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The first-floor bar at The Boardwalk
A top wallpaper artist out of Ohio slathered the stairwell area with a giant sunset, accented by suspended bikes and lights.
Anna Meyer/The Boardwalk

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Penn Quarter’s Game-Filled New Bar Looks Like a Beachfront Carnival

The Boardwalk replaced Iron Horse Tap Room in a matter of days

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Tierney Plumb is the editor of Eater DC, covering all things food and drink around the nation's capital.

A new 5,500-square-foot bar just popped up in Penn Quarter that’s full of beachside diversions like suspended Schwinn bikes, nostalgic arcade games, and carnival-style food and drinks.

At the Boardwalk, there are very few remnants of the space’s past life as the dim Iron Horse Tap Room (507 Seventh Street NW). That venue closed in late October after a decade but reopened last night. Now it’s an homage to beachside boardwalks from Ocean City, Maryland, to Santa Monica, California.

Iron Horse owners Curt Large and Geoff Dawson — the bar vets behind Franklin Hall, Roofer’s Union, Church Hall, Rocket Bar, Lost & Found, and recently-closed Buffalo Billiards — retained the space and brought on Shaw restaurateur Ryan Seelbach (Takoda Restaurant & Beer Garden and airy tequila bar Cortez) as a new managing partner.

The menu is short on food. A frankfurter sourced from Pennsylvania’s Autumn Olive Farms appears in chili dog form, arriving in a paper basket with an American flag on the side. There’s also an ice cream sandwich from Union Kitchen’s Milk Cut for dessert.

During daily happy hour, a “Happy Meal” combo includes a High Life Pony, shot of whiskey, and popcorn for $6. Popcorn is also free during happy hour. Amusing cocktails on tap include a Candy apple spritz, Cotton Candy Collins, and butter corn Old Fashioned, along with imported hits from Shaw like Takoda’s mule and Cortez’s margarita.

The bar at The Boardwalk
The bar is flanked with rows of roller skates and a postcard-styled image from prolific D.C. muralist Patrick Owens.
Anna Meyer/The Boardwalk

Some 25 contractors, designers, and team members spent nine days around the clock to complete the speedy switcheroo. Seelbach says he clocked 110-hour work weeks back to back.

“We repainted every square inch of the entire space,” Seelbach says of the quick turnaround. Powered sprayers made its 20-foot industrial ceilings all white. A bright, white floor helps patrons pretend they’re walking on sand or a sun-stained boardwalk in Venice. Look up to see glowing lantern clusters that resemble clouds.

“Everyone stuck to the time line through thick and thin,” he says. “Some people thought we were crazy.”

The overhaul included converting Iron Horse’s “VIP” area perched above the bar into a 20-person surf shack, outfitted with reclaimed wood, woven chairs, rope rugs, and planters. The beach bungalow will soon have a rope swing, reading “Good Vibes” on the wood seat.

The first-floor interior at The Boardwalk
Wood+Starr, a husband-wife design duo, were the lead architects of the redesign of the two-story space, which retains its three bars, 20 TVs, and 20 draft lines.
Anna Meyer/The Boardwalk
The downstairs space at The Boardwalk
Downstairs, dubbed “Under the Boardwalk,” has an offbeat street market vibe inspired by eclectic mom-and-pop vendors near the beach.
Anna Meyer/The Boardwalk

Dangling papier-mâché globes, clustered in different colors, will add to the carny vibe downstairs. Designers studied essential boardwalks across 10 states, buying up hundreds of decals symbolic of each to affix on concrete columns.

Nostalgic boardwalk entertainment below includes Whack-a-Clown, Pac Man, a claw vending machine, balloon popper, and an old-school fortune teller booth. The Boardwalk claims to have the D.C. area’s first Connect 4 Hoops — a towering two-person basketball game that capitalizes on the basement’s high ceilings. In place of coins, patrons can load up cards via cash or credit to swipe and play anything.

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