The nation’s capital has reeked of booze since early Thursday morning, when people dragged themselves out of bed and into packed bars to watch the hottest show in the country: a middle-aged white dude testifying before a dais of mostly older white dudes.
At Union Pub on Capitol Hill, the crowd is a mix of faux pearls, starched collars and polo shirts, plus throngs of annoying reporters, climbing over patrons to shove bright cameras and mics in their faces – all trying to get their buzz on (or to document people doing so) while watching former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony.
It’s not even 10 a.m., and plastic frat-party cups are stacked high, with some already being employed for cheap beer, while real glasses are holding Bloody Marys and tangy mimosas for other early-morning guests. Fox News is on every screen, because this is basically a Republican bar. Bernie Sanders often strolls by outside carrying his dry cleaning, and Democratic Sen. Jon Tester of Montana is known to stop in with his staff every now and then for a pitcher of cheap beer, but the pub sits directly across from the Heritage Foundation – the most prominent conservative think tank in America, which has now been co-opted by the Tea Party and has largely taken the lead in helping President Trump staff his White House and roll out his far-right agenda.
Union Pub was a tad late to join the many other D.C. bars clamoring to make bank off Comey’s hearing, but the establishment distinguished itself by offering patrons a free round every time Trump tweets about Comey between 9:30 a.m. and the end of the hearing. As the proceedings wear on, the silence from the president is deafening in this packed house of hopeful freeloaders.
Still, the crowd is eager to watch the Trump wreckage in real time. As the testimony kicks off, it’s standing-room-only, in part because the patio can’t open until 11:30 a.m. – the bar’s liquor license restricts it from serving out there before the sun gets to a somewhat reasonable level. But soon the place is over-capacity, and at around 10:40 an official from the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration drops in to tell the bar’s owners to open up the patio to ease congestion.
Then the D.C. equivalent of fireworks start going off on the TV screens.
“Those were lies, plain and simple,” Comey intones about Trump, his former boss. The crowd erupts with an “Oooooh!”
“I am so sorry I didn’t get the chance to say goodbye to you personally,” Comey says, addressing his former FBI colleagues who are likely crowded around TVs at the bureau a few blocks away from us. That one gets an extended “Awwwww!”
I hear from fellow journalist Peter Ogburn, who’s over at Capitol Hill’s greatest dive bar, the Tune Inn – where a Southwestern congressman has his own double shot glass behind the bar for tequila. As much as I’d like to join him there, I know that if I move I may not get another bar seat for the rest of the day. So I ask him to send me any colorful images he sees.
“For sure!” he texts back. “Starting with the two dudes who just sat down at the table behind me and ordered Long Island iced teas at 10am.”
“Both look like J Crew models,” he responds when I ask for more details. “Pastel ties and chinos.”
An hour later Peter tells me a random local has wandered in, not knowing a thing about Comey. “What the fuck – isn’t there anything good on?” he says. The rest of the bar shushes him.
Back at Union Pub, a middle-aged guy rocking a tie-dyed Grateful Dead tee has walked through the door, standing out amid the polo shirts. This briefly renews my hope in Washington, until it occurs to me he might be a tourist.
“Are you from here?” I ask, perhaps a bit too eagerly.
“I am,” he responds, warily, to the dude thrusting a notebook and pen in his direction.
Turns out his name is Dave Levin, and he’s an entomologist – he studies insects. Levin is in his gap year, so he can do things like spend a morning drinking IPAs on Capitol Hill. He’s picked Union Pub because he wants to watch history unfold at the “closest bar to the hearings.”
“We’ve had unnamed sources, and now here’s the director” speaking out, Levin says of why he wants to tune in. “I want to hear it straight from the horse’s mouth. Not that he’s a horse or anything.”
I ask him what insect he would liken Trump to. “Dung beetle,” he says.
“I’m old enough to remember the Watergate hearings, but I was too young to drink then,” says the 53-year-old, noting he was “pissed off” when his grandma forced him to watch the Nixon scandal unfold instead of his usual cartoons.
Nowadays, like the rest of the nation, Levin can’t get enough of the Trump drama, even if it often feels like he’s watching a bad cartoon.
As the hearing wraps up, Trump still hasn’t tweeted, disappointing many in the crowd, but Union Pub comes through for its guests – the bartenders hand out a free round of green camouflage bottles of Budweiser emblazoned with the word “America.”
Residents in Washington, D.C. packed out a local bar to watch former FBI Director James Comey’s congressional hearing. Watch here.