The concept of a local stretches across the globe. In some places, it is as important to the community’s backbone as churches and schools. In many U.S. cities, like Boston, Philly, and New York, the concept of a local is firmly entrenched and a cornerstone of any thriving neighborhood.
Your local is the bar where you know the bartenders and the other regulars by name. You walk in and your favorite drink is poured before you even make it to your broken-in bar stool. Neither your drink nor the bar is fancy, because neither you nor the bar’s regulars can afford $15 drinks. You’re not there to show off or go broke. You’re there because it’s an extension of home, of yourself.
If you’re from D.C. and you’ve laid the correct groundwork, your drink may even come with your choice of a “pop” (a half shot). You don’t ask for it, and it’s most definitely, on-the-house (why not a full shot? Because you and your bartender are civilized people). And when you politely resist—giving the c’mon man you didn’t have to do that gesture—your bartender shrugs or winks or smiles, and pours one for themselves in solidarity. You cheers, touch the shot glasses to the bar, and shoot ‘em down the hatch. This small exchange is the equivalent of a big hug.
Maybe it’s The Pug or Stoney’s, or any number of solid candidates in this great city. Your local doesn’t look or smell great. It won’t impress your date. You won’t ever have to change your outfit to go there. But it’s yours. And in a city where anonymity is so easy, your local offers the intimacy that you need to feel truly home.
Now that you know what your local is, let me tell you what your local is not. It is not a rose garden, pop-up, or fancypants craft cocktail bar. It doesn’t draw in its customers for intra-city tourism, where beautiful people hop in Ubers from far and wide to get a selfie at the latest hot spot. It’s not a place with seasonal $15 drinks with ingredients you can’t pronounce.
Here’s what scares me, D.C. Too many of you don’t have a local. You go out and drink—that’s for sure—but finding a local requires some level of permanence, nay, commitment. And I know commitment might be scary, but the alternative—a city that never learns your name or favorite drink—is even scarier.
I’d go to the mat to affirm that D.C. is a great city. It’s far more than a government wasteland. The D.C. I know tastes like Mumbo Sauce and sounds like Go-go. But it’s also an exciting melting pot of flavors and music from across the country and the globe.
But D.C.’s transiency is an obvious flaw, which makes critics question whether it has a real identity. Meeting the people that live in your neighborhood is a step in the right direction, and what better place to get to know those people than your local bar? Once you’re there, you can talk about your dogs, your cars (or more likely bikes), or sports—really, whatever you like. You’ll eventually get to planning block parties, engaging in local elections, and caring for your shared spaces like parks and gardens. All of this while keeping a healthy buzz.
If you instead choose to stand in line for an hour looking for the latest and hippest place to take the perfect selfie, this city’s soul dies just a little.
My suggestion? Walk down the street, introduce yourself, and settle in.