A return to Old Zinnie’s 

Our Bar Report takes a trip back to an old favorite.

Ginger serves up drinks and memories at Old Zinnie’s.

Photographs by Justin Fox Burks

Ginger serves up drinks and memories at Old Zinnie’s.

Right at the corner of Belvedere and Madison sits one of Midtown's oldest bars, Old Zinnie's. It opened its doors in 1973 and, thankfully, probably hasn't changed much since.

We've all been to OZ at 1688 Madison, whether we needed a good happy hour while we waited on our laundry at the laundromat across the street or because our car got towed from that same parking lot and we couldn't leave. Maybe we went because it was cheap or because there's never live music and all you want to do is hang out and chat. Maybe you, like me, ended up there because the crowd was too much at the Lamplighter, and it was quicker to run over to OZ and grab a beer. Maybe we were both there at some point for the PBR on draft and 50-cent wing night on Mondays. I have gone for all these reasons and more to that dependable little corner bar with the big windows and the chalkboard that still advertises Washington Apple shots.

But I haven't gone to Old Zinnie's in a while. I haven't gone to that dependable little corner bar with the big windows in two years because I was not yet brave enough to return. You, like me, probably have a place where you find your peace. Maybe you find your solace in a church, or maybe you feel most serene in a vegetable garden. But maybe you, like me, find your peace in the comfort of a sturdy old bar, a dependable jukebox, and a smattering of post-workday curmudgeons. Your peace, like mine, isn't necessarily at the bottom of a bottle, where it's easy to forget, but found in what a bar can represent: a place to remember. So, one week after saying goodbye to a friend and two years after saying goodbye to another, I went to Old Zinnie's to say hello to ghosts.

click to enlarge barreport_51a6876.jpg

The great thing about great bars is that they never change. OZ still sports the stained-glass window of an ice cream sundae and the assortment of "There, I fixed it" oddities like the shot glass holding up the TV. Although Old Zinnie's serves food, there's always the trusty popcorn machine at the end of the bar for those looking for a snack. Ginger was working the evening that I went. You know Ginger, too, because she's been there a while. She's happy to pour you a drink and to discuss the menu. The bar itself is open from 2 p.m. to 3 a.m., but food is only served from 6 to 11 p.m. The regulars claim that the OZ burger is among the city's most underrated. I also took note of the bologna sandwich, appropriately christened "The Zinnieloney."

The great thing about Old Zinnie's, beyond its resistance to change over the years, is that it felt exactly the same as the last time that I was there, when I went with someone who is no longer here. Myriad people have passed through my life; some are now dead, and others are just gone. But at OZ, in that old smoky bar, I am able to remember them best. This awful summer heat seems to breed tragedy, like it's so hot that it drives people, in some overheated frenzy, to do the unthinkable. It's puzzling that heat can make a world feel so cold. But Zinnie's, with its Tullamore Dew restroom signs (Dewds and Dewdettes), preserves our memories for us. Zinnie's, with its famous Zebra Stripe shots (main ingredient: strawberry vodka), like all the dark, smoky bars, has served as a place to find peace.

It was to Old Zinnie's that I went, as I have gone to many wonderful places like it, to offer up a prayer and a wish. May we all find what we seek, whether it is a joint that still serves crinkle fries and hands out bottled beers in koozies or a bar that stands for more than that. Maybe it's our hope that these spaces, where we find our tranquility, will get us through the summer without having to say any more goodbyes. Maybe you, like me, are tired of drinking with ghosts.

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