At a bar a few blocks from the Capitol, Adrian Morales, a Republican, hurriedly scribbled “Charon” onto a piece of paper and angled it towards Sasha Horwitz, a Democrat, who scanned it before nodding in agreement.
Charon, the ferryman who carries the newly dead across river Styx to Hades, is the answer in a trivia contest – one of the ways young staffers and lobbyists in the Capitol socialize after work.
Despite the daily combat between Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and Assembly, at the end of the day young staffers from both parties often set aside their differences and commingle with ease at the many pubs, bars, and restaurants scattered around the Capitol.
Morales and Horwitz are part of a bipartisan team loosely consisting of former and current Capitol staffers, and every Monday they gather from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at De Vere’s – an Irish-style pub near the corner of 16th and L.
Hanna Snider, who works for Assemblyman Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco, is also a member. “Our team name is a play on some Capitol language – we’re called ‘Died in Committee,’” she chuckled. “We love it (De Vere’s) because it has a lot of character there.”
Often crawling with Capitol folk, the laid-back pub is known for its extensive collection of Irish whisky, particularly its premium blends like Midleton Very Rare and Redbreast. The place is wooden and snug, with photos, maps, and other mementos of Irish history and culture. Aside from its Irish stew and fish and chips, people also come for its happy hour from 3:30 to 6:30. Happy hour drinks include $3 beers and $4 wines and spirits.
“Republicans and Democrats hangout in the same spots,” said Samuel Chung, a staffer for Assemblyman Jeff Gorell, R-Camarillo. “As long as there are drinks and food, both parties can have a good time.”
Christopher Odneal, a GOP consultant for the Assembly, agrees. “It’s definitely not uncommon for people from both sides to hangout,” he said. “I think it helps with the relationship inside (the Capitol).”
To see and be seen, staffers will frequent Chops and KBAR – trendy restaurant bars on 11th and K and 10th and K Street, respectively. Chops, with its chill outdoor patio and dimly lit indoor lounge area, has an attractive happy hour that runs until 8 – one of the latest in the capitol – and is a popular place to hold events and fundraisers. During happy hour, beers range from $2-3.50, whereas well drinks and wines are $4.50. “For after-work networking, Chops remains a popular location,” Chung said.
KBAR is similarly well liked, but crafts a more casual atmosphere – spacious and bright, with hanging light bulbs and pop art décor on its walls.
“It has outdoor seating, good happy hour, good drink prices, and they serve food from Café Bernardo (a European-style restaurant on K Street) next door so there’s food and drinks,” said Meegen Murray, who works for Senator Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo. “I think that the prices at happy hour are some of the best around the Capitol.”
KBAR’s happy hour is from 3 to 6 – $2 for beer and $3 for cocktails, house merlot, and chardonnay – cheaper than many others in the vicinity. On Mondays, happy hour runs until closing time.
Cafeteria 15L, at 15th and L, is another hub for young staffers. With a modern mix of silver chairs and wooden tables, the restaurant gives off a homey vibe and has a beautiful outdoor area with trees rising through the awning.
Murray likes to mingle there with friends. “Cafeteria is great,” she enthused. “The happy hour goes till 7 p.m., their prices are great, and they have a huge outdoor seating area.”
The restaurant is clumped with two others, Ma Jong’s and Gogi’s, and together they make up the complex called The Park. The eateries each have separate dining areas, but they share a happy hour space around a fireplace in the center of the outdoor area. Cafeteria 15L’s happy hour is from 4 to 7, and it features $4 cocktails and $5 wine.
Joshua Hoover, a staffer for Senator Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Nigel, describes it as a “fun place” that often hosts major capitol fund raisers and events. “At night they open it up and it’s like a club and bar scene as well,” he said.
But since restaurants and bars immediately by the Capitol are often venues for the constant stream of events – staffers can sometimes get tired of congregating in the same places.
Hangouts off the beaten path? LowBrau, a new German pub in midtown, 1050 20th St., is attracting large crowds and is an instant hit for beer enthusiasts. In addition to its German stein beers, the place is also known for its bratwurst and lively ambiance.
Its happy hour is more expensive, with beers from $4-5 and cocktails for $8 from 3 to 6 p.m., but that doesn’t seem to deter its customers.
“Every time I go there it’s teeming with people,” said Snider. “It’s got an alternative vibe – a great mixture of new and old styles. They have huge picnic-style tables and a great variety of dipping sauces for their duck fat fries and sausages,” she said.
Republicans and Democrats can co-exist and have a good time. So the question is this: Will this bi-partisan cordiality seep into the Capitol?