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In Washington, D.C., Bars Open Early For Comey Testimony Viewing Parties

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Hollywood has star-studded movie premieres. Washington has high-profile congressional hearings. The appearance of former FBI Director James Comey in front of the Senate intelligence committee today was a must-watch event in the nation's capital. Some bars even opened several hours early to host watch parties, as Mikaela Lefrak of member station WAMU reports.

MIKAELA LEFRAK, BYLINE: At 9:30 in the morning, the line outside Shaw's Tavern in northwest Washington is already down the block. Business school student Marshall Nannes is toward the end of the line, but he's determined to wait it out.

MARSHALL NANNES: Didn't expect the line was going to be this long. Hopefully it starts moving. Hopefully there's room for me. If not, I'll sit on the sidewalk and try and peek in through the windows.

LEFRAK: He hears the bar is serving specialty cocktails with Russian vodka. But Nannes says he's more interested in watching the hearing than drinking.

NANNES: It's 9:30. That's kind of aggressive for a cocktail. But, you know, we'll see how much fun the hearing is, how good the cocktail is, and how badly I need a drink.

LEFRAK: Elizabeth Balsch-Crystal is with a group of fellow interns in town for the summer. She says they tried to go watch the hearing at the Senate but couldn't get in, so they snuck over to the bar.

ELIZABETH BALSCH-CRYSTAL: Everybody is saying that this could be a really monumental political event. And it's really exciting to be somewhere where we're right in the middle of it. This is very D.C. Yeah (laughter).

LEFRAK: Inside, the crowd is hushed. Many people are in business clothes, tweeting or writing emails as they listen. Most people I talked to were hoping to hear damning information about President Trump. Over 90 percent of D.C. residents voted against Trump in the presidential election, and when Comey refers to some of the president's statements as lies, the crowd erupts.

(APPLAUSE)

LEFRAK: Back in the kitchen, they're putting together orders of special FBI sandwiches. That's fried chicken, bacon and iceberg lettuce.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Esperando FBI sandwich (unintelligible).

LEFRAK: Co-owner Eric Heidenberger says he had no idea this many people would show up to watch a Senate hearing. The crowd is bigger than any they've had before, including election night parties and the Super Bowl.

ERIC HEIDENBERGER: I think people - we're a neighborhood spot, they like to come together. And obviously - and D.C. is a very politically motivated town.

LEFRAK: But even in D.C. a lot of people were just going about their day. Construction workers jackhammer across the street throughout the hearing. And a block away, Taw Vigsittaboot spends the morning tidying up outside his restaurant.

TAW VIGSITTABOOT: Well, I'm just trying to get my restaurant ready for this evening, clean up. I heard about this a little bit, OK? I've been busy in the past couple days.

LEFRAK: He says he'd like to catch up on the news later, but for now, he has other work to do. For NPR News, I'm Mikaela Lefrak in Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF FOUR TET'S "AS SERIOUS AS YOUR LIFE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.