bars would find a site dedicated to their type of hangouts useful. I ran the idea of http://www.hitthtdive.com/ past a regular (an off the clock senior executive who in his spare time hangs out at the Tune in flip flops pounding beers and shots) who also is friends with Mayor Dan. I told him that I had hoped to review dive bars across the country to make it easier for people to find a cheap drink when they were in a new city or as a way to learn about a place they’ve never visited before. His response? “Get this man a shot of Jameson! On me!” I have to assume that he liked the idea…
Service: Quick. Efficient. Our bartender could bring them faster than I could drink them. I had ordered a draft beer, but she quickly advised me that because of the heat in DC over the past few weeks, most of the draft beer was not very cold. She then pointed to a cooler behind the bar (Dan’s cooler) and said “That’s the beer you want.” How could I argue with that logic? For those ordering mixed drinks, let’s just say this, if you order a Captain and Coke, you get a pint glass of rum with just a whisper of coke. Strong does not begin to explain the drinks here.
Price: Good question? When you go do a place like this, with a regular (who also is a consultant for you) there is not much a chance to pay for things. I think I did catch a glimpse at the final tab, and after being there several hours, I’m pretty sure it said $47.00. Thanks for picking up the tab Dan!
Food: Great diner food. Your typical burgers, chili dogs, wings…but the best thing is…you can eat breakfast there all day. The guy sitting next to me was chowing down on some kind of egg, cheese and bacon bagel at 8:00 p.m. at night.
A/V: Five TVs throughout the place. You could easily come here to watch a game, but the place is really rocking once the jukebox starts cranking. Everything from Springsteen, George Jones, Jerry Reed (East Bound and Down!) Van Halen and Charlie Daniels Band…how can you go wrong!
Restrooms: Oh boy…these are interesting. Put it this way, this is an old dive, the restrooms fit the rest of the décor. Hold your nose, do what needs to be done, and get out. They only fit one person at a time, so much like an airplane, if you see a line starting to form it may be a good time to join the queue if you “feel the urge”.
Bartender Chat: Our bartender told us that Guy Fieri just got done filming an episode of his show there. I am not a fan of his, and I hope that after the episode with the “Tune” airs, that it doesn’t make the place douche bag central with a bunch of people who now want to check it out because a guy with a really bad goatee was here. For the record, our bartender did not see to very pleased that he filmed there.
How Far Did my $20 Go: I have no friggin’ idea! I just did some quick algebra based on what I know we drank and what I know Dan paid. My best guess is STRONG mixed drinks are about $4. And bottled beer was around $2.50. Let’s just say twenty bucks can do some damage here.
Final Impressions: A must! It is a dive bar classic. When you are in DC, or if you live here now, go to the Tune Inn, chat with the regulars, drink really strong drinks, sit on a bar stool and belt out “Rosalita” as it’s cranked on the juke box. This is the kind of a dive you though only existed in bygone eras. HIT THIS DIVE
*Mayor Dan and I both agree that this can be lowered to 8.75 if the followers of Guy Fieri start showing up in droves and ruin the character of the place. I will update if and when needed.