The bartenders at Ivy and Coney (1537 7th St. NW, 202-670-9489), in Washington DC's rapidly upscaling Shaw neighborhood, occasionally play a parlor game: Guess what beer is actually coming out of the Old Style tap, the one with a small sign underneath reading ". . . ish."
The small, second floor bar not far from the U.S. Capitol is a wry homage to the corner bars of Chicago (Ivy, as in Wrigley) and Detroit (Coney, the signature hot dog of Motor City). And if they don't have real Old Style, they get a lot else right. The mural of Harry Caray, smell of Vienna Beef dogs, and crunch of peanut shells under Chuck Taylors sets the sleepy tone of a neighborhood joint–the kind owner Josh Saltzman and bartender Adam Fry craved when they moved east.
"We all missed having corner bar culture," Saltzman says. "Everyone in DC was trying to do fancy cocktails and fancy food, and you know what? Sometimes you just want a shot and a beer and a hotdog."
A Rogers Park native, Saltzman says the venture started out as a joke: a place for he and "the nine other Cubs fans in DC" to drink beer and commiserate about baseball losses. His business partner in another Washington restaurant had a similar dream, but for a Tigers bar (minus the losses). They brought on Fry, also from Rogers Park, and another partner, a native Washingtonian, and opened the doors to the faux-dive in January.
They had a photo of Mike Ditka behind the bar, one of two TVs dedicated to Cubs games, and an authentic birthday shot (Malört steeped in the hotdog steamer with a sport pepper garnish), but to complete the Chicago feel, the team "tried for months and months to get Old Style, because we want that perfect taste of home," Saltzman says.
Old Style's parent company, Pabst, refused to distribute to Washington. Fry and Saltzman seriously considered stocking up on a monthly U-Haul trip to Cleveland, the closest city where it's available, but scrapped that plan so they could keep prices Chicago-cheap. Instead, they appended the handwritten "Old Style … ish" sign to the tap. They won't disclose the substitute, but assure it's in keeping with the quality of the real thing.
The hotdogs, however, are authentic—Vienna beef topped with sport peppers and neon-green relish on poppyseed buns commissioned from a local bakery. For locals uninitiated in the Chicago way, they keep a ketchup packet-filled Bucket of Shame in a lonely corner. They can't expect Washingtonians to understand the rules.
For simplicity, Saltzman and Fry keep the menu small, like their favorite neighborhood spots back home. That vibe doesn't just appeal to Midwest expats; patrons come from all over to escape Washington's upscale foodie scene. That, more than anything, is the goal.
"We want people to always feel welcome," Saltzman says. "It's just a place to watch baseball, eat hotdogs, and drink beer." He pauses. "And have a delicious Malört shot."