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Despite its name, The Raven Grill does not serve food.
"Originally, when the Raven opened it did have a grill in the back, and they sold cheeseburgers for 15 cents," explains Gretchen Georgiadis. "Pickled eggs were on the menu, and a few other things. In fact, we found an original menu in the walls when we were renovating."
But that was way back in 1935, shortly after Prohibition ended. What's available now?
"Bags of Utz potato chips," she says, while suppressing her laughter.
Georgiadis is the general manager of The Raven, a dive bar in the heart of the Mount Pleasant neighborhood of Northwest Washington, D.C., and one of the oldest drinking establishments in the District.
When asked the secret to their longevity, Georgiadis replies with one word--authenticity.
"I think we have a really nice, eclectic staff as well as clientele," she continues. "People don't come in here and pretend to be something they are not."
Author and fellow bartender Derek Brown agrees with Georgiadis.
"I love cocktails, and I love great service. Those are things that animate the way I create a bar," says Brown, who owns two high-end D.C. cocktail bars--The Passenger and The Columbia Room.
"But what I love more than that is authenticity," he says. "I love when you go to a place that is uncompromisingly itself."
Brown's not alone. The Raven has a diverse crowd of likeminded regulars.
"Our clientele really runs the gamut," explains Georgiadis. "We have 80-some-year-old men that still come in here that hung out here in the '40s. I've got 21-year-olds that come in here on the weekends, and I've got everything in between. We have a somewhat local celebrity that's here every day. He used to play with Aretha Franklin, and he's on half of the music on our jukebox. And he'll come in every day and play songs. He was a studio musician with [Franklin] and toured a couple of times as well."
True to form, Nate Bradham shows up with a pocket full of $1 bills and begins to play an assortment of his favorite classic R&B tunes.
"I've been coming here since 1975, and I come back for the few friends that I do have, and the jukebox," says Bradham. "I love that jukebox. I put my life savings in the jukebox. I love music."
And while the Raven is a relatively open and friendly place, like any good dive bar, it has some eccentricities, rough edges, and unwritten rules all patrons must abide by.
"I like Snickers, and I like foie gras," explains Brown. "When I go into a 7-Eleven, I don't expect to get foie gras. And when I go into a four-star restaurant, I don't expect to get a Snickers bar. And each experience is great, but they are different."
What happens when you ask for foie gras in the Raven?
"I had a young lady come in the other night and ask for a hot toddy, and I almost had to stop myself from laughing," recalls Georgiadis. "She was like 'Oh, what? It's okay if you don't have honey.' I said, 'Sweetheart, I don't have honey, I don't have lemons, I don't have sugar, I don't have teabags, and I don't have hot water. I can give you the shot of whiskey and that's about it.'"
"D.C. needs places like this to remind us that D.C. is comprised of a lot of different segments and populations," Brown says of the bar's unpretentious nature and diverse clientele. "It's not just about the Hill staffers who come into town. It's not just about the hipsters and their bike lanes. It's not just about the African-American population. It's about a confluence of so many different kinds of people, and it's what makes D.C., in my mind, the greatest city in the world."
"I think a lot of [those different groups] meet here," says Brown. "I've been in here nights with Ethiopians, and Latinos, and hipsters, and white people, and black people, and black hipsters, and old white guys, and just everything under the sun."
And tonight is no different. The room fills with strangers and friends, black, brown, and white, young and old, drinking beers, laughing, and listening to music from that fantastic, ancient jukebox.
[Music: "Respect" by Aretha Franklin from Absolute 60s CD 1 / "Moonlight Serenade" by Franck Pourcel from Instrumental/Concorde]
D.C. Dives: The Raven Grill