Capitol Punishment

Capitol Punishment


Washington, D.C. 

January, 2011

Filed by: Lewis Dribblin

 The “D.C.” in “Washington D.C.” can stand for any number of things: “Decadent Capital,” “Debt Crisis,” “Doesn’t Care.”  For me it’s, “Drink Crap” and “Damned Cretins.”

My plan was fairly simple: an afternoon pub crawl with some affable cretins beginning near my hotel in the city’s Dupont Circle neighborhood and winding up in Georgetown, where we would see Tuck & Patti’s late set at Blues Alley.  (“A nip and a Tuck & Patti” was my companions’ running joke, as they strolled cluelessly through the streets of Washington in worn-out Reeboks and K-Mart clearance-rack windbreakers.  Damned cretins.)

Your Correspondent and the Cretins Stand Perilously Close to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts

The afternoon began fortuitously, for just around the corner from my hotel I stumbled upon an unknown gem which seemed to signify that Washington was a beer town: an enormous stone mansion with a plaque identifying the place as “The Brewmaster’s Castle.”  The mansion was built in 1892-1894 by a German immigrant named Christian Heurich, who was one of Washington’s wealthiest citizens and who also happened to be known as the world’s oldest brewer—he was still brewing when he died in 1945, aged 102.  Yes, I know that beer dates back to biblical times and that people back then could live to be 900 or 1000 years old, but it’s fair to say that Heurich was pretty old, at least  by modern standards.

Like its owner, the castle itself was built to last.  Its website,, explains that the Heurich House was built, unusually for the time, with poured concrete and reinforced steel and was the first fireproof home in Washington.  The website also curiously points out that this claim was never tested because, for safety reasons, none of the mansion’s fifteen fireplaces were ever used.  Heurich also built the nation’s first fireproof brewery, constructed of poured concrete and reinforced steel.  Heurich seems to have made everything from poured concrete and reinforced steel, which may explain why no one drinks Heurich’s Lager anymore—although you could, because none of it has ever been destroyed by fire.

In Case of Fire, Break In

As it happens, just down the street from The Brewmaster’s Castle was a bar called The Fireplace—so called because, like The Brewmaster’s Castle, there was a fireplace inside.  But unlike at The Brewmaster’s Castle, the fireplace there was lit—and so was everyone at the bar.  Incidentally, this turned out to be a gay bar.  I mention this only because I was surprised that I didn’t see any conservative members of Congress there.  Of more immediate concern was the beer selection—more specifically, the lack of it: Bud, Bud Light, Heineken, etc.  No draft beers.  And, apparently, no bottle opener.  To remove the cap from my bottle of mass-market swill, the bartender seemed to have used either his car keys or a Bic lighter.  Then, when I asked for a glass, I was given something that looked like a sippy cup without the lid.  This experience took some of the shine off the pub crawl’s fortuitous start, but I managed to convince myself that this was an aberration.  It should be easy to find good beer in the nation’s capital…

Socialism, American style

Yes—it should be easy to find good beer in the nation’s capital.  I guess I should have told someone in Washington about this prior to my arrival.  Just about all beer menus were pitifully similar:  Bud, Bud Light, Heineken.  Asked about their microbrew selection, some bartenders would stare blankly.  Others would offer up Heineken. I was beginning to see why so many politicians in Washington are hollering about socialism.

Walking along M Street in Georgetown, I was tempted to step into the Ukrainian Embassy to see if they could hook me up with whatever they were drinking, but then I remembered that I could get the same stuff from the automotive supply shelf at 7-11, and at 7-11 I would not have to pay the attendant a bribe.

My last hope for a quality beer seemed to be the exclusive 1789 Restaurant, but my companions’ apparel doomed our chances of being allowed in.  Damned cretins.  Honestly, I wasn’t really disappointed by this because I had come to expect little of even the ritziest bars in town.  And I was vindicated a little later when a phone call to 1789 Restaurant inquiring about their draft beer selection confirmed my suspicions.  I can’t remember the choices exactly, but they sounded very much like Bud, Bud Light, and Heineken.

When I got to Blues Alley, I looked at the beer menu, and what did I see?  Bud, Bud Light, and Heineken Dark.  Dark indeed.  At that point I was hoping for something that tasted at least as good as a Heurich’s Lager.  At least I was expecting the music to be good.  And, for the first time that day, I was not disappointed.

If you don’t know who Tuck and Patti are (and many people don’t, unfortunately), they’re a husband a wife duo who have been married and performing together for something like thirty years—Tuck on guitar and Patti on vocals.  But they’re not your average guitar/vocal duo, the kind of people you see on open mic night croaking out off-key Beatles tunes with their eyes squeezed shut, the kind of people who insist that musicians who have had lessons can’t play with soul.

Tuck and Patti are master technicians but also very soulful.  Maybe even too soulful, or at least too spiritual.  Throughout the performance, the lady sitting in front of me was standing, bowing, swaying, and swinging her arms, like someone trying to dislodge a wedgie at a tent revival.  But this was only a minor distraction, because Tuck and Patti were too good not to pay attention to.  Among other things, it was amazing how technically precise they were and also how full a sound the two of them produced with just a microphone and a guitar. I think the only electronic effects were a little bit of compression on the guitar and vocals and maybe a volume pedal for the guitar—I don’t even think Tuck played through an amp, just through the PA.  They’re so good at what they do that even those who don’t like their music would at least be able to respect their musicianship.  In fact, during the show I was thinking to myself, “You’d have to be a cretin not to find something to like about Tuck and Patti.”

So it should have come as no surprise that my companions didn’t share my enthusiasm for the performance.  One of them mentioned that the sound was too compressed, complaining that someone should have taken away Tuck and Patti’s “toys.”  This struck me as odd, because not only did Tuck not play through an amp, he didn’t even use a pick.  And then someone suggested that we go out for another beer.  There was nothing left to do at that point except head for the automotive supply shelf at 7-11.  Damned cretins.