Post-424: Maddy’s Taproom, r.i.p. (2011-2020)

Maddy’s Taproom,” a bar, previously of downtown Washington D.C.

I remember when I saw that it had been abandoned. It was late in 2020. There it was, boarded up. Closed permanently. “Retail space available” signs were up.

I later learned that Maddy’s Taproom had closed several months earlier, in July 2020. It had been doing fine as of February 2020.

The picture I use here is lifted from the Internet. It is what the street-corner entrance looked like in the 2010s. Now imagine boards of plywood over all the glass-windows and doors. Now imagine me, on the sidewalk diagonal across, seeing the place in its permanently-closed-and-boarded-up condition for the first time. It was a sad moment.

I had some memories and some passing appreciation or fondness for this place, Maddy’s Taproom. That day I passed by in 2020, I didn’t know that the place had gone down. Gone. Another victim of that great monster, the year 2020.


(4750 words)

Maddy’s Taproom, as I say, was a low-priced bar. What I recall of the inside is wooden tables and chairs, a few booths, low lightning, working toilets, and cheap beer. There was some kind of low music but it didn’t interfere with conversation. The clientele that I encountered there was mellow, unpretentious. Nobody around had a particularly bad attitude. It was a relaxed place. It was a pleasant place. That is why I steered people there occasionally. It is why I am writing this “ode” or recollection and commentary on the place.

The main attractions of Maddy’s Taproom, to us, were the price and the location. It seemed to be the cheapest bar in the general downtown area. Other bars, or restaurants serving alcohol, were too high-priced for comfort. Others were too loud, or too far away.

Beer was sold at Maddy’s Taproom for (as low as) $3 at all times. That is in downtown Washington in the late 2010s. A good deal. The food was also reasonably priced, as far as I remember. I appreciated the kind of business that this place was.

I am sure that Maddy’s Taproom got a wide range of customers, including tourists and such, but the best clientele it served (as far as I’m concerned) was this: the person in the downtown area working but on the periphery of things, without a large income. I refer to the large numbers of low-paid interns, various junior-level people of all descriptions, and graduate students. Washington has lots of undergraduate and graduate students, but not many of them would tend to be downtown often. There are a few exceptions. In part of the late 2010s I was a graduate student and for one reason or another was in one part or another of the greater downtown area almost every day.

The place also seemed to serve miscellaneous passers-through and sojourners. I remember one man telling me of how he had just returned to the USA after x years away and didn’t know what to do with himself. his was a white-American male approximately my age. I can’t remember where he said he had been. I cannot now remember only the aura he was giving off. It was an aura of wanting to connect, perhaps of reverse culture-shock. Wherever he had been, the impression he gave was that it had been like his own version of Henry Morgan Stanley disappearing for a while into the wilds of Africa never to be seen again until the dramatic arrival of Dr. Livingstone. This was probably 2018. This man had returned to the USA a short time earlier and was looking for meaning at this bar.

People without the financial means to go to the higher-end places were given, by Maddy’s Taproom, the ability to meet socially in that traditional bonding place, the beer-hall. The little-guy got to have some dignity.


I recall this beer-hall fondly, as I write this in March 2023, but I don’t have much interest in “alcohol qua alcohol.” I have sometimes described my views on alcohol in these terms (quoting or paraphrasing myself): “If I had a magic wand, I would eliminate alcohol from the world entirely.” There are no magic wands, I would go on, and we have no practical way of eliminating alcohol. A poisonous substance it may be, and one not to be made a heavy habit of. But a part of culture that runs deep, and serves certain purposes, the brighter side of which we might to well to look to.

I do not like alcohol and I do tend to view it as a bit of a social evil, as it certainly is for certain people. But a positive side of this poisonous substance is this: Alcohol is culturally designated as a thing to be present at times of celebration to signal merriment, success, good-will, or the like. Okay, fine. Alcohol is also a time-tested method of bonding. It serves that role in a way that, say, a “cafe” is a poor substitute for. I am speaking about males here. (All Washington coffeeshops close early, anyway, incidentally.) Maddy’s Taproom, and institutions like it across the land and through the years, have served this important social function.


The Korean concept of “chŏng” [정] is something I often had occasion to think about in the 2010s. Whatever they tell you it means, chŏng really seems to mean the bonding one has done or achieved through having undergone some experience with another person, particularly some hardship. It is not friendship. It could be associated with friendship but is not simply a synonym of our concept friendship. One can also speak of chŏng for one’s enemies, for example. And a good example in Korean culture is the tradition of drinking with one’s coworkers and supervisor[s], people you may not even like but with whom you likely have a chŏng thing going on.

