We ordered drinks, sampled snacks, and checked out hundreds of area establishments—all to find the hottest spots on the after-hours scene. Here's a guide to our favorite bars.
>> See our full Guide to Bars in Washington
Bailey’s Pub & Grille
Fifty-five televisions line the walls at this former JCPenney. The space is divided into three large rooms—one with booths, another with comfy couches, a third with video games, pool tables, dartboards, and shuffleboards. Specials run throughout the week, but the best deal is on Tuesday, when pints of premium, imported, and specialty draft beers are $2 all day.
Caddies on Cordell
The bar that calls itself “Bethesda’s 19th hole” isn’t just for golfers. Any sports fan can find his or her game on the high-definition screens mounted in every possible place. Happy hours during the week (4 to 7 and 10 to closing) and a menu of bar food served past 10:30 PM draw a casual crowd of beer drinkers. During warmer months, the large patio and second-floor covered terrace are popular.
Crystal City Sports Pub
Three floors and nearly 100 televisions are sure to excite any fan. Each floor has its own bar, but the third is the best for game viewing, as one entire wall is filled with televisions and sports memorabilia. The bottom two floors are family-friendly, but be warned—it gets smoky.
Summers’ standard bar atmosphere might not stun you, but the sheer number of televisions will. Sixty TVs mean that whatever team you’re rooting for, your game is probably on. The bar has a dedicated European-soccer following and opens at 8 AM on weekends for games. Happy hour, Monday through Friday 4 to 7, means half-price appetizers and drink specials including $2.50 Miller Lite and Budweiser drafts. The front room is nonsmoking, but you can light up in the back.
Velocity Five Sports Restaurant & Bar
Walking into Velocity Five is almost like walking into Best Buy—flat-screen televisions are lined along the walls, and on big sports nights, all are on the same channel. Part of the bar and restaurant has U-shaped booths with their own tables and television screens. There’s another bar in the back as well as a small sushi bar.
>> Next: Bars for Beer Lovers
Tucked into the basement of the Georgetown Pizzeria Paradiso, this bar is a beer lover’s dream. In addition to 16 regularly rotated drafts, it offers about 80 bottled beers from around the world. The well-organized beer menu is divided into categories—Belgian Trappist ales, Pilsners, India pale ales, English-style bitters—with descriptions of each beer’s origin and flavor. Knowledgeable bartenders are usually glad to give patrons a taste before they order. Tuesdays and Wednesdays 5 to 7, enjoy half-price drafts and good deals on the delicious pizzas from upstairs.
Black Squirrel is surprisingly low-key given its location on the Adams Morgan strip. The cozy spot has more than 70 varieties on its interesting beer list, including 11 drafts plus bottles from Belgium, Germany, Lithuania, Russia, and elsewhere. The chef/owner used to work at Marcel’s before opening Black Squirrel last year, and the food here includes typical pub fare plus fancier options such as mussels and filet mignon. There are specials every night, including half-price burgers on Thursday.
One sign that this place is serious about beer: Each brand it carries comes with its own unique glass. Another sign: The 16-page beer list includes more than 100 Belgian brews, from Delirium Tremens and Chimay to lesser-known offerings that rotate seasonally. Not sure what to order? You can sample the beers on tap before choosing or consult a beer sommelier. In warm weather, enjoy your Belgian on the large outdoor patio. The food here is also excellent. For a snack, we recommend the frites ($7), which come with three kinds of mayonnaise, or the gratin of Brussels sprouts ($7); the veggies have never tasted better.
This 50-year-old Dupont Circle institution draws beer drinkers eager to explore its thick menu, which has more than 1,000 bottled beers (though the bar is often out of some of them). The downstairs bar is a warren of small rooms lined with tables. An airier upstairs bar hosts the Brickskeller’s famed beer tastings, which happen about once a month. A no-standing policy both upstairs and down keeps crowds to a minimum—but also means you may have to wait for a table.
This working brewery ages some of its oatmeal stout in bourbon barrels and features a rotating brew pulled through nitrogen, such as a recently sampled amber ale that was nice and crisp. There’s a small bar downstairs and a larger one upstairs, and bartenders are skilled in talking sports and making both regulars and newer customers feel welcome. Happy hour features two half-price draft selections Monday through Friday 3 to 7.
Dogfish Head Alehouse (Falls Church and Gaithersburg)
The brick walls and wooden bar are decorated with beer and beach memorabilia (the first Dogfish opened in Rehoboth), and the live music is turned way up, so be as loud as you like. Happy hour is the main attraction Monday through Friday 4 to 7, when drafts, cocktails, and appetizers are discounted. Most Saturdays, local musicians perform. The crowds are lively—especially around the bar, where the full menu is offered all night.
This Prince George’s County brewery keeps seven to ten house-made beers on tap at all times. Franklin’s sees lots of neighborhood regulars, including families and college students. Before and after Terps home games, expect the bar to be packed. Though the beer selection changes almost daily, two signature beers that you’ll likely find on the menu are the English-style Twisted Turtle Pale Ale ($4.50) and the hoppy Anarchy Ale ($5.50). The seven-days-a-week happy hour from 4 to 6:30 includes $3.50 drafts and discounts on appetizers.
Gordon Biersch (Rockville and Tysons Corner)
While this is a chain, each location gains distinction by having its own brewer. In the DC and Rockville locations only, happy hour—which offers discounts on lagers and wines by the glass; $5 martinis, margaritas, and mojitos; and $4.95 appetizer specials—runs Monday through Friday 4 to 6:30 and Sunday through Thursday 10 PM to closing. The garlic fries might inhibit your ability to discern maltiness and hoppiness, but garlic lovers swear by them.
This Belgian gastropub in DC’s H Street corridor has a welcome warmth lent by untouched historic details and the antique wooden coolers behind the bar. The kitchen specializes in moules frites, including the chef’s bacon-and-bleu-cheese mussels, which won the top spot on the Food Network’s Throwdown With Bobby Flay. Check the blackboard to see what’s new with the 60-some rotating Belgian brews offered by the bottle and seven on draft.
Skip the food. There’s only one reason to come to this Chinatown bar: the beer list. Operated by the owners of the Brickseller, RFD has an extensive list including more than 300 bottled beers and numerous drafts. The interior resembles a standard sports bar with TVs always turned onto a game, but when the weather cooperates, the bar opens its back patio, an agreeable spot for enjoying a favorite brew. Happy hour—Monday though Friday 4 to 7—includes $3 Miller Lite and Sam Adams drafts, a $3.50 beer of the day, and $4.99 food specials.
Some come to watch a game, and some drop in to sample food that surpasses the usual neighborhood-hangout fare. But beer is the focus, with a selection that includes 300 bottles, 30 drafts, and one cask-conditioned ale. Six-ounce tastings of most drafts can be ordered for $3 to $5; the four-beer flights for $8 to $16 are an even better deal.
This cozy basement-level pub has three rules: “No standing. No TVs. No martinis.” The result is a warm neighborhood bar that bustles with conversation. Red-brick walls, Tiffany-style lamps, and shelves stocked with beer bottles create a classic tavern feel. Communal wooden tables make meeting your neighbor easy, and the knowledgeable staff is happy to guide patrons through the long list of beers—including the rare and potent Urbock 23°, rationed out one per customer.
>> Next: Great Outdoor Spots
You can’t get any closer to the water than at this bar on the Washington Channel in Southwest DC; it was built on a dock at the Gangplank Marina. In spring, it’s one of the best spots for admiring the cherry blossoms across the water at Hains Point. In summer, live music and typical beach fare—margaritas, crab-cake sandwiches, French fries—will make you feel as if you’ve escaped to the Delaware shore without facing the Bay Bridge traffic. Grab a Corona and watch the sun go down.
A touch of European glitz a block from the White House, this hotel bar is French to the core—often filled with French diplomats and dignitaries. Of course, they benefit from the exchange rate, so the pricey cocktails ($13 to $14) don’t pack the same punch to the wallet. Wine and beer, though, are reasonable and, if you enjoy them on the civilized patio on a spring evening, you’ll be hard pressed not to imagine yourself in Paris.
Steal a few hours on a lazy weekend to sip a drink and relax in a patio chair under one of Nick’s umbrellas on the coveted waterfront real estate of Washington Harbour. The beachfront feel of a boardwalk beneath your feet and a drink in your hand is the ultimate “stay-cation.”
