MS. REBECCA SHEIR
And now it's time for D.C. Dives, our monthly tour of the local dive bar scene.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1
What is a dive bar?
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #1
It's a glorious dump.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2
It's got to have an interesting staff and an interesting crowd.
It's got to be dark. It's got to be old. Typically, it's got to be cheap.
Today, Jared Walker takes us inside Millie and Al's, a Northwest D.C. establishment that's celebrating its 50th anniversary.
MR. JARED WALKER
It's a Thursday night and I'm at Millie and Al's on 18th Street Northwest in the heart of Adams Morgan. I meet owner Barbara Shapiro whose father, Al, founded the business back in 1963 in what was then called Ballance's Columbian Restaurant.
MS. BARBARA SHAPIRO
My dad was a regular. It was his favorite hangout. And he learned of it being for sale and quickly grabbed it.
Al Shapiro was dating a woman named Millie at the time. So he did what any self-respecting star-crossed lover would do and named his new business Millie and Al's. At the time, 18th Street was home to a vibrant commercial district that included the very first Toys "R" Us in America and the famous jazz club The Showboat Lounge. But the area quickly changed in the turbulence of the late 1960s and '70s.
He made it through the riots and some pretty, pretty tough times. It was called Little Harlem and Little Havana for a while. I mean, it was a rough gang street. And I remember coming to see my dad, and I was pretty young, and it was rough. I mean, he'd walk me out to the car with a weapon. You just didn't want to be out in the street by yourself. How he survived the really rough times, I'm not sure.
But he did survive and so did Millie and Al's. In the process, it became a fixture of the neighborhood with a loyal clientele. Along the way, the Shapiros developed a simple and successful business identity.
It hasn't changed much. I think if you saw it 50 years ago, you would recognize it, driving by, as being the same place. If it's not broke, we don't fix it.
Ted Lull has been a bartender at Millie and Al's for 13 years.
MR. TED LULL
It's basically a four-star dive. I mean, it hasn't really changed. And I mean, everything pretty much stays the same. It's like stuck in time.
Bar regular Matt Roberts says that's not necessarily a bad thing.
MR. MATT ROBERTS
I think it's very grounding. I think for a community or a sub-neighborhood to continue to be appealing and to succeed just overall, it's good to have businesses or people who have been here for a while and aren't just going to be subject to fleeting change of interest.
But there is one aspect of the bar that's constantly changing. The walls are lined with a growing collection of artifacts, art, and knickknacks that would make a TGI Friday's blush.
It's kind of fun. It's kind of an afterthought. It's like I don't think that they planned out the 50 years they were going to be here, they just sort of, "Well, that looks good. We'll throw that up on the ceiling and throw that up on the ceiling," you know. And now they have a complete melange of stuff.
What's your favorite piece of art?
I like that skeleton that makes noises and lights up with light bulbs when you're having your shots.
So wait, what does it do?
That skeleton over there, when they're doing shots that light bulb will, like, flash off and on and that -- I don't do shots, I just think it's really amusing that it has that.
You're just a fan of his work.
I'm a fan of his work, that's a good way to put it, yes.
Just then, I run into to one of the bar's security and doormen Joshua Duckett. I ask him, what's the best part about working at working at Millie and Al's?
MR. JOSHUA DUCKETT
I like getting fake IDs. I love that, man.
Why is that?
Because you let them come up, you know, and you get the card, you look at it, you know it's fake. And you sitting there and be like, really? You really think you're going to get this back?
What's the worst fake ID you've ever seen?
Oh, North Carolina. It was terrible. Everything was off on it. It didn't have the right anything on it. The fonts was off. The picture was in the wrong spot. And it was just terrible. Whoever did it, I even told him, I said, "You need to get your money back."
Duckett's reaction epitomizes the bar's good-natured, but no nonsense attitude that keeps folks like Matt Roberts coming back again and again.
I think for one it's unpretentious, and I think this place draws out the honest answer. It doesn't try to put on airs.
At Millie and Al's, everyone's a king, as long as they're legal. I'm Jared Walker.
You can find photos from Millie and Al's on our website, metroconnection.org. And if you have a favorite dive bar you think we should visit, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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