It seems to me that this chŏng concept can be associated with alcohol. The act of drinking together as the tending of the garden in which a chŏng plant has taken root in other circumstances.

There are as many paths to chŏng as there are varieties of ‘hardship’ and interpersonal relations out there. Beer-halls are not at all needed, but they or a comparable institution can and do play a part. Maddy’s Taproom was exactly the kind of place for it, especially by merit of its location, allowing people in a section of downtown an easy stop-off place, not having to make a long trek of it.


The site of Maddy’s Taproom was the ground floor of the building on the northwest corner of 13th & L Streets NW, Washington D.C.

This location is well within the “downtown” area. The site has been within the core of the city of Washington since some time in the early 19th century. The way things now work, its location “downtown” made Maddy’s Taproom more low-key than an equivalent place in an actual entertainment-oriented area would be.

Interestingly, I have far more memory of Maddy’s Taproom from passing it on the street than of being in it. I passed by far more frequently. I think I was first inside in 2017. From then until 2019, I seemed to run into the place often, while going to or from somewhere or other. I also remember early on consistently being unable to remember the exact site or name. I recall failing when trying to “Google Map” it on at least one occasion. Then not too long later I’d run into it again and be reminded of it. Its central ensured that, central in a general sense and not immediately adjacent to any place I had business, but always en route to one thing or another.

Another thing I remember about the Maddy’s Taproom location: It was easier to see the place when coming up 13th Street (especially northbound) than along L Street. I am sure I used 13th Street with some regularity. I was definitely often on L Street, as it was the best option for cross-town bicycling in those days. (The bicycle is definitely the best way to get around Washington.) However, Maddy’s Taproom was easier to see (notice) if going west on L Street, but L Street is east-bound only, cars and bicycles both. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t remember it at first.


My final visit to Maddy’s Taproom would have been in 2019. I remember that they had raised the price of beer. The cheapest beer had been a delightful $3, but then by late-summer or so of 2019 it was suddenly up to $4. Something like that. This price-rise was more of a let-down to me and M.K. than might be merited, as $1 is not much money. M.K. is the friend I most often went with. The low prices and central location had been principal attractions to us both; the price rise undermined one of the pillars. Had the food prices also gone up? We couldn’t remember but became suspicious.

M.K. was a graduate-school friend. He was from Missouri. He had been in Europe and had worked some years in the Philippines. He had studied Russian. He could speak about most subjects intelligently. I generally enjoyed talking with him “off-campus.”

M.K. was a die-hard walker. He was disinclined to make himself available for things to which he could not walk, but he was willing to walk long distances. He lived a long walk from Maddy’s Taproom in the direction of where the office-heavy downtown gives way to the residence-heavy areas to points north and east, surrounding downtown like a chef’s cap. It was also roughly on his way from the places he would otherwise be anyway.

The location of Maddy’s Taproom — which M.K. like or appreciated as much or more than I — being right at the corner of a “numbered and lettered” intersection as it was, made it easy to find from anywhere within the downtown grid. All you needed to remember was an alphanumeric three-character sequence: “1-3 – L.” (13th Street & L Street). With that special code, you could orient yourself in the right direction and get there before long. This, too, greatly appeals to me and my pride in navigating most of the core parts of Washington by sight or instinct. Not that it is that hard, but it seems rare these days.

M.K. was one of those people who made a point of not using navigation tools out of principle. This fit with his own sense of being an outsider in Washington, a feeling roughly comparable to my own, of tending towards disgruntlement and political pessimism at what I observe of the USA and what it offers people like us. I think a good deal of our friendship was because of that aforementioned chŏng, the Korean term (see above). I think M.K. more than matched me on the basically “pessimistic outlook” front, although we were both in good spirits most of the time in the late 2010s (“pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”).

I think it was I who introduced M.K. to Maddy’s Taproom, which perhaps he had walked by as well but had not noticed or realized it was so good. He liked it very much and for the same reasons I did, as a poor-man’s social space after-hours.

As this parallels the fate of Maddy’s Taproom, I feel I can tell this story, too: M.K. went into a depression in the terrible 2020-2021 period because of the lockdowns and related disruptions and damage done to any job-seeker. He was cut from a job and became deeply pessimistic and frustrated with an inability to get a new job despite holding good degrees. He also had problems related to his living space. The lockdowns being as brutal as they were in Washington, he had nowhere to go. The general sense that a non-connected white male cannot get a fair-shake in today’s USA was his main problem (as I interpret it), and in 2020 this seemed to be blared with flashing lights and screeching whistles; the message to people like him: You are not needed, and not wanted. Who can blame him for going into a depression?