On the first floor of the Hotel Monaco, Poste once housed the sorting room of the General Post Office. The renovated space has been transformed into a mod bar and restaurant with an open kitchen, 16-foot ceilings, and large, slanted mirrors. The outdoor courtyard—a dramatic space surrounded by limestone walls—is one of the best spots in DC for a drink. On weekdays from 4 to 7, a stylish after-work crowd cozies up to the bar for drink specials and half-price truffled French fries ($4).
Long lines outside and elbow jabs inside are the price you pay to hang out at Marvin, which in little more than a year has become the center of the see-and-be-scene weekend zoo on U Street. The attention is (mostly) deserved: The restaurant has a chic look and a menu beyond simple bar food—we’re big fans of the chicken and waffles. The selection of draft and bottled Belgian beers is impressive, but best of all is the large outdoor bar and heated roof deck.
Skip the dull first-level “jungle room.” Instead, check out the main room upstairs, where—in addition to the large fish tanks that give the bar its name—you’ll find a sizable selection of beers ranging from Milwaukee’s finest to Belgian favorites Chimay and De Koninck—all on tap. The pearl at the Reef is the heated roof deck overlooking a vista of downtown DC—a view well worth seeing even if you have to bulldoze through Adams Morgan crowds on the weekend.
The lines that form along the sidewalk outside this Clarendon club every weekend give an idea of how popular it is. The ground floor pulses with live music or DJs, and twentysomethings come dressed to impress. The rooftop pavilion, open May through October (weather permitting), draws a more laid-back crowd. On Tuesdays, the club opens up for Swing Night, with lessons and open dancing. The club is open Friday nights all year as well as Saturdays when it’s not privately booked. During rooftop-friendly weather, it’s also open Wednesdays and Thursdays.
Polished brass chandeliers, plush curtains, and scuffed wood floors give this two-level bar the feel of an oversize speakeasy. Upstairs, throngs of gussied-up postcollege drinkers spill onto a roof deck with an expansive view of the city. From 5:30 to 8 every day, happy hour includes $5 martinis, $4 wine and beer, and $4 cocktails made with infused vodkas.
In the heart of Adams Morgan, Perry’s is an attractive bar and restaurant ideal for the after-work crowd. When the weather’s warm, check out the fantastic rooftop bar, currently undergoing renovation. Sushi delights abound along with other tasty dishes such as Kobe-beef sliders. Happy hour every day (at the bar only) means $4 cocktails and $5 small plates and sushi.
Patrons at Sequoia on the Georgetown waterfront can watch boats on the Potomac through expansive multifloor windows or, when the weather’s warm, from the large outdoor terrace, which turns into a lively (and sometimes touristy) pickup scene on summer evenings. The patio is a great spot for large groups. The nautically themed inside is a more formal setting. Skip the so-so food.
>> Next: Great Happy Hour Deals
The sleek, clean-lined bar, which spills onto a patio and reflecting pool in warm weather, sits adjacent to Jeff and Barbara Black’s upscale American dining room. The $6 martinis flow, and the crowd is made up of mostly moneyed suburbanites and young professionals. It doesn’t, in other words, look like the kind of place where you’d get a 50-cent spiced-shrimp deal. But weekdays between 4 and 7, that’s exactly what you’ll find along with half-price mussels and discounted cocktails. If you’re hungry, it’s one of the best happy hours around.
Young professionals crowd this all-American hangout three blocks from the White House for happy hour, Monday 3 to closing and Tuesday through Friday 3 to 7. Deals include $9 gourmet pizzas and $6 burgers served with a mound of crispy fries. Better yet, 34-ounce “supermugs” of draft beer are $8, longneck bottles $3. Happy hour runs all day Saturday and Sunday, and similar specials are available at Geoff Tracy’s other restaurants: Chef Geoff’s (3201 New Mexico Ave., NW; 202-237-7800) and Lia’s (4435 Willard Ave., Chevy Chase; 240-223-5427).
This 42-year-old dive draws a neighborhood crowd that runs from college students to Marines. There are six rooms, so you can choose your environment—louder up front near the bar, quieter in back around the fireplace. Happy hour is Monday through Friday 4 to 7, with $2 domestic bottles and $2.50 rail drinks, and the bar puts out a spread of complimentary snacks—usually either grilled cheese, potato skins, wings, or tacos—at 5. There are also daily food specials, including half-price burgers and chicken sandwiches on Monday nights.
Arrive early to grab a seat at the long bar, where street-fare-inspired small plates are half price (most under $4) weekdays 5 to 7. Two or three items are enough for a satisfying dinner; try the samosas, kebabs, or dahi bhalla,
lentil dumplings in a yogurt sauce. There are also drink specials: cocktails for $4.75, domestic beers for $2.50, imported beers for $3.50.
This classy seafood joint practically in the shadow of the Capitol building fills up with lobbyists and Hill staffers during happy hour, 4:30 to 7:30 Monday through Friday. The drink deals are nothing special: draft beers $5, cocktails $7 to $9. Discounts on the excellent food are the draw. Oysters are $10 for a half dozen, and you can easily make a meal of a couple of hearty appetizers—a mini-burger ($2.50), grilled squid ($5), barbecue shrimp with Asiago-cheese grits ($6), and more.
The Liberty Tavern might be relatively new to Clarendon, but it’s quickly become a local favorite. Dark-wood bar tables dot the first floor, where the crowd of twenty- and thirtysomethings is thick on the weekends. Weekday happy hours from 4 to 7 offer half-price wine by the glass, extra-strength margaritas for $5, and $3 draft beers. The food has won rave reviews; the bar menu offers everything from a pulled-pork sandwich on a house-made potato roll to the restaurant’s signature pizzas.
If the disco ball doesn’t tip you off that this isn’t an average sports bar, Tuesday night’s drag bingo might. Nellie’s is a straight-friendly gay bar with 12 plasma TVs, a rooftop deck, weeknight Beat the Clock Happy Hour (bottled beers, Miller Lite, and house vodka drinks $1 from 5 to 6, $2 from 6 to 7, $3 from 7 to 8), and board games for those less interested in the on-screen action. Beer on tap includes Peroni, Bass, and Nellie’s own brew; the menu is a hybrid of classic bar fare and impressive Venezuelan specialties. Try the corn arepas with shredded beef and queso blanco.
Toledo, Ohio, is the theme of this Adams Morgan dive, where memorabilia of that city decorates the walls. Adams Morgan’s weekend crowds largely miss it, and it draws a good showing of neighborhood residents during the week. The only time patrons elbow for seats is in warm months, when space on the patio is at a premium. You can score $3 rail drinks and $2 Miller Lite and Yuengling drafts during happy hour every night, and some nights have food specials, including our favorite, half-price grilled cheese on Wednesdays. The bar also offers $2 drafts whenever it rains Monday through Wednesday. Toledo’s motto: “When it rains, we pour.”
This white-tablecloth, Southern-inspired restaurant has one of the best happy hours in town: Monday through Friday 5:30 to 6:30, sommelier Ed Jenks offers a free tasting of three wines, and James Beard Award–winning chef R.J. Cooper pairs them with bite-size hors d’oeuvres, also free. The booze isn’t discounted, but a mint julep ($9.75) packs enough punch to count as two drinks. And like everything else at the bar, the complimentary nibbles—spiced corn nuts, marinated olives, miniature cheddar puffs—are a cut above.
If there’s one reason to go out on a Tuesday night, it’s the 15-cent wings at the Big Hunt. Available after 7 with a drink purchase, the wing-night deal packs in a crowd for a quick bite after work. Nobody seems to mind the no-frills atmosphere—everyone’s too busy enjoying pours from the 27 beers on tap. The place has two hidden gems: a small—and usually less crowded—upstairs bar and a roof deck. Happy-hour deals, Monday through Friday 4 to 7, include $1 off all drinks, $3 rail drinks, and $2.50 drafts of Bud Light, PBR, and two house brews.
Rum dominates the cocktail menu at this posh restaurant bar, where you can imagine you’ve escaped to Latin America while sipping a strong mojito or Caipirinha. Our favorite cocktail is the Ceiba Samba, a mixture of pineapple juice, passion-fruit purée, and pineapple-infused Pitú Cachaça, a Brazilian liquor. Specialty cocktails are $9.95, marked down to $5 from 9:30 to 11 PM Monday through Saturday.
