With its chain restaurants and strip malls, Silver Spring has a serious lack of good bars.
That's why it's such a surprise to find a fantastic beer bar like the Quarry House Tavern tucked into the basement of a nondescript building in the heart of the Washington suburb.
Unless you're looking for the Quarry House, you'll probably drive or walk by it the first time. There's a sign on the side of the building that faces Bonifant Street, but that's your only indication. To get to the front door, you walk down 13 steps (one more than an Alcoholics Anonymous program).
If you're a fan of old-school beer bars - the dark, dank ones with dim lighting and wood everywhere - you'll love the Quarry House. It's so old (70-plus years, by some accounts) and has been changed so little over the years, the space just oozes character. The walls are wrapped in wood paneling, and the wooden tables and chairs rest on top of a concrete floor. Posters and pictures and knickknacks cover the walls. There's no end of stuff to stare at. If you want one of the tables and it's a Friday or Saturday night, you'd better get there shortly after dinner time, because they can fill up quick.
The Quarry House is semi-horseshoe-shaped, with a bar and dining area on one side and more seats and a small performance area on the other. A wall separates the two. Live bands play there a couple times a week. If you want to see them, you have to pay a small cover charge and sit on the side with the stage. But if not, you can stand or sit on the other side for free.
The only downside is, when a band's playing, they turn the jukebox off. Not that the bands (surf, rockabilly and such) aren't good. But the Quarry House has one of the best jukeboxes I've ever seen - with everything from '50s standards to '70s punk and '80s pop. While I'm on downsides, there was one more: Our server could have been quicker and more attentive. But both these gripes were small ones in the grand scheme of things.
The Quarry House has food, most notably some critically acclaimed tater tots and a reportedly tasty hamburger, but I didn't try them. When you ask for a menu at the Quarry House, the server brings you the beer menu - which looks like it was typewritten. I didn't count when I was there, but I'd put the grand total at more than 100 bottles, listed by country. Add 10 or so drafts, and you've got a whopping selection. They ranged in price from $5 to $65, depending on the brand.
Sometimes when you go to a bar with a giant beer list like the Brickskeller in Washington, it's out of a number of bottles or drafts. Not so at the Quarry House. The night I was there, you could count on one hand how many beers were out of stock. That's how you know it's well-run.
You could say the Quarry House is Silver Spring's best dive bar or best beer bar, but given the competition, that might almost be laughable. You'd be better off calling it one of the best bars in the state. It's earned that one.
The Quarry House is in the basement of 8401 Georgia Ave. in Silver Spring. Hours are 5 p.m.-midnight Sundays-Thursdays and 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Call 301-587-8350 or go to quarryhousetavern.com.
Read Sam Sessa's blog on nightlife and local music at baltimoresun.com/midnightsun