I arrived in Washington D.C. the night before Donald Trump’s inauguration. Accompanied by three childhood friends, I’d come to gauge the emotional climate of the city both on Inauguration Day and the next day’s Women’s March on Washington. What was immediately clear was that everyone, regardless of political affiliation, was in need of a good, strong drink. So we decided that the best way to observe and engage with the city’s many visitors would be to hit up a series of watering holes.
With the inauguration looming the next morning, we settled in for dinner and drinks in a restaurant in Falls Church, a quiet, residential D.C. suburb. The man dining next to us with his wife looked to be in his sixties. Harmless enough, I thought, until I overheard him telling the chef about his admiration for Mike Pence, in particular his pro-conversion therapy stance. As we explored the topic together, he was surprised to learn that my friend Marie (who was sitting next to me) was gay, and that she was a political leader in her community. Marie asked how he felt about the Women’s March scheduled for Saturday.
“We should release the Muslims on them,” he replied.
As I absorbed this double dose of xenophobia, along with my third Jameson, I could feel my politeness dissolving. Still, I was eager to figure out what made this man tick. We talked for 30 more minutes, during which time I learned many things, including the fact that “women are too weak to say no to sex,” and that “pregnancy is only the responsibility of the female, since it’s her body.” When I asked if that meant women should be able to choose what happens in her own uterus, he delivered a disquisition on the moral superiority of the pro-life position. You have likely met someone like this, a person who substitutes smug condescension for counterargument, feeling entitled to hold forth on what women should be either forced to do or never allowed to do. At least that’s what he did for two more rounds until his wife made him take her home. Thank you, alcohol.
The next day we started out in the “gayborhood” of Dupont Circle.
Just hours into our first Orange-American President’s administration, we exited the Metro into the chaos that was the nation’s capital. The swarm of pink hats that surrounded us was confronted with a phalanx of red MAGA hats, whose owners weren’t shy about sharing their antagonizing opinions. We didn’t see any violence or altercations, but the streets crackled with tension. A band played “Paint it Black” with different lyrics—something about “cats” grabbing back. We hustled into the first open bar to regroup and plan our next move.
The Board Room was packed with protest signs hanging on light fixtures while protesters got toasty. We asked the bartender if she had any presidential drink specials. “No,” she snarled. When clarified that we were not Trump fans, the snarl fade to a tired grimace as she recalled brighter days.
During Obama’s second inauguration, the city had been in great spirits. This year, she said, the mood was dark. She said that on election night, the entire bar was “stress drinking, like someone died.” Looking around the room as day gave way to night, it was clear that the stress drinking was still going strong.
When we asked if the scene we were witnessing was typical around the city, our bartender laughed and gave us directions to Rebellion, a bar owned by ex-servicemen. With the couple next to us approaching second base, we decided it was time for a change of scenery.
The darkened streets were quieter now, the tension and nervous energy had dissipated. Gone home, perhaps, for a nice cup of tea and a bath to recharge for tomorrow. One man walked by, looking deflated, with a sign that said “Cats against fascism.” We passed beautiful rowhouses full of families going about their lives, making dinner. For a moment it felt as though the strident feelings of the past 24 hours had all been a dream. Then we reached Rebellion.
As we walked up the stairs, we were met by a group of four cigar-smoking men, one of whom asked, “You vote for Trump today?” Confused, I turned back. Pointing out his error seemed useless, as he was struggling to stand up straight and he and his friends were already back to punching each other. Note: for simplicity, in the paragraphs to follow, I will be referring to these men as simply The Assholes.
Inside, the bartenders were clearly in the weeds, but we managed to snag seats at the bar. The crowd was about a 50-50 mix of ballgowns and Affliction shirts, with what felt like a more or less even split between Women’s March supporters and Trumpers.
I stepped outside to take a call from my mom (“I’m alive, Mom, I promise,”) and as I hung up, a group of women in their mid-forties walked by decked out in pink pussycat hats, laughing in a giddy, “we march tomorrow” way. The Assholes shouted, “Trump voters drink here! Did you vote for Trump?”
When one woman informed them that she didn’t vote for Trump, one of the men dropped a crude lesbian slur I won’t repeat. As one of the women turned back to confront him, she was preemptively shouted down with “we won today, lady!” She explained that inaugurations are not about winning, before realizing that extracting an apology from this man was a lost cause. The Assholes laughed slurrily as the women―significantly less jolly than they had been moments before―walked into the night.
The Assholes headed inside where they staggered around the bar, shouting pro-Trump rhetoric, cornering women in gowns and making unwanted advances. One of my friends arrived in a shirt with Trump’s face on it. One of The Assholes complimented her on it before closing one eye and squinting, taking note of the word over Trump’s head: “Impeach!” His smile turned to a scowl as he speculated aloud about the high likelihood of her having sex that night against her will. I wish I was kidding about this.
It’s important to note that the majority of the bar’s patrons viewed this behavior with dismay. But while The Assholes may have been outnumbered, they were louder and gave fewer fucks. And sometimes that’s all it takes to win a short-term victory. As their behavior did not appear to rise to Rebellion’s standards for 86ing someone, we exercised our only available option: voting with our feet (and wallets). We hit the street slightly shaken, but determined to find our balance before tomorrow’s march.
The next morning we headed to the Washington Monument, where the colorful and diverse crowd for the Women’s March had gathered to protest precisely the kind of offensive, misogynist rhetoric we had experienced the night before. Turnout was epic, with streets shut down in every direction. We marched together peacefully, and joyfully. I only saw two counter-protesters throughout the entire day, both of whom were entirely civil.
As the march concluded, we headed to the 14th and U Street area to celebrate. Every bar we passed was at or near capacity.
We started at Number Nine, a gay bar, which unsurprisingly was filled with a liberal-looking mix of out-of-towners and locals. The wall was lined with one long seat, and we cozied up with our vodka drinks. A woman from California told me she was overjoyed by the day’s events. Her husband and children were marching in San Francisco, but she felt that she needed to be in D.C. In fact, she’d booked her flight two days after the election before the march had even been organized.
After one drink we headed to Bar Pilar, a Hemingway-themed place with stiff drinks, cold pizza, and a cut-out of Barack Obama in the hallway. In the standing-room crowd I chatted with a woman who met her husband during Obama’s inauguration. They were here together, with friends. The woman said the most beautiful part of the day, beyond the diversity of the crowd, was when the crowd sang, “This Land Is Your Land.” Filled with people from California to the New York Islands, I think it’s safe to say that Bar Pilar was also made for you and me.
What unfolded next was a genuinely magical night filled with joyous, inspired people talking kindly and curiously to strangers and toasting to the peaceful success of what may have been the largest demonstration in U.S. history. People from all over the country thanked each other for being there with them. Bartenders were happier too, giving out free rounds with alacrity. There was literal dancing in the streets. I could feel my faith in humanity flooding back.
If my trip told me anything about the future of our country, it was that bar sales will be steady as we, as a nation, collectively stress drink for the next four years. And that’s alright, so long as we push through our hangovers to continue (peacefully) fighting for decency and for each other.