This Cleveland Park Italian restaurant serves up happy hour Sunday through Friday from 5:30 to 7 at its cozy little bar. The cocktails are 25 percent off, and there’s free food—a modest spread of meats, bread, and veggies. The no-cell-phone rule and pricey drinks (most cocktails ring up at more than $10 before the discount) mean that the bar attracts an older crowd.
Duffy’s Irish Restaurant & Pub
You could go to Duffy’s for the fried pickles or Buffalo wings ($5.95 a dozen during happy hour) or you might stop by for a cheap preconcert drink on your way to the nearby 9:30 Club. But let’s face it, there’s one reason to check out this dive off U Street: $1 cans of beer Monday 4 to midnight. With pool tables, a jukebox, and a Big Buck Hunter arcade game, this is a no-frills bar. Happy hour (Monday through Friday 4 to 7, Saturday 10 PM to 1:30 AM) includes $2 domestic cans and $3 drafts.
Front Page (Dupont Circle and Ballston)
Flat-screen televisions are always turned to CNN and ESPN, but office workers here focus more on their conversations and drinks. The popular Dupont Circle happy hour, Monday through Friday 4 to 7, offers half-price appetizers and $2 domestic drafts and rail drinks. The best deal is on Thursday, when Coronas and Miller Lites are $2 from 5 to closing and you can get three tacos for $1 from 5 to 7. In Arlington, happy hour—also weekdays 4 to 7—features $3 drafts and half-price wine, rail drinks, and appetizers. Wednesday is the deal night there: $2 Millers, $3 Coronas, and half-price burgers all evening.
The oddball paraphernalia in this bar, including a giant eight ball and mermaid figurehead, contribute to a laid-back setting. Equipped with 25 televisions, the bar caters to every breed of sports fan, especially soccer buffs. Happy hour runs Monday through Wednesday and Friday 3 to 8, with assorted drafts starting at $2.50. For good deals on dining, stop by Tuesday for 25-cent wings and Wednesday for half-price burgers. On weekends, DJs clear out space for a makeshift dance floor.
Taberna del Alabardero
Old World Spain coupled with modern charm. While the restaurant is lauded as the premier place in Washington for authentic Spanish cuisine, the bar has a lesser-known happy hour (from 3 to 6 weekdays) that—if you can dash away from the office early enough—is very worthwhile. Both red and white sangría are half off, as is the full tapas menu; try the patatas bravas or tortilla española.
>> Next: Dive Bars
With its faux-stone walls, Gothic chandeliers, and crimson drapes on the ceiling, Asylum evokes a medieval vampire’s lair. The small, dark bar frequently hosts to local bands. It also offers one of the best drink deals around: During the Natural Light Countdown on Saturdays, drafts of Natural Light are 50 cents starting at 5 and go up 50 cents every hour until 11. Happy hour—weekdays 5 to 8—features $4 rail drinks and 50-cent wings.
This politics-themed bar—with kitschy presidential memorabilia on the wall—is just blocks from the US Capitol, and the after-work crowd is mostly Hill staffers. Patrons sip frothy mugs of ale, stout, lambic, lager, and more from all over the world. Stop in for happy hour—Monday through Friday 4 to 7—to score $1 off beer and rail drinks.
Jay’s Saloon & Grille
Jay’s is a great find—an unpretentious dive that we hope will never change. Next door to a used-car dealership, the gray clapboard building could be mistaken for a rundown house. Regulars—from leather-clad bikers to after-work softball teams—come for the cheap beer and friendly staff. Weekdays 4 to 7, Jay’s serves $8 pitchers, $2 drafts, and $2.50 bottles (all domestic). There’s a long bar, a pool table, and six TVs that are almost always tuned to sports. The front patio fills up in warm weather.
My Brother’s Place
A cozy dive favored by Catholic University students, My Brother’s Place is all about the cheap drinks. Friday’s Beat the Clock Happy Hour kicks off with 75-cent drafts; the price climbs a by quarter every hour until 9. Saturday night’s $15 All You Care to Drink draft-and-wine deal is a great cap to a day of watching college football.
The Raven is dark, dirty, and dilapidated, and that’s just the way patrons like this Mount Pleasant hole in the wall. Impervious to the changes happening outside its door, the Raven goes by its own rules: no tap beer, no credit cards, no attitude. Bottled and canned beers are available, usually for less than $4, and the jukebox plays tunes by the Stones, Oasis, the Beatles, and vintage Madonna.
It’s easy to walk by Recessions without knowing you’ve passed it. The bar is at the end of a long carpeted hallway in the basement of the Quincy Hotel. Faux stone walls and low ceilings give the place a cavelike feel. Recent college grads, interns, and young professionals flock to the drinking den to take advantage of its “King Kong” drafts—28-ounce beers for $4 from 5 to 8 Monday through Saturday. A handful of big-screen TVs, pool tables, dartboards, and a Big Buck Hunter video game complement the giant steins of beer.
There are only two sure things about Townhouse Tavern: It’ll be one of the diviest bars you’ve been in, and you’re unlikely to leave it sober. We love its grittiness, its personable bartenders, and its fantastic jukebox, which may be playing anything from ’80s ballads to dance tunes. Neighborhood regulars of all ages populate the two stories, and by the time you head home, you’ll probably have either taken a shot or played a game of pool with one of them. During happy hour—Monday through Friday 4 to 7—beer and rail drinks are $1 off.
Fox & Hounds
People-watching and strong drinks are the attractions at this bare-bones establishment. During warmer months, the large patio is good for checking out passersby on 17th Street. The dimly lit and sparsely decorated interior is less appealing. Happy hour, Monday through Friday 4:30 to 6:30, includes $3.50 rail drinks and domestic bottles.
With deer heads mounted on the walls and neon signs out front, Tune Inn feels like it should be on the edge of a remote Texas highway, not blocks from the Supreme Court. Hill staffers and regular working folk squeeze into this gritty dive for greasy finger food, cheeseburgers, all-day breakfast, and above all, cheap beer. At happy hour—Monday through Friday 4 to 7, Saturday 7 to 10—get $1 off all drinks.
>> Next: Bars With Games
Funky ’50s and ’60s furniture and light fixtures dress up this subterranean Cleveland Park hideaway. With pool tables, dartboards, a great jukebox, and games including backgammon, chess, and Trivial Pursuit, it’s impossible to get bored here. Happy hour is daily 4 to 8. The specials—such as $4 Guinness drafts on Thursday—rotate nightly. There’s no food, but customers can bring dinner in from one of the nearby eateries.
Just off Dupont Circle, this basement sports haven is filled with rows of pool and shuffleboard tables, darts, and arcade games. Flat-screen and projection TVs play everything from college hoops to pay-per-view boxing. Happy hour runs Monday through Friday 4 to 7 and features $3.50 rail drinks, $3.50 Sam Adams drafts and bottles, and $2.75 Miller and Bud Light drafts and bottles.
Bungalow Billiards & Brew Company
Casual is the name of the game at these combo sports bars/pool halls. A visit to the tiki-themed Shirlington Village location is a great way to loosen up after work on Dollar Beer Night (Thursday). On Monday, there are half-price burgers and $1 margaritas at all three locations.
A neon sign alerts Dupont Circle patrons to this karaoke hot spot. Skip the first floor—a modern lounge area—and head upstairs to the restaurant and bar, where you can choose from more than 22,000 tunes between 9:30 and closing every night. During those times, there’s a $10 minimum per person on weekdays and $15 on weekends. For parties of six or more, reservations are recommended.
Rockets and astronauts adorn the walls in this basement hole in the wall, and eight spaceshiplike sculptures hang from the ceiling. The rest of the decor—glittered bar tops, two vintage jukeboxes, and ’50s furniture—give it a homey feel. There are seven pool tables, six shuffleboard tables, six dartboards, and a stock of board games. Rocket Bar doesn’t have a kitchen, but you can order food in; bartenders keep a stack of menus on hand. There are daily specials on beer, rail drinks, and house wine.>> Next: Wine Bars
Before the wine-bar craze hit Washington, this tiny lounge in upper Georgetown was drawing crowds. Opened in 2002—seven years after the French restaurant downstairs—Bistrot Lepic’s wine bar feels both cozy and cosmopolitan. The crowd is mostly neighborhood residents who drop by to chat with the owner, sample the “appeteasers,” and enjoy a glass of wine. The list has 17 French wines by the glass and half glass as well as hundreds of bottles. For wine-loving workaholics, there’s free wi-fi.
