To the uninitiated the Quarry House Tavern in Silver Spring, Md. may be difficult to find, but that's not by design.
"We don't have a sign," explains former general manager Gordon Banks. "Our big sign actually blew away in a storm, and the other sign got stolen."
You'd think that might be a problem for a bar whose entrance is located at the bottom of a poorly lit stairwell in the basement of an Indian restaurant, but owner Jackie Greenbaum says the clientele of the Quarry House is a resilient and, in her words, "self-selecting" crowd.
"There are people that walk down the steps that fall in love and they know this is their new bar," says Greenbaum. "And there are people that walk down the steps, or who won't go down the steps, who just high tail it out."
If you enter the Quarry House, two things immediately stand out. First, the bar is dark.
"There is a window, but there is something covering it up," Greenbaum admits with a wry smile.
Second, the ceiling is really low.
So, just how low is it? On this Saturday night, Silver Spring residents Brent Ewig and Samantha Biondo are dancing to live music from rockabilly band The Ultrakings. With each twirl and hop, their heads come within a foot of the plaster. However, they don't seem to mind. Samantha says it's all part of the draw for them.
"This is our local dive bar," says Biondo. "To the extent we get out, with two little kids, we do try to come here as much as possible. They usually have really good music on Saturday nights, and it's just the kind of place where you can come and it's very casual. It's laid back to the point that they don't even answer the phone when you call."
As the bar's former booking agent, musician J.P. McDermott helped create the bar's live music scene with its emphasis on rockabilly music. "It's part of what I think makes the Quarry House so unique," claims McDermott. "With that fun music in there on a Saturday night, you get a range of ages. You get people who were listening to Elvis Presley when he first hit the radio, and the younger kids are at the Quarry House anyway because it's a cool place to be."
McDermott thinks that this Silver Spring establishment is the perfect dive. "I think a dive bar's got to have sort of a dark atmosphere," states McDermott. "Underground bars work great as dive bars. They're away from the prying eyes of the street. It's got to have some good music. It's got to have an interesting staff and an interesting crowd. And I think the Quarry House hits all of those bells."
And the staff at the Quarry House have plenty of interesting stories.
"We once had a gentleman walk in bare-ass naked and walk up to the bar and say 'May I have a vodka cranberry?'" recalls Banks. "He was very polite," he says suppressing his laughter. "I had some new bartenders in there. Their jaws dropped and they didn't know what to do. And one of the other bartenders who was training them just walks up to him, puts his arm around him, and says 'Come on, naked guy!' And walks him back up the stairs where the police were waiting for him. And I was like, 'Here we go. This is why my parents want me to take computer classes!'"
On this evening all the customers are fully clothed, well-behaved, and seemingly having a very good time. Couples are dancing to live music, friends are huddled together at their tables, and conversations are piercing through the wailing sound of a Telecaster guitar. In other words, it's just another Saturday night at the Quarry House Tavern.
Photos: D.C. Dives: Quarry House Tavern