I've lived in and around Columbia Heights for the six years I've lived in DC, and I always lamented the fact that there wasn't a good sports bar in Columbia Heights. Sure Ventnor Sports Cafe in Adams Morgan is solid, and Old Dominion Brewhouse is an adequate refuge to watch football on Sunday, but they weren't convenient. So I was ecstatic when Lou's City Bar opened just a few blocks from my apartment several months ago. But now, after several months and several visits I am here to tell you that I am underwhelmed and that there is still a place for a great sports bar in Columbia Heights. Let me explain.
It should be perfect. There's a critical mass of TVs, an extensive beer selection both on draft and in the bottle, there's a solid bar, good service, and a fantastic outdoor patio that they have three TVs out on most nights. The beer is reasonably priced and there's always a beer special of the month (for a time it was a $4 Leinenkugel Summer Shandy, "Yes, please!"), but there's still something lacking. The food is painfully mediocre.
I've been to Lou's a number of times and always enjoyed the beer. I've also eaten there a number of times. In fact, I've tried the buffalo wings, the calamari, the nachos, the french dip, the reuben, the blackened bleu burger, and the benedict burger. That's constitutes a good percentage of the menu and while I never sent anything back, I've also never ordered anything more then once. In fact, part of the reason I've had so many different things is because every time I order something I am so underwhelmed by it that I think something else has to be better. The search continues.
I'll begin with the buffalo wings. I am a wing fanatic, especially on a Sunday afternoon. Some of my favorite places to get wings are Mackey's (which is inexplicably closed on Sunday much to my chagrin) and Ventnors. At Lou's the wings come unbreaded, but fried. All that is normal, but the sauce, well it's not good. It's a sweet-ish spice the departs a long way from say a Frank's Red Hot sauce or anything similar. Also, the wings look a bit scrawny, which could be a consequence not being breaded, but it could also simply be that they're puny wings. When you want me to pay $10 for wings, I expect some meat on the bone.
Next, the burgers. They tend to come out dry and a bit overcooked. That lack of juicy-ness though is the real killer for the burger. When I think about the better burgers I've had at a bar like at Sign of the Whale, or even a no frills place like Lindy's Red Lion, those burgers are juicy and flavorful. The taste of beef and the toppings come together splendidly. But sadly, that's not the case at Lou's. I dare say the best thing I've had so far is the reuben, but taste to price the $10 they charge me for it seems a couple dollars too expensive. That's really the issue with all the food at Lou's. None of it is awful or offensive, but when the bill comes and you wonder was that a $10 sandwich the answer for everyone I've ever dined there with is no.
Now I'm dogging on the food pretty bad and I don't know what the chefs are working with in the kitchen. It could be they don't have the materials to be successful. It could be my tastes are wrong. And I don't say any of this to try and run Lou's out of business. I want Lou's to succeed, because I've waited a long time for a sports bar in Columbia Heights. But I worry that the take on slow sports nights will be so abysmal that it could sink the restaurant. People will come to a bar like Lou's on a Sunday afternoon for the beer and the TVs, but they'll come back after work on Tuesday if the food they had on Sunday was really good. I worry that for Lou's, nobody will be there on Tuesday.
But I'll keep going back to Lou's. They've got a great beer selection. They've got a great vibe, and they're just around the corner. But I'll eat dinner before I head over for a brew.