This tiny, crowded wine spot could’ve been plucked from many a San Francisco corner. Here in DC, though, it’s a unique standout among the wine-bar pack, both for its esoteric, affordable wine list (there are 50 by the glass) and bartender Tom Brown’s inventive cocktails. The biggest draw: the lovely, seasonally focused small plates—lemony French fries, oil-cured tomatoes on grilled bread—courtesy of former CityZen sous chef Ron Tanaka.
This sparsely decorated wine bar sources everything from the United States. The wine list features 55 grape varietals, including hard-to-find Rkatsiteli and Valdiguie, and 78 choices by the glass ($7 to $23). Tuesdays, select bottles are half price. The white granite bar with white leather stools is good for grazing on smaller plates of cheese and charcuterie, while the dining room is better suited to sampling larger plates such as flatbreads, shrimp ’n’ grits, or a grilled lamb chop.
Outfitted in modern decor and dark wood, this 45-seater is a locals-only joint dressed up as a wine bar. The staff warmly greets regulars who return for the automated wine machine that’s operated by a rechargeable debit card—you choose one-, three-, or five-ounce pours from a roster of 32 bottles. For those who prefer a traditional pour, another 24 are available by the glass, and if you taste something you really like, you can buy a bottle to take home.
This airy downtown Bethesda bistro was one of the first wine bars on the scene. At the spacious blond-wood bar, bartenders will help you navigate the booklike wine list, which offers more than 80 varieties to sip by the glass or three-ounce tasting pour. You can try them in themed flights and pair them with the fusiony American small plates, all created with wine in mind.
Across from the Verizon Center, Proof was a leader in the explosion of wine bars around town. A trendy crowd comes to graze the Modern American menu and sample the extensive wine list—more than 1,200 bottles and more than 40 wines by the glass, displayed in a sleek, temperature-controlled system. With brick walls, walnut floors, antique Chinese chests, and copper accents, the decor feels both edgy and warm—a great spot for drinks with a date.
On the first floor of this industrial-chic restaurant/bar, patrons perched on aluminum barstools share space with diners at concrete tables sampling simple, seasonal dishes and thin-crust pizzas. Upstairs, you can trade the cold metal furniture for velvety couches and armchairs, and pair a glass of wine ($6 to $20)—three-ounce pours and full bottles are also available—with a couple of cheeses ($10) or a selection of cured meats ($6 to $9). In winter, snag a couch near the second-floor fireplace.
This unassuming wine bar feels intimate, with its exposed-brick walls and low lighting. Nearly 170 wines, many from small vineyards and terroir other than Europe, come by the glass ($8 to $24) or in preselected flights ($13 to $24) or bottles ($30 to $650). Almost everything on the menu—from the alcohol-free Country Time Lemonade (from Illinois) to the charcuterie and cheese—is listed with its provenance. There aren’t many seats, so it pays to arrive early and linger. There are wine discounts every night, including half-price bottles on Mondays.
This wine bar is playfully modern with its wine-preservation machines, red-tiled pillars, and low-hanging globe lights. Young professionals come in droves on weekends to sample the approximately 100 wines, most of which are available by the taste, glass, or bottle. Five flights ($14 to $30), with whimsical names such as Italian Threesome and Forget Sideways, offer the chance to try three like-minded wines. You can get selected glasses for $5 Monday through Friday from 5 to 7, but Sundays are the most fun: A flamenco dancer works the room, and all Spanish and South American bottles are half off.
>> Next: Good Hangout Spots
One of the first bars to open in DC’s H Street corridor, the Argonaut is a playful, low-key tavern suitable for both after-work drinks or a sit-down meal of good bar food. With a spacious patio and a cozy, nautical-themed interior, the bar may not be the fanciest spot in town, but it’s one of the most comfortable. The food is tasty, too—try the sweet-potato fries. During happy hour, 5 to 7 weekdays, rail drinks and select beers are $4.
Dark-wood furnishings and leather booths give this sports bar a classy, comfortable feel that attracts Bethesda’s young professional crowd. During weekend nights and game days, this place can fill up, even with three levels and two full bars. Happy hour, Monday through Friday 4 to 7, includes appetizers—think classics such as spinach dip and nachos—for $3.95 and deals on wine, martinis, and beer.
Bourbon (Adams Morgan and Glover Park)
Brick walls, pressed-tin ceilings, and cozy booths give these bars in Glover Park and Adams Morgan a laid-back, hip feel. The kitchen specializes in comfort food such as mac and cheese, tater tots, and curly fries smothered in Old Bay seasoning. But as its name suggests, the star here is the extensive bourbon list, which offers dozens of varieties, plus a good selection of whiskeys. Regulars also come for the carefully chosen list of wines by the glass and solid draft- and bottled-beer choices.
Patrons who aren’t sidled up to the granite bar at this Glover Park hangout may be playing pool, shuffleboard, darts, or Wii. The extensive beer menu favors Belgium but also offers selections from Ireland, Amsterdam, Italy, and Germany. The overstuffed deli sandwiches—from classic BLTs to more gourmet choices such as roast beef with Maytag bleu cheese—come with a tasty house-made pickle. During happy hour, 4 to 7 daily, rail drinks, house wine, and select beers are $4.
Aptly described as Andy Warhol meets General Motors, this Ballston bar is decorated with license plates, auto-industry memorabilia, and a garage door that serves as a window. The games—there are shuffleboards, dartboards, and 12 pool tables—attract a young crowd on weekends. Happy-hour food specials include half-price burgers on Tuesdays and 35-cent wings on Wednesdays.
Galaxy Hut is one of our very favorite bars in Washington. In the postage-stamp-size space, cozy booths pack the corners, funky art adorns the walls, and the beer list is fantastic. The Hut isn’t a place to see and be seen but a place to catch unknown bands, hang with friends, and maybe even play a game of old-school Ms. Pac-Man.
Don’t be surprised to find flat caps, suspenders, and Irish brogues here, one of the few Irish pubs in Washington that feel authentic. The bar is dimly lit and cozy, with wood-paneled walls and plaid-covered booths. Grab a Guinness and make fast friends. The menu offers traditional Irish fare; patrons swear by the shepherd’s pie and the mustard-encrusted rack of lamb. In nice weather, you can sit on the lovely outdoor patio.
The anchor of DC’s gay bar scene eschews Miami chic for wood panels, stained glass, and a moose head on the wall. The crowd is full of regulars, young and old, and each has his favorite bartender. JR’s is gay Washington’s Cheers. And if the thought of belting out “Where Everybody Knows Your Name” doesn’t send you screaming, then check out Monday’s Showtunes Songs and Sing-A-Long. There are cheap drink specials—mostly with vodka—every night.
Owned by the people behind Wonderland Ballroom, this two-level Petworth spot lacks Wonderland’s hip reputation, but it’s not the ugly sister. With its vintage chandeliers, Looking Glass has a retro-plush feel—a legacy from its days as Temperance Hall. Gone with the old name is the bar’s heavy focus on ryes, but a stellar selection of bourbon and Scotch remains.
Washington’s Pittsburgh bar, the Pour House caters to the sports-loving set. More than 30 flat-screen TVs are tuned to soccer, football, or basketball, and on a Pittsburgh game day—it really doesn’t matter which sport—the dimly lit dive is packed with fans. Specials during happy hour—Monday through Thursday 4 to 7, Friday to 9—include $3 Bud Light, Miller Lite, and Yuengling as well as $5 appetizers, including pierogis, potato skins, and our favorite, chili.
Down a long set of stone steps, you’ll find this grubby-cool tavern, which has bars on the window, squeeze bottles of ketchup on the tables, and plenty of worn-in charm. Although it looks like the kind of place that would serve only cans of PBR, the beer list is actually quite broad, with Belgian ales, British stouts, and West Coast microbrews. To go with it, there’s plenty of good stuff from the fryer, from house-made chips to battered pickles.