In any case, M.K. swore off drinking alcohol forever some time in this period. He later explained to me me that he didn’t like his habit of often drinking at home. This and other changes I noticed in M.K. and in the early 2020s he moved distinctly away from the proactive and and relatively sunny sociability of earlier years. He moved towards a deep negativity and pessimism and lack of will. I conclude that M.K. was another victim of 2020, much as was Maddy’s Taproom itself (which he loved), both knocked down for  similar reasons at about the same time.

I have had any alcohol in calendar-year 2023, and I don’t say that with any pride. I have, in fact, have never drank alcohol alone at home in my life, so not having drank alcohol means I had no occasion to do so socially.


There was another reason I liked Maddy’s Taproom which I’ve so far only alluded to, I think, but feel need to deal with directly. It is one not directly related to the practical concerns of price and location, as vital as those are. This other reason I liked Maddy’s Taproom was that it was self-consciously unpretentious, unapologetic, “normal.” At least it was marketed that way. Encountering it felt somehow like a breath of fresh air in a place that seemed marked by inorganic coldness, unfriendliness, and sanctimony.

A lot was said about the rise (or recovery, or revival) of Washington D.C. in/by the 2010s. It had become an attractive city in the 2010s in many important ways. I grant you that the bar for this city was quite low, and the much-heralded recovery never quite extended to including a re-normalization of productive families with children attending public schools. It never came close to that in a general sense. But it did go far, and Maddy’s Taproom itself was one of hundreds if not thousands of tangible little examples of the new Washington.

The “new Washington” that began to emerge in the 2000s was flourishing in the 2010s, and the city’s civic and cultural life continued major strides year after year. Maddy’s Taproom came on the scene in 2011, opening I think in late summer or fall 2011. That is about the time I departed the USA for Korea the second time, after participating in a failed solar-panel venture and being haunted by a feeling that I had unfinished business in Korea. By the time I began to interact with Washington on a very-regular basis in late August 2016, when I began spending most waking hours there, things had improved even further.

I remember in the 2000s, when people began to say that “Washington is turning a corner now” and comments like that. I had doubted the possibility that the notoriously dysfunctional city could achieve a general-turnaround. I was glad to be proved wrong. The city really did get a lot better in some ‘palpable’ ways. A positive momentum was successfully created.

But the “new” Washington and its undeniable successes were never fully organic. The new Washington was safer and had more things going on and reasons to want to be on the scene, but it was also a strange, sanctimonious, and generally unfriendly place in many ways. “Inorganic” does fit. There still were not many families. No one wanted to put their own children in the public schools. A lot of the newcomers were suspicious types. A sophisticated kind of anomie was in the ascendant and observable, and this new digitally mediated anomie began to enter a feedback-loop with digital-reality, as we now recognize it, some time in the 2000s I suppose. This spiraled upward in the 2010s to an unhealthy place.

Washington is, in part, defined by a lot of sour and dour people around, who take themselves too seriously. Others who have perhaps too much money for their own good are also to be found, which is perhaps to some extent inevitable in a national capital. Another very-common type is the high-achieving, overambitious young woman with money or ambitions for earning lots of money in search of a man with noticeably more money or prestige than she, but she is never able to find such a man and becomes increasingly negative. These various sorts of people, I believe from experience and observation and some consideration of the matter, to be “more than the sum of their parts,” by which I mean they form a new “class.” There is no reason to discard class analysis just because the USSR dissolved itself a few decades ago. The “class” concept, however, should be allowed flexibility. It seems these in-migrants into Washington were largely members, either fully formed or in-process-of-becoming.

Maddy’s Taproom, in its decor and things, presented itself as a traditional establishment, as if some holdover from a century ago, perhaps. A community pillar. Having been founded in 2011, it was no such thing. But in spirit, maybe it was. Image shapes reality. It did not try particularly hard to serve the “new class” I’ve just described a bit in the previous paragraph. Well, in practice it actually, did serve them, for there is not much of a way to avoid that clientele in the Washington of the 2010s. But it did not pitch directly to them in the way many places did.

Those who wanted to herald the success of Washington in the 2010s could point to things that were much reduced: the crime; the drugs; the social malaise of all kinds, really; ‘systemic’ dysfunction; the general-purpose laughing-stock nature of a city which had a multiple-term crack-addict as a mayor. These things were almost all off the scene. Although some of the decline can be traced to the 1940s, 1950s, and early-mid 1960s, it was the 1968 riots that set the tone for the following forty years. The entirety of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s were terrible for Washington, most of the city a no-go zone. Entire functioning neighborhoods of the early-mid 20th century collapsed. The good people abandoned most of the city, or as they see it they were chased out. I’d propose it was the money-magnet of the federal government alone that ensured the city didn’t quite become another Detroit.

