The Raven in Mount Pleasant is one of Washington’s oldest and most loved bars, famed for its cheap beer, uncomfortable booths, outstanding jukebox, and varied clientele. It’s always included in lists of DC’s best dive bars, which attracts a lot of cultural tourists who have no idea what a dive bar is or how to behave in one. Luckily Stuck in DC is here to help. This is a complete, step-by-step guide to being uncool in the Raven.
First of all, know why you’re going to the Raven. Your motivation is not grabbing a few drinks with your friends and unwinding after a long day at work. You can do that anywhere. You’re going to the Raven because you’ve heard about what a cool, authentic dive bar it is from internet lists and you’ve been meaning to check it out for yourself. For the optimal uncool Raven experience, it’s long been an item on your “DC bucket list” you’ve been meaning to cross off. And by cross off, we mean update your color-coded Excel spreadsheet where your DC bucket list resides.
You’re a busy young professional and you don’t live near Mount Pleasant, so start your uncool Raven journey by planning your trip several weeks in advance. Send your friends a Google Calendar entry titled: Happy Hour at the Raven Grill. When the big day comes, you should get to work early so you can justify leaving at 5 for happy hour. Tell all your uncool coworkers about your evening dive bar plans to show you’re cooler than them. You can really rub it in by scheduling your Raven trip on the same night as a work softball game.
When 5 rolls around, leave the office, hop on the Metro, and head up to the Columbia Heights station, where you’ll meet your uncool friends (who should be at least a little uncomfortable with all the middle-aged black men sitting around smoking). One of you should wonder aloud if you’re going to feel out of place in business casual clothing. Another should explain that dive bars are known for welcoming all kinds, so you should be fine. Since this is the first time you’ve been in this area for something other than the Target, punch The Raven Grill into your phone’s Google Maps and follow its directions to Mount Pleasant Street (ladies should have planned ahead and brought flats to work today in anticipation of the four block trek).
It’s six. You’ve reached the Raven. Time to get your happy hour on! But first, you should commemorate this occasion with a group photo in front of the bar. Ask one of the old Latin American men shuffling by if he can take the photo with your phone. When that fails, get in close, hold your arm out as far as you can and smile for the camera.
Now it’s time to enter the bar. Give the older, tattooed bouncer an uneasy smile as you wonder if this was such a good idea, then hand him your Connecticut license. Stand in the entryway a few seconds and take in the Raven in all its glory. Scan the room and stare at the regulars with a mix of curiosity and fear. Then notice that the big front booth with the window (which is as far away from those regulars as possible) is wide open. Snag it, remarking on your good fortune. Then, when you realize that the seat is all lumpy and in dire need of re-upholstering, get up and move to one of the booths along the side wall instead. Note that this booth isn’t much better than the other one, but that it will have to do. For full effect, brush off your work pants to remove any debris that might have accumulated.
Alright, you’re here. Time to drink. But first, pull up the picture you just took outside the bar, apply an outlandish filter, and post to as many social media accounts as possible (with the obvious exception of LinkedIn, which must remain sacrosanct for the sake of your career). After all, what’s the point of going to the Raven if your less cool friends don’t know about it in real time?
Go up to the bar and give the bartender a big smile to show you’re good people. Say “good evening, Miss” before placing an order for a few old fashioneds and a dirty martini, straight up. When you’re told with some derision that the Raven doesn’t have the ingredients to make those drinks, say “but the sign in the front says cocktails.” When you’re again told that they don’t have the ingredients to make those drinks, give your friends a nervous glance then look back at the bartender with a pleading expression. Thinking quickly on your feet now, settle for asking what’s on tap. When you’re told there is no tap (and when you rightly infer that this is not a place to order wine), settle for canned beer. Prepare to order a round of Natty Bos, but worry that calling them Natty Bos will make it seem like you’re trying to be cool. So instead, order a round of “Natural Bohemians.”
After the bartender gets your cans, drop a credit card on the bar from at least eight inches in the air. When you’re told that the Raven only takes cash, say “Really?” When the bartender, who has been far more patient than she should be, points you towards an ATM in the bar, walk outside instead, to the nearby Bank of America ATM. Then come back, give the bartender a twenty, and tell her to keep the change like you’re a chivalrous white knight of yore. Optional: when you get back to your booth, whisper to your friends about how the bartender is kind of rude.
Now sit back and enjoy your Natural Bohemians as you talk loudly and freely about your jobs and other jobs (and grad schools) you’d like to apply for. Use the word “deliverables” if possible and speak to your love of international travel and your desire to buy a rowhouse in an “up and coming” part of town. Maybe point to the poster of John Lennon on the wall and declare “I love the Beatles.” It’s important that you also fail to notice how much everyone else in the bar hates you, which shouldn’t be a problem, since you’re not about to make eye contact.
Congratulations! You’re now by far the least cool person in the Raven. But if you want to go further still and reach a transcendent level of uncoolness in the Raven, this next step is essential: go back up to the bar and motion for the bartender. When she finally comes back, tell her that the mini jukebox in your booth doesn’t seem to be working. Before she can respond, say that you’d also like to see a menu. When you’re told that they only have bags of chips and pretzels, decide right then and there that you’ll be writing a negative Yelp review of this so-called bar as soon as you get home. Start composing it in your head: “I know the Raven Grill is a dive bar, BUT…”
There’s really no need for a second round, is there? You’ve more than gotten the gist of this joint. So take one last group picture in your booth and announce to your friends that you’re hungry. Say loud enough for the whole bar to hear that you’re going to call an Uber. When it comes, get the fuck out of there and make the short trip to Bourbon in Adams Morgan, where you’ll talk about what a dump the Raven is over appetizers and cocktails. Say that it’s the worst DC dive bar you’ve ever been to, noting that it can’t hold a candle to American Ice.
And, although you hated being there, be sure to tell your uncool coworkers what a great time you had at the Raven when you see them in the morning. Then pull up your spreadsheet, mark off the Raven, and start planning for your next bucket list adventure: a journey to the oft-spoken of but seldom seen land of H Street.