Red Derby has been around for less than two years, but it already has a fiercely loyal following. On weekends, the bar’s cans-only beer policy draws curious outsiders, but by and large the people enjoying sweet-potato fries by the pool table or sipping cans of Schlitz at the bar are all neighborhood denizens. The beer selection is ample and recession-friendly ($2 to $6), and the weekend brunch is one of DC’s best-kept secrets.
Most people think of catching up-and-coming indie-rock acts when they think of the Black Cat. But its Red Room bar is one of our favorite places in the area to sit and grab a beer, people watch, or play a game of pool. The jukebox is one of Washington’s best; sit and sip a Red Room Ale while you watch the concertgoing crowds ebb and flow.
Fridays and Saturdays draw crowds at this gay country/western bar on Capitol Hill. The dance floor fills with two-steppers and line dancers—mostly men, but women are welcome—demonstrating moves learned at Monday and Wednesday lessons. Around the room are spectators as well as those there for the well-priced drinks and unpretentious atmosphere. An upstairs area hosts sports viewing, karaoke, and other entertainment. Happy hour is Monday 4 pm to 2 am, Wednesday through Friday 4 to 8 pm; the bar is closed Tuesdays. The cover charge on Friday ($4) and Saturday ($5) includes a ticket for a drink discount.
With its worn wooden booths and sometimes surly service, it’s almost hard to believe that this 49-year-old hole in the wall exists so close to downtown DC. Vienna Inn has two specialties: chili (meaty and beer-spiked, served over a hot dog or a bowl of spaghetti) and cold, cheap beer (from $1.75 for drafts to $3.50 for bottled domestic beers).
Like the Columbia Heights neighborhood that surrounds it, Wonderland is undergoing growing pains. Its proximity to Target drives a steady influx of new faces, but—hipsters, exhale—Yuengling remains the de rigueur drink. The daily special of $3 chili dogs and $6 Delirium Tremens is the easiest way to get buzzed on a full stomach. On weekends, head upstairs, where DJs and bands regularly perform, and escape the hordes that take over every inch of the first level.
Stetson’s is a perfectly good neighborhood spot. One of the most popular times to come is during Tuesday trivia night, but you can enjoy the pleasant outdoor patio or upstairs pool table, foosball, and Pac-Man anytime. There are food specials all week, including 25-cent wings on Wednesday.
This no-frills basement dive is a cozy U Street staple. A working fireplace during winter and outdoor seating during the warmer months make Polly’s a pleasant spot to plop down for a few cheap beers. With a jukebox and just two TVs, this bar is best suited for conversation, so bring a friend or chat with the friendly staff. Polly’s makes a delicious turkey burger and serves a decent brunch every day.
The Auld Shebeen
Proverbs painted on green and burgundy walls decorate this Irish pub and restaurant in Old Town Fairfax. The two levels provide different atmospheres. Want to watch the game, order traditional Irish fare, or just have a drink with friends? Sit upstairs at the bar, a booth, or a table. Want to dance to hip-hop and pop hits? Check out the bar downstairs, where a DJ attracts younger crowds on Thursday and Saturday nights.
Brabo Tasting Room
Well-dressed thirty- and fortysomethings quickly flocked to this new spot in Old Town. The sparsely decorated bar has high ceilings and a lot of open space, and the chatty crowd mingles late into the night sipping cavernous glasses of wine. Owner and executive chef Robert Wiedmaier (of Marcel’s and Brasserie Beck) and chef de cuisine Chris Watson offer tasty creations to nibble on, too. Start with a “tart flambé,” cooked in Brabo’s wood-burning oven, or order the mussels and frites and ask for some of the artisanal bread to sop up the white wine-and-garlic reduction.
Named for the phrase Teddy Roosevelt was said to use in proper company in lieu of a rather improper exclamation, Bullfeathers has been a Capitol Hill favorite since 1980, attracting Hill staffers, interns, and tourists, for a lively happy hour. Try the spinach-and-artichoke dip or the famous burger. When it’s warm out, sit on the good-size patio.
French art-deco-era posters with aviation and travel motifs give this corner-rowhouse bistro a Parisian feel. There’s not much wiggle room once the petite bar gets packed, but Gate 54, the basement-level lounge, offers ample space to dance, and a DJ spins every night starting at 10. Consider sampling the seasonally minded menu (think fried-green-tomato BLTs and steamed mussels) before imbibing—almost half the brews here contain more than the normal 5 percent alcohol.
Clyde’s (Georgetown; Chinatown; Chevy Chase; Alexandria; Vienna; Reston; Columbia)
In a town of rotating happy-hour deals, theme nights, and daily specials, one good thing never changes: Clyde’s. With thoroughly American cuisine and decor, Clyde’s does sometimes fill up with tourists—especially at the Georgetown location—but it’s a good bar for a laid-back round of drinks with friends.
Overshadowed by the upstairs space that hosts on-the-verge indie bands and weekly dance parties, the main bar at DC9 is mostly a pit stop—but serves its purpose well. Patrons killing time before a show can check out the digital jukebox, order one of seven burgers named after local bands, or grab a bottle or can of beer from the bar. Bartenders are affable, which makes paying $3.50 for a Schlitz or $4.50 for a Bud Light a little easier to swallow.
If you’re Irish anytime of year or a cop in town during spring Police Week, the Dubliner is the place to be. The classic dark-paneled pub serves classics such as fish and chips alongside pints of Guinness, Smithwick’s, and a few of its own brews. There’s live Irish music every night.
Fadó Irish Pub and Restaurant
A balcony library labeled the “James Joyce collection” hangs over the bar. However, this dimly lit pub a block from the Verizon Center is more suited to a tall glass of Guinness than to a reading of Ulysses. After-work crowds often mix with packs of game-day patrons and rugby and soccer fans. Stick to the drafts, which favor British and Irish selections such as Harp, Smithwick’s, and Boddingtons. Appetizers are a step above average bar fare, especially the chicken quesadillas made with boxty potato pancakes instead of tortillas.
Iota Club and Cafe
Who says you can’t have it all? At Iota, you’ve got great food, a great bar, and a great concert venue. Lots of local and national folky, roots-rocky acts swing by to play shows in the intimate space (and by intimate, we’re not kidding—the capacity is around 150, so if you’re seeing a show, get there early). But even if you’re just in the mood for a beer or a bite to eat in a laid-back, neighborly spot, Iota fits the bill.
Ireland’s Four Courts
Located across Wilson Boulevard from the Court House Metro, this Irish neighborhood favorite offers 11 beers on tap and two bars, one smoking and the other nonsmoking. Take advantage of drink specials and half-price appetizers during happy hour, Monday through Friday 4 to 8. Grab a Guinness and cozy up to a table next to the fireplace for live music Tuesday through Saturday, an open-mike night on Sunday, and pub trivia on Monday.
Ireland’s Four Fields
Formerly the Four Provinces, this Irish bar has been a mainstay of Cleveland Park nightlife for years. The decor is classic Irish, with Guinness posters and pastoral scenes on the walls, stained-glass lamps, and dark leather booths. College kids and young professionals push tables together, order pints of Guinness or Smithwick’s, and sing along to the live music on weekends. A trivia night every Wednesday also packs the house, and the outdoor patio is a popular spot during summer months.
Jimmy’s Old Town Tavern
The motto of this Old Town Herndon bar is “where everyone is treated like a regular,” but first-timers might stick out because the place is full of actual regulars. The dining room is a few steps down from the bar, and the full menu is served until last call every night. Happy hour is Monday through Friday 4 to 8, and there’s a different event each night, from open mike to Texas Hold ’Em poker tournaments to fire-breathing bartenders.
James Hoban’s Irish Restaurant & Bar
The covers of classic works by Irish authors—including Waiting for Godot and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man—adorn the walls of this clean-cut pub named after the Irishman-turned-Washingtonian who designed the White House. True to its roots, the drink menu includes a wide selection of draft, domestic, and imported beer plus an entire page devoted to whiskeys. With a large space and a relatively calm happy hour, James Hoban is an welcoming spot for after-work drinks with coworkers.
Mackey’s Public House
Popular for office happy hours, this downtown DC Irish pub draws a crowd most weeknights. Young professionals grab a stool at the long wooden bar or squeeze into one of the hidden-away booths for $2.75 and $3.50 beers Monday through Friday from 4 to 7. The back room is large and inviting with a mishmash of wooden tables and leather armchairs, brick walls, and a fireplace. In warm weather, the patio is often packed.
