The Bars of My Life: The Bardo Rodeo, Arlington, Virginia

I Will Recognize Whatever Appears As My Projection, And Know It To Be A Vision Of The Bardo

It was late 1996, and with my first marriage in the crapper, I needed a new apartment.  At the time, I was living in Northern Virginia, out in Fairfax County.  It was a nice enough place, but a little too suburban.  I wanted to move a little closer to the District, and to someplace that had some nightlife.  I narrowed my search to Alexandria and Arlington, both sitting right on the Potomac River.

Alexandria is a cool place, but if you get too far from the Old Town section, it gets pretty rough.  Arlington seemed more promising, but I was coming up empty.  Every place that I tried to look at had just been rented.  Needing some food and some beer, I found the Bardo Rodeo on Arlington Boulevard, and settled at the bar for some nourishment.

The Bardo Rodeo claimed to be the largest brewpub on the Eastern Seaboard.  I do not know whether that was true, but it was huge.  It was housed in an old car dealership and it encompassed the entire structure, including the service bays.  There was an old Buick that looked like it crashed through the window.  They always had at least ten of their own beers on tap, and another dozen or so guest beers.  No bottled beers, no booze, no wine, just a startling variety of good beer on tap.

So I was sitting at the bar, eating my chili and drinking my beer, and wondering where the fuck was I going to live, when I looked out the front window of the Bardo and noticed a group of small red brick apartment buildings.  I finished my meal and ambled into the rental office, and not only did they have vacancies, the rents were a good hundred bucks below what I budgeted for myself.  I signed the lease that day.

The Bardo became my living room.  I was watching a basketball game in my apartment one weekend, and the game went to a commercial.  I decided to grab a beer, and I was sitting at the bar before the commercial that I started watching in my apartment had ended.  That was how close I lived to it.  They had a movie theater size screen in one room for sporting events and movies.  I watched Tiger demolish Augusta to win his first Masters and watched Jordan push off and sink that shot to beat the Jazz for the title on that screen.

I played pool there, watched sports, listened to music and drank some of the best beer I have ever had.  The Graceland Imperial Stout was a powerhouse, and was the first time I ever saw the term ‘Imperial’ used to describe a big beer.  They had at least three different IPAs, two stouts, a couple of pale ales and a handful of porters.  The Saturnus Winter Ale was brewed with pine needles and is to this day my all time favorite winter ale.  Their hefeweizen was better than anything that comes from Germany, and while their Marion Berry Lambic was not a great beer, the Bardo gets extra credit for the fantastic name.

One night, my cousin and I ordered a pitcher of their barleywine, White Lightnin’.  The waitress said, “Are you sure?” We said, “oh yeah, definitely.”  If a waitress asks “are you sure?” when you order a pitcher, take heed of her warning.  I don’t remember getting home that night.  I woke up the next morning with a splitting headache, face down on my kitchen floor.

The Bardo always had great guest beers.  They used to save a barrel of Anchor’s Christmas Ale from the previous year, so that you could compare each year’s release.  This was the first place that I had a beer from Rogue Brewing, and they always had interesting beers from the Pacific Coast and the Rocky Mountains.

I need to mention Luke, the bartender.  That guy took a liking to me for some reason, and I used to stumble out of there after trying nearly every beer on tap, and it never cost me more than twelve bucks.  I always overtipped him, and still came out way ahead of the game.  One night, JK and I were in there for a good six hours, and we were pounding beers as fast as Luke could pour them.  When I asked to settle up, he asked for twenty bucks.  I think we gave him the twenty, plus another thirty as a tip.

The Bardo Rodeo is gone now.  They stopped brewing there shortly after I left Virginia, and it limped along for a while as a sushi bar and taphouse.  The property is vacant and is going to be developed for condos.

8 Responses to The Bars of My Life: The Bardo Rodeo, Arlington, Virginia

  1. MCM Mama says:

    Boy, this post brings back some memories! I still miss that place.

  2. […] 9:30 Club could totally make this happen. (You know, if Bardo were still around . . . ) You can leave a comment, or trackback from your own site. RSS […]

  3. ah, the Bardo . . . favorite memory is the womens bathroom. I have a great snapshot of the mural “Elvesite, the Queen.”

  4. […] but it was damn good in the bottle, 8.5/10.The Ghost of Past Christmas Beer:  Saturnus Winter Ale, Bardo Rodeo, Arlington, Viriginia – I am not one of these old guys who thinks everything was better in […]

  5. […] you have to give credit where it’s due, if nothing else the process was unique and creative. Bardo obviously fostered a strong sense of community. This is the kind of atmosphere Garcia and Hagerman […]

  6. […] the idea of web apps aren’t new. I remember all of us sitting around either at the office or Bardo Rodeo (which was right next door) with the developers (I was in business development) talking about the […]

  7. Paul says:

    I was reminiscing about the Bar do and googled your site. I remember the graffito lyrics to Ring of Fire on the wall. Jeeze that was a long time ago …..

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