They had lined up halfway down the block before Union Pub, a Capitol Hill sports bar, even unlocked its doors, two hours ahead of the typical 11:30 a.m. opening.
Some came in suits, skipping meetings in favor of watching former FBI Director James Comey's much-hyped testimony with a drink in one hand and a phone in the other. Teachers and graduate students interrupted their summer schedules to belly up to the bar. Consultants said they'd make up the work later — or that they couldn't make calls anyway, with so many tuned in to the Senate Intelligence Committee.
More than a few declined to give their names. A trio of interns, clad in jackets and ties, watched the room nervously, ducking out of photos.
"I'm not supposed to be here," one young man said as he sipped a Bud Light.
The standing-room-only crowd of several hundred patrons watched silently as Comey took the oath, which was shown on nearly all of the bar's televisions. But they kept a close eye on another screen, too — one television showed President Donald Trump's Twitter feed, where any new posts would earn a round of drinks on the house.
Union Pub — which has hosted similar watch parties for presidential debates, though the staff couldn't remember other early openings for a congressional hearing — wasn't the only D.C. establishment capitalizing on Comey fever.
At least four other bars opened early, including The Partisan, aptly named for Thursday's event. (The crowd did not appear to have many Trump supporters in attendance.) Shaw's Tavern, where a line snaked around the block, featured discounts on Russian vodka drinks and "covfefe" coffee, a nod to Trump's recent mysterious Twitter typo.
In New York City and San Francisco, a smattering of bars followed suit. Several did in Philadelphia as well, though The Philadelphia Inquirer reported that Comey's performance drew far less interest in Center City — instead resulting in requests to change the channel to sports.
The event was the first time Comey spoke publicly since Trump fired him last month. Senate staffers released his prepared testimony a day early, giving a preview of his allegations that Trump requested his "loyalty" and pressed Comey to "lift the cloud" of the probe into any possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russia.
The more enterprising patrons at Union Pub tried to get a little work done before Comey appeared onscreen. Will Tucker, a 25-year-old policy researcher, had his laptop flipped open, typing as the crowd filled in around him.
Those interested in the hearing's substance could have easily stayed home. ABC, NBC and CBS preempted regular daytime programming to join C-SPAN, CNN and others in live coverage. But attendees said they were just as interested in the atmosphere.
"It's unique," said Tucker, who is leaving Washington this fall to attend law school at the University of Virginia. "I wanted to be around people who are similarly interested in bureaucracy."
Alex Wald and Rachel Robinson, 23-year-olds visiting from Minnesota, said they have been following the congressional investigation and tried to get into the hearing, but the line was too long. So they hit the bar.
"It's been pretty sensationalized," Robinson said of the hearing.
"It also seems pretty important," Wald added.
The bar crowd was attentive and interactive. The attendees — some having stepped away from their own legal memos — chuckled when Idaho Republican Jim Risch praised Comey's legal-writing skills, describing his seven-page testimony as clear and concise.
Comey's recollection of canceling a Valentine's Day date with his wife elicited a loud "aww," and there were cheers when Comey said: "Lordy, I hope there are tapes."
As the hearing went on, the room volume increased, leading to intermittent shushing by those still enthralled.
The crowd surprised Grayson Quay, a 23-year-old high school teacher and Beaver County native, who said he should have expected it: "In D.C., politics is sports."
Quay said he isn't a fan of the president and that he had some questions going in to the hearing. Midway through, he still had many questions.
"I don't know that I know much that I didn't know before," Quay said.
As the senators continued their queries, the president's Twitter feed remained unchanged in the corner of the bar. But the bartenders made good on the drink special anyway: as the hearing wrapped up, they handed out complimentary Budweisers in camo-print bottles that read "America."