What’s not to love about this Adams Morgan blues bar? If the live music each night and funky decor on the walls (from antlers to accordions) don’t keep you coming back, the huge portions in the second-floor restaurant and the friendly bartenders on the first floor will. Other pluses? Trivia night on Tuesday, “drunkaoke” (with a two-drink minimum) Sunday and Thursday, and happy hour Monday through Friday 5 to 8, with two-for-one beer, wine, and rail drinks (Thursdays benefit a nonprofit).
Nanny O’Brien’s is a dying breed—a divey Irish pub that avoids the over-the-top gimmickry found at national chains. Although it lost some charm two years ago when it was sold to Bedrock Companies (which owns Buffalo Billiards, Rocket Bar, Carpool, and a handful of other bars in DC and Virginia), Nanny’s still feels authentic with its sticky floors, bare-bones decor, and occasional Irishman sipping a pint of Guinness at the bar. A jam session every Monday starts at 9 and goes late.
New Vegas Lounge
This Logan Circle bar excels in two things: live music and dancing. The Out of Town Blues Band plays most weekend nights, covering the soul spectrum from Motown hits to funky James Brown numbers and, of course, plenty of blues. The stage, which sometimes fits as many as seven musicians, sits next to a hardwood dance floor where patrons boogie late into the night. The crowd is never as much fun as the music, so bring friends.
The Old Brogue Irish Pub
This pub sits amid a row of homey shops. Step inside and the bar is in a corner of the restaurant with a couple of booths, some high tables, and a large flat-screen television for sports fans. It’s a family restaurant where photo collages decorate some of the walls and diners eat traditional Irish fare. Nineteen beers are on draft and many of the 39 bottled beers come from England, Belgium, and of course Ireland. There are also several Irish whiskeys available, including Powers and Jameson.
Normally we advise steering clear of Adams Morgan on weekends unless you enjoy marauding crowds, but we’ll make an exception for Pharmacy Bar. The themed bar (pill bottles and medicine cabinets decorate the space) is small and often crowded with hipsters and bike messengers. To pass the time, you can play Buck Hunter or tabletop Pac-Man, listen to the great jukebox, or grab a stool in the window overlooking 18th Street and watch the partiers go by.
Boxing gloves hang on the walls, and the Pug stands for “pugilist,” but this cozy H Street pub doesn’t rely on its wacky theme to attract customers. What keeps them coming back are the low-key atmosphere, friendly bartenders, and cheap beer. You can score deals such as $2 cans of National Bohemian, though the Pug makes a rule of not offering specials or happy-hour deals.
Few bars straddle the line between great after-work happy-hour spot and cool lounge, but the Science Club manages to be both. There are several floors at this hip downtown DC spot, but our favorite is the basement bar, where the concrete floors and low ceilings keep things cool and casual. Happy hour—Monday through Friday 5 to 8—includes $3 Yuengling, $4 Guinness, $4 Amstel Light, $5 house wines, and $4 rail drinks.
This soccer-crazed tavern is a no-frills neighborhood spot in DC’s U Street area. On weeknights you’ll find a small set of regulars—which usually includes a crowd of bicycle couriers—but on weekends the place is wall-to-wall twentysomethings. Don’t be put off by the tight squeeze downstairs; upstairs, there’s double the floor space plus tables, TVs, and a small stage for open-mike night on Tuesdays. The drink du jour is Pabst Blue Ribbon; cans are $3. During happy hour (Monday through Friday 4 to 8), Budweiser, Miller Lite, and rail drinks are also $3; Sierra Nevada and Jack Daniels drinks are $5.
After 37 years, this legendary dive moved from downtown DC to a trendier spot across the street from the Logan Circle Whole Foods in 2006. To the delight of regulars, Stoney’s has retained its neighborhood feel despite its cleaned-up digs and more stylish clientele. A framed collection of police and firefighter badges hint at the bar’s storied past, and the famous Super Grilled Cheese—a buttery, caloric splurge stuffed with American cheese, onions, tomatoes, and bacon—is still the star of the menu. But the larger two-story space, expanded selection of beers on tap, and handful of flat-screen TVs are welcome additions.
This friendly neighborhood spot draws a steady set of regulars, who perch on barstools and sip frothy brews after work. Dark-wood paneling and red walls lend a cozy feel. The front patio, choice seating in warmer months, is enclosed and heated in winter. Inside, the tavern is loosely divided into bar and restaurant areas. While food can be ordered anywhere, drink specials—$2 Bud Light drafts and $3 rail drinks Monday through Friday 5 to 8—are available only at the bar. All night on Wednesday, you can enjoy $4 Jack Daniel’s drinks and $3 Miller Lite drafts.
This always-jammed Cleveland Park pizzeria is known more as a hangout for squirmy five-year-olds and their parents than for bargoers. But at night the tiny back bar is arm-to-arm full, and during the day, when the place quiets down, it’s a nice respite for an afternoon snack. Start with a plate of paper-thin lomo (cured pork loin) or San Daniele prosciutto or a goat’s-milk bocconcino with grape-apple-and-pear jelly. Most selections on the under-$50 all-Italian wine list are available by the glass, quarter-liter carafe, or full bottle.
Union Street Public House
Crowds of all ages can be found at this smoke-free Old Town pub, either sitting in booths over a meal, chatting around the crowded bar, or picking out a song on the jukebox. The music blares through the speakers while sports channels are broadcast on flat-screen TVs, and there’s plenty of open space to mingle. There’s a smaller oyster bar on the restaurant side and an even smaller bar upstairs in the more formal dining room.
Whitlow’s on Wilson
With live music four nights a week, pool and foosball tables, Sunday-night pub quizzes, and televisions for game-watching, this Clarendon fixture has something for nearly everyone. Mug Night draws crowds Thursday from 4 to 9—$5 for a plastic Whitlow’s mug of Miller Lite and $1.50 refills. Wine drinkers enjoy half-price bottles on Wednesday evenings. Monday means half-price burgers; come back Tuesday through Friday for half-price sandwiches.
>> Next: Lounges
In the category of “If you need to ask the price, you can’t afford it,” the sleek new Four Seasons restaurant/bar doesn’t display prices on its cocktail menu. The drinks are potent and well mixed—often with a twist, such as the addition of Fernet Branca to a Manhattan—though at close to $20 a cocktail, one would hope so. If price isn’t a consideration, the swanky scene and fashionable, high-rolling clientele make it well worth a visit.
You can hang out in the bar, sure, but the real fun comes from the cozy fireplace and tableside service in the spacious industrial-chic lobby of the Georgetown Ritz—making Degrees perfect for chilly evenings. You never know who you’ll see checking in to the hotel or on the way to a guest room—during inauguration, you’d have spotted Bruce Springsteen, members of Maroon 5, and any number of other VIPs while having one of the bar’s Sex and the City–like signature drinks.
Tiny plates of cositas ricas, or “tasty little things,” accompany fruit-infused cocktails at half price during this Peruvian lounge’s happy hour, weekdays 5 to 7. Groups can share a few plates of authentic chips and dips or empanada trios (a steal at $6) while sipping on peach, coconut, and pomegranate mojitos until the low-lit restaurant melts into a trendy evening hangout. A hookah dots every other table as guests dance to live Latin music downstairs or a DJ in the upper lounge.
The opulent interior of this bistro and bar feels like the set of a French film. The red-and-black walls, gilded mirrors, and crystal chandeliers create a sultry vibe perfect for sipping Champagne cocktails, which are half off during happy hour from 5 to 8 every day. The restaurant menu is available at the bar and includes bistro fare such as mussels, crepes, and steak frites. Downstairs is the Champagne bar and lounge Metropolitain, which turns into a weekend party space with a DJ and dancing.
Dimly lit chandeliers, mahogany, and dark-red walls make you feel as if you’ve been transported to Moscow when you enter this Dupont Circle restaurant and lounge. Specialties include caviar, martinis, Eastern European beer, and of course, vodka—more than 100 kinds. Despite the formal decor and expensive drinks, the bar draws crowds of twentysomethings on weekends and during happy hour (weekdays 5 to 7), when martinis are half price. If you’re lucky, you might spot the Washington Capitals’ Alex Ovechkin or Alexander Semin.