We have the population-loss data and crime-data to prove these things, and the recollections of millions who knew the city. It was a place to avoid. The same fate befell my mother’s family’s hometown of New Britain, Connecticut, and many other cities in the USA.

Maddy’s Taproom, at least in the image I’ve built up for it here, was a symbol of functioning normality (even if, granted, maybe an artificial-normality). Its presence there for almost nine years of the 2010s was one small symbol of how Washington was “back.” Then came 2020. The city quickly reverted to dysfunction. It happened in a way only ‘conspiracy’-people would have plotted out: mandatory shutdowns for a flu virus.

The Washington of the early 2020s, even after the end of lockdownism, often seems to resemble the bad-old-days of the 1980s or 1990s, with that certain ‘palpable’ sense unsafety, an unsettling disregard for standards or decency, a bleak “nothing-matters” spirit that prevails or goes unchallenged. The number of arrests and prosecutions has crashed, even as the number of crimes has gone up. Western people do not tolerate this kind of thing. Wheresoever it prevails, either the matter is brought to a head and resolved in favor of law and high-standards, or the Westerners leave. So it happened before, so it has happened again.

In the Washington of the early 2020s, the anti-social and criminal elements feel, know, that they can operate with impunity. In much of the late 2010s, I was in Washington almost daily, as I say, and seldom saw the kinds of dysfunction one could see daily in most of 2020, all of 2021, 2022, and even in 2023. After the panic triumphed in March 2020, all the bad old ways came back, and the good things went into retreat or hibernation, with some losses along the way. Maddy’s Taproom is one of the latter.


Recently I’ve learned that the Maddy’s Taproom site is next to a historic site of some interest. On the block one or two lots west on L Street, “half” of an interesting event in history of wireless-communications took place. It was 1880 — a time when Washington was full of “Maddy’s Taproom”-like establishments downtown — and Mr. Alexander Graham Bell was busy at work doing more inventing. He had invented the wired telephone in the 1870s, and now had begun conducting a series of experiments with a device to transmit messages wirelessly. His wireless device never panned out at scale, and it would be decades before wireless messaging was practical. But he gave it a shot, and did it within a fairly-easy stone’s throw of the Maddy’s Taproom site.

Alexander Graham Bell lived in Georgetown at this time, which was then an independent city on the western flank of Washington. “Washington City” of the time was the current greater downtown area. It offered high buildings to test Bell’s wireless-messaging device. He got the device ready and assembled a team of assistants and witnesses. The story goes that several assistants were placed atop a certain building on L Street with a receiving device, and Bell positioned himself with the wireless-communication sending device at the roof of the Franklin School. That school rises high a block or two away and still stands today south of the Maddy’s Taproom site.

It is said that conditions were ideal the day of the big test, and the message was reported successfully received. Alexander Graham Bell had transmitted a message wirelessly in a method described as having been transmitted “over a beam of light.” A plaque claiming this was the first wireless message in human can still be seen today.

The site where the recipients received the message was just to the west of the Maddy’s Taproom site on L Street.


What is the meaning of Maddy’s Taproom, the one in my memory and the one I have so romanticized in the re-telling here? If normalcy and a “fair deal to the little guy” via low prices and convenience are what Maddy’s Taproom represented, as I’ve suggested, then the death of the place in 2020 is symbolic of the abrupt decline of Washington itself at the same time. To survive, cities need places like this.

For three years now the Maddy’s Taproom site site has sat empty. I just saw it the other day again. The “Maddy’s” signs on the frontage are still there. The signs saying “Retail space available” (or the like) still cling forlornly to the windows. For a long time the interior was even still the same as it had been.

The wooden boards that covered every window of Maddy’s Taproom in 2020, back when I first saw that it had closed for good, are not there anymore. I should note that these wooden boards were not unusual in Washington in 2020. People out for mayhem smashed or damaged thousands of windows in 2020. Some well-connected lumber-dealers then hit a bonanza as business ordered  plywood boards to cover every glass surface they had. They went up by the tends or hundreds of thousands. It was quite surreal. No one had any confidence that police would stop window-smashers. They showed they had little interest in doing so before.

