Public houses. That's what they used to call them. In later years they were known as "pubs." A man could revel in the company of his brethren, and depending on their station in life, discuss the condition of the harvest that year, or engage in lively debate on political and/or philosophical issues of the day.
Back in Cincinnati, there were two such favorite places for me. One was Arnold's Bar and Grille, located downtown on Eighth Street. The other was Hap's Old Irish Pub, which was uptown in the Hyde Park neighborhood. I'd be at the former on Friday or Saturday nights when I knew the guys in the band, or the latter for similar occasions, not to mention St Paddy's Day.
Here in Washington, the idea of a friendly neighborhood pub appears to be sort of a lost cause. Oh, they have all the appearances from the outside, and the furnishings are just so. But the music from the local radio station is too damned loud, as if to expect people to get up and start the previously-scheduled Disco Swing Party. Yeah, right. And before long, the place is reincardinated as yet another coffee bar, or clothing boutique for people with arcane tastes, or another one of one too many such institutions.
The closest thing to the real thing I've seen in recent years, at least in this neck of the woods, is Chick Hall's Surf Club, a roadhouse on Kenilworth Rd in Hyattsville, Maryland. Most of the zydeco acts that appear in the DC area find their way there -- God forbid that particular musical genre should shake things up in Virginia these days! -- and life got easier there after they enacted the "no smoking" ordinance. The place has it's share of regulars, an assortment of friends, acquaintances, and comic-relief strangers who think they're more charming and better on the dance floor after a few pints (although Sal would beg to differ).
Speaking of coffee bars, I suspect they are to be the "pubs" of the future. They are conducive to good conversation, they generally don't allow smoking (and let's face it, a cigarette doesn't have the comforting aroma of a good pipe), and if they have music, it won't blow you out of the place. One such innovative establishment is the Jammin' Java in Vienna, Virginia. Were I residing out that way, I suspect I'd drop in more often.
If any of my DC area readers wish to contribute an endorsement of a favorite haunt, they are free to do so here.
Don't all respond at once.