The four-story climb to the top of this chic U Street establishment is well worth it: The glassed-in terrace offers stunning views of downtown DC and the Washington Monument. Skip the so-so food and focus on the 13 kinds of martinis. During happy hour—Tuesday through Saturday 5 to 8—drinks are buy one, get one free in the Red Room bar on the second floor.
The Bar at the St. Regis
With its low lights, music along the lines of Cafe del Mar, and complicated cocktail list, this bar is an ideal place to take a date (or to stage an illicit rendezvous). You can almost always find a table among the stray hotel guests and politicos (White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel is a regular), and the forcefully shaken Hendrick’s martini is superb.
Large groups of twentysomething singles flood this Latin lounge in the evening, starting with a half-price hookah happy hour Monday through Friday from 5 to 8. Guests stake out a table and couches with glasses of the house drink (the Chicha Morada, a thick, fruity concoction with a cinnamon kick) and drink, smoke, or dance to house music, drinking ballads, and hit singles.
Eighteenth Street Lounge
Chandeliers, incense, and a plethora of velvet sofas set the mood in the two stories of this former mansion. The lounge, best known for its taste in music, is co-owned by Eric Hilton, one half of DC’s Thievery Corporation. The duo still plays the occasional DJ set, but if they’re not around, make sure to drop in Wednesday when a reggae band plays. After 9:30, there’s often a cover charge of up to $20. Don’t wear sneakers or a baseball cap—you won’t get past the door.
At this sleek, two-level Logan Circle gay bar, mod, curved seating and recessed lights add subdued color to a white background. Weekends are more happening than weeknights, though it can be just the ticket for an after-work drink if you’re looking for a place to visit with friends. Specialty cocktails range from Green Tea Ice Cream (Stoli vanilla vodka, Navan vanilla liqueur, green-tea liqueur, and a splash of cream) to a mango margarita. Drinks are two-for-one during happy hour Thursday through Tuesday 5 to 9 and Wednesday 5 to closing.
From the cushioned walls to the shiny vinyl ottomans, everything at Helix is white. Colored lights constantly transform the room, and loud party music (a lot of Britney Spears) has many dancing after a few $10-to-$13 martinis. Despite the trendy decor, the staff and crowd are generally unpretentious. Happy hour is Tuesday through Sunday 5 to 8 and all night Monday, with half-price burgers, beers, and signature “pajama party” cocktails made with Stoli Raz, Sprite, lime juice, and a splash of Champagne.
Plush benches line the walls of this ultramodern U Street lounge, but hardly anyone sits. Tables with bottle service and Asian-fusion appetizers start at $350 and climb to $1,500 for the VIP loft deck on weekends. The relaxed, upscale lounge is a solid alternative to the club scene for nights when you’d rather avoid someone else’s sweat on your back. The 8 PM last call for $5 drinks and “appeteasers” is a good reason to arrive in time for happy hour (Tuesday through Friday 5:30 to 8).
Mie N Yu
Mie N Yu’s sophisticated decor—wood-paneled walls, low-lit lanterns, Buddha statues—attracts a more grown-up crowd than most Georgetown bars. Ask to perch at the “bird’s nest” for the best table in the house. Though most people flock to this M Street lounge for music and cocktails on weekends, there’s also a good happy hour (Monday through Thursday 5 to 7, Friday 4 to 7). Dim sum appetizers on the after-work menu are only $2 to $4.50. Or try one of the “starters to share” ($14 to $25)—both the Thai Pu Pu Grill and the Dim Sum Platter offer enough nibbles to be worth the price.
Just two blocks from M Street, Bo Blair’s new members-only club feels almost like Georgetown. That’s no accident. Blair also runs Smith Point, and the Rookery draws a crowd of late-twenties and early-thirties prepsters who have outgrown that Georgetown bar and are willing to pay monthly dues to be on the Rookery’s list. The best way to get in is to know a member or to stop by when it isn’t jumping—the bar often lets in nonmembers to fill the space when there are live-music events.
Made famous by the Bush twins in their younger, partygoing days, this destination is known mostly for its cast of characters. Blazers, khakis, and loafers without socks are standard attire. At the door, bouncers check to see if your name is on the list. Women can usually get in even if they’re not, but guys have a harder time bypassing the velvet rope. The bar is open only Friday through Sunday nights.
The Technicolor sign outside makes Zengo look more like a cheesy dance club than a Latin-Asian fusion restaurant, but reserve judgment until you’ve ventured into the chic cocktail lounge. It gets packed during happy hour (Monday through Thursday 5 to 7), which includes selected half-price drinks and half-price appetizers. Mexican restaurateur Richard Sandoval’s influence can be seen on the cocktail list, where mango mojitos rub shoulders with Grand Marnier margaritas. The sake, served in a wine glass, is excellent, as are the Angry Zengo tuna rolls on the lounge menu.
This classy wine bar boasts floor-to-ceiling views of Penn Quarter, including the façade of the National Portrait Gallery. Couples skim an extensive wine list as smooth vocals and uptempo beats filter through the lounge. The imposing front doorway (not the back, which leads to the International Spy Museum’s gift shop) opens to a posh restaurant.
>> Next: The Classics
If you’re looking to impress a date or to soak in some of DC’s rich history, this is the place. The wood-paneled bar—recently reopened after renovations—has hosted numerous presidents, Hollywood stars, and Washington insiders. The wine list is extensive, but we like the bar’s signature cocktails, including the Classic Manhattan and the Jockey Club Cocktail, a mixture of Blue Coat American gin, white crème de cacao, and lemon juice. Wednesday through Sunday after 8, a pianist plays lounge jazz on a Steinway that was a gift from the Kennedy family. The dress is casual, but jackets for men are required at the neighboring Jockey Club restaurant.
Don’t look around too obviously once you’ve sunk into the plush seats of the Hay-Adams hotel’s basement bar—there will likely be some high-profile people conversing over a beer or a glass of wine at one of the quiet tables. Across the street from the White House, around the corner from the Treasury, the Old Executive Office Building, and the Chamber of Commerce, power and secrecy radiate from the bar crowd. Drinks are served with simple but addictive bar snacks: bowls of peanuts, wasabi peas, and smoked almonds.
This Washington restaurant and saloon has been a destination—in various locations—for presidents, political insiders, and tourists since 1856. (Teddy Roosevelt reputedly bagged the mounted walrus head.) Four bars—the Old Bar, the Oyster Bar, Grant’s Bar, and the Corner Bar—are set in brass and beveled glass and are always packed for a noisy happy hour. Come for brunch and order the Bloody Maryland—a delicious twist on the classic drink, rimmed with Old Bay and garnished with a shrimp so large that it could almost pass for a meal.
The Willard’s bar, which recently launched a new Scotch selection, is one of Washington’s most storied sites—the hotel gave birth to the word “lobbyist” during President Ulysses Grant’s administration. Small and circular (hence the name), the bar is a jocular place on weekend nights as hotel guests, gala attendees, and local regulars stream through.
You know you’re in the right place for a martini if Sam Lek is behind the bar. For more than 30 years, he’s been serving drinks at Town & Country, still rich with an ambience reminiscent of when it was thick with cigar smoke. The menu offers 100 variations on the martini alone, although any classic cocktail will fit the surroundings. During happy hour, Monday through Friday 5:30 to 7, there are free appetizers such as egg rolls, spanakopita, and simple pasta.
>> Next: Good for Eating and Drinking
Nine-to-fivers crowd the bar at this slick steakhouse to loosen their ties and talk shop over $14 cocktails. Music from Sinatra to Dylan provides a loud backdrop, but a front nook with a set of brown leather couches is a quiet oasis. The full dinner menu is available at the bar, but a side of bleu-cheese tater tots ($9) or a half dozen raw oysters ($18) is all you’ll need after a long day at the office.
With chalkboard menus, low-backed booths, and violet wallpaper, this European-cafe-style bar and lounge is utterly charming. A roster of more than 75 wines by the glass ($7 to $16) accompanies a small-plates menu of comfort foods, such as a corn dog ($2.75) and hush puppies with maple butter ($4). Despite the recent departure of cocktail whiz Gina Chersevani, the five cocktails ($10 each) are still creative and quirky. Sunday nights, stop in to watch a classic movie and munch on complimentary candy and truffle-butter popcorn.
