Rapt politicos watch president lay out his stall as popular drinking games lighten mood
President Barack Obama greets members of Congress after his State of the Union speech before a joint session at the Capitol in Washington on Tuesday. photograph: alex wong/getty images
They played Barack Obama’s full State of the Union speech in the Losers’ Lounge Basement Bar in the Capitol Lounge, one of Washington’s best known political bars.
The hubbub faded as the president started his address at 9.15pm but orders for dirty martinis, tequila shots and pints of Devil’s Backbone pale ale continued.
There was a far bigger crowd upstairs watching the Michigan State basketball game, a state to which the bar is affiliated. Still, downstairs was a rapt audience of politicos watching the speech on numerous television screens, just two blocks from the Capitol.
“Lots of things get talked about and then everyone will forget and the same differences exist – it is a dog and pony show,” said one viewer, Andrew Walker, a polling company analyst and a Republican voter from the reddest of US states, Oklahoma.
He expects Republicans will see Obama’s speech as “a push to the left because he is not seeking re-election”, while liberals will interpret the address as centrist.
As the speech proceeds, Samantha Newman and Riley Smith, sitting at the bar, take a sip at every mention of “immigration”, “bipartisan” and “transparency” in what is a popular drinking game in political bars across the US capital.
“It marked a very serious transition from his last State of the Union – he was far more aggressive and far less yielding,” said Newman (22), who is originally from Indiana.
“He doesn’t have to be worried about being re-elected and he is doing things he believes in, and he is not here to make friends,” said Smith (22), from Wisconsin.
The more drunken members of the crowd chant “four more years” at points in Obama’s speech, while cut-away camera shots of ashen-faced Republicans in the congressional audience draw laughter.
One of the more emotional moments in the speech – Obama’s mention of the murder of 15-year-old Hadiya Pendleton in Chicago in a gun attack – fails to turn one man who is against the president’s plans to change gun control laws. “They don’t even allow guns in Chicago,” he heckled the television.
Ken Bayley, a writer, thought the president would have gone further in his comments on gun ownership but apart from that felt there were no surprises.
While it was all entertaining, some in the bar felt the speech would achieve little.
“It drives me crazy because no matter how great his speech was, it will have no effect,” said Alana Foster (32), who works in a technology company.
A block down Pennsylvania Avenue, at the Hawk’n’Dove, another favourite happy hour spot for Capitol Hill workers, there are few left watching the response of Florida senator Marco Rubio, the Republicans’ man of the moment, the party’s answer to Obama.
Most had left after his address and the word bingo game had ended.