Are the Ketchup Shots at Dan’s Worth It?
If you’re wondering whether Dan’s Cafe in Adams Morgan is different from the rest of DC, read on!
Washington DC often feels totally devoid of real culture. In DC, fraternities and sororities seem to extend into a natural adulthood, in a never-ending parade of “semiformal” events where men show up in a collared shirt and dress pants because it’s all they own. So when I heard about a cash-only dive bar where things seem not to have changed since the mid-1960s, I was intrigued. Is this where the true, buried culture of DC lies?
I rolled up to Dan’s Cafe (2315 18th St NW) with another thrill-seeker, mostly interested in scouting out whether this spot was cool enough to become our new watering hole. We walked in the door, hiding in plain sight right next to the much-flashier bar Pitchers, and immediately could smell the difference between Dan’s and the other bars on the street: lots of bodies, no air conditioning, and a heavy dash of cologne.
Large communal tables sat in the center of the room, bustling with people. In the front, there was a pool table, with a long, dim light. Tiny seats faced in on one another along the sides of the wall. In the corner, a jukebox sat inaudible, with extra toilet paper rolls stashed on top.
While ordering at the bar, we learned that the hard alcohol at Dan’s is served in two ways: either in 50 mL nips, as shown above, or in ketchup and mustard bottles. The gimmick here is squirting shots from the condiment bottles into your mouth, which promises a messy night from the get-go. The bottles aren’t pricey, and as I watched, I noticed that they seemed to prompt easy, flirtatious games between lovers all over the bar, which explained why the place seemed to be filled with couples.
I liked Dan’s for the light, which managed to be fluorescent, pink, and blue all at once. I also liked it for the prices—it’s rare to happen upon a place that feels affordable, especially on AdMo’s main strip. I even liked the bathrooms, which felt very dive-bar-y, in that they were authentically disgusting.
Yet despite all that, Dan’s still wasn’t able to satisfy my craving for a place in DC that feels real. Sure, the decor hasn’t changed since the 1960s, but the clientele has — and they’re the same bright-faced Capitol Hill crowd as everywhere else on the street. This means that the jukebox isn’t running half the time, because no one is playing music. The pool tables have to be covered with tarps to prevent drink spillage. And worst of all, it’s impossible to dodge people taking videos of one another squirting liquor into their mouths. This space, too, has been transformed into yet another content-creation haven. So, alas, my search continues. Are there any dive bars left in Washington DC?