Chef Jeff Tunks, known for such downtown restaurants as DC Coast and Acadiana, has ventured out to the ’burbs, where his latest seafood restaurant takes up loads of square feet. The long bar affords plentiful space to down oysters and crab claws, sip a hurricane or saketini, or just marvel at the pickup scene.
Michael Landrum’s second restaurant, across from the AFI Silver Theatre, isn’t the mob scene that Ray’s the Steaks in Arlington often is. That’s mostly because this retro-cool dining room has much more space—and a bar. The lounge, which feels like an Eisenhower-era cocktail spot, has lots of room to hang out, sip a Gibson, or even grab dinner. The bar menu is filled with Landrum classics such as his much-vaunted Hell-Burger, hanger steak, and “devilishly good” eggs stuffed with steak tartare. A three-course dinner special is $23.95.
This mod bar and lounge feels imported from Los Angeles. The cocktail menu includes six classics (all $12), such as a sidecar and a Singapore sling, while a creative list of special drinks (all $12) matches the Far East–infused food with creations such as the Asian Pear Drop, which uses sake to pack an extra punch. Don’t miss the bar food—four Kobe-beef sliders ($16) are worth the splurge, as are the General Tso’s Chicken Wings ($12), a crispy set of five lollipop-style bites.
Eric Ripert’s Washington outpost has a glitzy crowd on weekend nights, when the bar is packed two or three deep. A large selection of high-end liquors and great wines is easily overlooked—a shame because, for instance, the dessert wine Nivole Muscat d’Asti is a sweet, bubbly treat. A ten-minute walk from the Kennedy Center, Westend is a great place to cap off an evening, particularly if you order a plate of miniature fish burgers and French fries or the scrumptious macaroni and cheese with toasted bread crumbs.
>> Next up: Creative Cocktails
This dark, smoky-mirrored hangout gets crowded for a reason. Besides cool touches such as a carnivalesque photo booth, there’s an affordable small-plates menu with snacks including Marcona almonds, roasted olives, and potatoes with aïoli, plus more substantial plates such as duck confit and spaghetti Bolognese. The excellent throwback drinks—a strong rum punch, a proper daiquiri—come courtesy of Adam Bernbach, a serious cocktail enthusiast. Tuesday nights, he has cocktail sessions where for $36 you get three creations with ingredients such as house-made Falernum and Meyer-lemon syrup.
Jill Zimorski’s wildly creative cocktail list (all items $11) features a steady roster of nine drinks and one or two seasonal specials. Her Faux Syrah Syrah tastes just like wine, but it’s made with vodka, blackberry purée, black pepper, and a smoke infusion, and the margarita is served with salt-lime “air.” Celebrity chef José Andrés recently added a bar menu that includes small bites such as quinoa-crusted fried shrimp ($12) and the medio dia sandwich ($15), a take on a classic pressed Cuban.
The bar and lounge at this modern French bistro is people-watching heaven. On weekdays expect senators, on weekends fashionistas. Inventive cocktails ($11 to $14) change with the season and often include little-known ingredients. It would be wrong not to indulge in a couple of Michel Richard’s appetizers, including the gougères ($7), one-bite wonders that give new meaning to “cheese puffs.” Or order the platter of duck rillettes and “faux gras” terrine ($15), two spreadable, French charcuterie options.
Open since November, the Gibson gets our vote for best new bar. There’s no sign, just an unmarked door on a building with covered-up windows. Inside is a swank speakeasy with dark-wood walls and flickering candlelight. The cocktails are works of art. From the menu of about 16 creations ($8 to $16 each), we especially like the First Snow—vodka, Muscat syrup, white-cranberry juice, lime, and Champagne—and the Golden Child, made with fig-infused rum, peanut cream, crème de cacao, and lemon tincture. On weekends, reserve a table or expect to be wait-listed (the doorman will call your cell phone if a spot opens up). Coming in the spring: a spacious patio and outdoor bar.
This jazzy lounge, adjacent to Peter Smith’s Modern American dining room, already wooed us with snacks such as tuna sliders with white-miso aïoli and miniature house-made hot dogs. But it recently landed another big draw: Gina Chersevani, the sass-talking bartender with a fan-club-like following. Her drinks favor infused rums, bourbons, and fresh juices. We like two recent additions: the “Yes We Can”ton, a gingery flute of pineapple juice and Cava, and the Situation Rum, like Hawaiian Punch gone glam. During the weekday happy hour from 4 to 7, cocktails are $10, with a rotating special $4, and Miller Lite or Yuengling (depending on the night) is $3.
Cocktail whiz Todd Thrasher, also behind the terrific drinks at nearby Restaurant Eve, lets his imagination run wild at this signless speakeasy (look for the pirate flag and the blue light). Reservations are recommended for the 30 seats in the deco-cool parlors, and there are a few rules to follow: no jeans, no standing, no swearing. But once you’re settled in, the payoff is great. Thrasher’s shakers are filled with freshly squeezed juices, house-made sodas, even specially shaped ice cubes, and his creations—a carrot-flavored colada, a sparkling mojito—go down deceptively easy.
>> Next: Good for a Date
Classical music plays softly in the cushy bar upstairs from the dining room, making it a great spot for quiet conversation. Like everything else here, the cocktails are top-notch—from a cosmopolitan ($15) with a side dish of syrupy raspberries you can spoon into the drink to a gin and tonic ($16) with house-made tonic water. Or enjoy a bottle from the restaurant’s renowned wine list. The lounge menu—starters, burgers, entrées, and desserts—offers a chance to sample chef Michel Richard’s cooking without committing to the full Citronelle experience (and expense).
A tree separates the dining room from the bar and lounge at this cozy Dupont Circle spot, where much of the decor—disks cut from a tree trunk, a rough-cut bar top—has a natural feel. A carefully crafted cocktail list (most drinks are $12.50) boasts creative choices such as the Salsa Verde, made with poblano-pepper-infused tequila. Small snacks include chicken-fried oysters ($14) and portobello fritters ($8). During happy hour—weekdays 4 to 6—select beer bottles are $3, wine $4, and rail drinks $5.
Chandeliers and a cool selection of jazz provide the atmosphere at this second-story neighborhood haunt. The bar is lined with glass fountains filled with ice water, which the bartenders use to mix absinthe concoctions. The van Gogh, named in honor of the painter’s devotion to the drink, is a mixture of Le Tourment Vert absinthe, grenadine, and pineapple juice. For a quick appetizer, we like the grilled merguez sausage with polenta and piquillo peppers. Sunday through Wednesday from 5:30 to 7, bottles of wine are half price. Thursday nights, there’s live jazz at 10.
This California-mod restaurant is decked out with reclaimed redwood, slate, and windows that stretch to the ceiling. The spacious bar/lounge offers 75 seats at a white-marble counter plus leather couches and banquettes. Wines—many of which are from organic and sustainable vineyards—are dispensed into tastes, full glasses, or carafes, and seven of the eight beers on draft ($6) are microbrews. Monday through Friday 5 to 7, a happy hour includes a Roseda-beef burger with any draft beer for $15.
Is there a cozier place than this living-room-like bar? Tucked away from Restaurant Eve’s dining rooms, it has an appeal all its own, with cushioned barstools and big leather chairs, a fireplace, one of the best lunch deals around ($13.50 for any two items on the bar menu), and smart, friendly bartenders. Then there are the drinks, overseen by Todd Thrasher, the cocktail guru who made his name using house-made mixers, fresh juices, and boutique liquors. He creates hits such as a black-currant fizz and Eve’s Temptation, an apple cocktail that tastes like a liquid green apple.
Meeting a first date for drinks or just want to chat with a friend on a winter night? The elegant, cozy bar area in Dupont Circle’s Tabard Inn is your best bet. Chantal Tseng is turning out some of the finest cocktails in DC—curl up with one on a couch by the Tabard’s fireplace and sip the night away.
Red walls and dim lighting make for a romantic setting in Vermilion’s intimate bar/lounge. Sit on one of the bar’s red cushioned stools or claim a corner in the lounge. Cocktails include a gin fizz with port-pear reduction and a classic hot buttered rum. Happy hour—weeknights 4 to 7—includes select beers, wines, mixed drinks, and nibbles.