At the height or the 2020 protests I had been some months unemployed. Soon I would start with the census. I went down to see what the protesters were up to. I witnessed two nights of riots, some of which were in the vicinity of Maddy’s Taproom, which was then still open for business in principle (but unable to have guests due to the lockdown order). I don’t know what damage if any people did to the place, but groups of smashing and looting were all over the place, and ground-floor windows were at greatest risk. These people also set small fires, including a few cars. Lots and lots of smashings, some with no purpose and some as the vanguard-action to enable looting to commence.

At some point on I think the first night of the riots, I suddenly realized that my own safety was not at all guaranteed, and I began to make my way away from the worst of it and make my exit for the night. On the way, in another part of the downtown area, I passed a block away from the office I had worked at in 2019. As I passed by, around a corner a group of a few dozen Black teenagers. They were looting a store, directly across from my old office. One of the group, an overweight Black girl of high school age, lagged behind the more agile members of the group (the leaders of which carried baseball bats). This girl spotted me, a white male walking alone. She seemed to notice I was gazing at the store. She said: “You’re not gonna snitch, are you?” She was amiable about it and in her cheerful rotund physique posed no threat to me. However, there was no one else around and those boys running with baseball bats were a potential threat. I think I said to her: “Not me!” She proceeded towards the main group without another word. The store was looted. Much the same was going on across sections of the greater downtown area and Georgetown, and maybe elsehwere. I don’t know if any “looting” was attempted at Maddy’s Taproom. Given that it didn’t sell merchandise as such, perhaps not. But I’d be surprised if there was not at least window damage.

The mood became dark, really bad. Some lockdown-addled people were having a grand-old time. None seemed to be arrested. Having observed  the mayhem and thinking about the likely trajectory for this city (and others) from it, all signs pointed towards nothing good. I cannot say I thought of Maddy’s Taproom, which despite my writing so much about it here was not such an important part of my world, but if had, I’d have thought they couldn’t survive lockdowns plus riots.

Maddy’s Taproom gave up and closed for good a few weeks after the riots I’ve just described a little from memory. That was a few months after the lockdown order banned them from running their business. The place was not allowed open except for “take out.” There was no sign of any swift re-opening policy coming soon. The political lines were drawn: the Washington mayor was a  lockdownist, and later instituted a vaccine mandate. There was just no way that such a vulnerable, low-margin business in a downtown area, like Maddy’s Taproom, could survive. And it didn’t survive.


A further word on my recollection of seeing that Maddy’s Taproom had closed. I recognize that my narrative has jumped around, but so be it.

It was late 2020 and I was working for census. I came to love the census work and excelled at it. I was made a team-leader after entering at the bottom rung some months earlier. They kept me until the very end.

Towards the end of my census work, a few of the stronger performers had been transferred to help the underperfoming Washington D.C. census district to meet the targets for finishing the census. A few of the toughest tasks really demanded a finesse and a smart-and-experienced approach, not a tossing of bodies into the void which tended to be the initial census approach. Some skilled problem-solving, people with initiative. I was one of those transferred. Just as I had run into Maddy’s Taproom repeatedly some years earlier in other circumstances, so I did again as I scurried place to place chasing census problems.

For some of the work I was teamed up with another transferee named Mo. When I began dealing with the Washington D.C. census field office I was hit by the usual problem with the city: the place was top-heavy with time-servers and people who don’t really care about quality work. Mo and I had been identified by out supervisors as strong performers who got stuff done, fast and right. We shared tips we had developed and successfully tied up some of the loosest ends. Mostly, though, I was alone and doing work in sometimes-challenging circumstances.

On one of the occasions when I was alone, I was passing through the dystopic emptiness of Washington cityscape of 2020. Business after business looked to be permanently closed. Of normal people out and about there was little sign, but conspicuous were mentally ill wandering about. The year 2020 gave what must be the biggest year-on-year proliferation of homeless tents in Washington since the Bonus Army descended on the place in the early 1930s. The mayor forbade removal of any homeless encampments for fear of spreading the virus (I guess). Nothing was happening.

In the silence, one’s senses can become sharpened, and throughout that terrible year 2020 I noticed things I hadn’t noticed before, and got new views on thing I knew well. I remember  the first thing I  noticed when I passed by Maddy’s Taproom: the sign. The sign was till up. First thought: the place survived the shutdowns? I took a brief break from scurrying about and got closer. I saw the “For Lease” signs. Nope. It’s gone. I spent about 30 or 45 seconds reminiscing and trying to peer inside before hurrying onward to complete my various tasks.


The cascade of disruptions which we imposed on ourselves in 2020 did real damage to institutions, both formal and informal institutions, and Maddy’s Taproom is but one little example. “The spirit lives on.”