Great Dates: Drinks

Wine bars, live music, dance clubs, skating rinks, and lots more ideas to spice up your life.
Photograph by Chris Leaman.
Photograph by Chris Leaman.

>> See our full guide to 158 Great Dates

Good Beers | Fine Wine | Dives | Lounges | Speakeasy | Cozy Spots | Hotel Bars | Coffee | Irish Pubs | Martinis

Really Good Beers

ChurchKey (1337 14th St., NW; 202-567-2576; churchkeydc.com) is the newest arrival to the beer-bar scene. The stylish space has 17-foot ceilings, deep-red walls, and chandeliers. Grab a seat in one of the booths or along the bar and sip from an astonishing selection—more than 50 pours on tap plus 500 in bottles and a rotating selection of five cask ales.

With its brick walls, wood beams, and gas fireplace, Birreria Paradiso (3282 M St., NW; 202-337-1245; eatyourpizza.com) feels like a ski chalet. In addition to 16 regularly rotated drafts, it offers more than 150 bottled beers—a nice complement to the pies from Pizzeria Paradiso upstairs.

At the Saloon (1207 U St., NW; 202-462-2640), the knowledgeable staff is happy to guide patrons through the pages-long beer menu. And you may need it: Budweiser and Miller Lite are nowhere to be found. The homey basement bar has red-brick walls, shelves stocked with beer bottles, and communal tables that bustle with conversation.

If it’s house-made beers you’re after, Franklins (5121 Baltimore Ave., Hyattsville; 301-927-2740; franklinsbrewery.com) keeps seven to ten on tap at all times. The changing selection has included everything from the Kölsch-style Bombshell Blonde to the smooth, dark Pepper Stout.

Fine Wine

Twenty- and thirtysomethings crowd into Cork (1720 14th St., NW; 202-265-2675; corkdc.com) for two reasons. The first is the drinks: The more than 50 Old World wines by the glass are both carefully chosen and affordable. Listed on a chalkboard, a rotating selection of flights gives patrons the chance to explore wines of similar grapes, styles, or regions. But what makes Cork stand out is a delicious menu of small plates from chef Ron Tanaka, an alum of CityZen and Citronelle. The seasonal dishes—house-marinated olives, French fries tossed with garlic and lemon, a crispy brioche sandwich—are meant for sharing.

Veritas (2031 Florida Ave., NW; 202-265-6270; veritasdc.com) is an intimate place—accented with exposed brick, dim lighting, and Syrah-colored walls—that feels like a wine cellar with a built-in bar. The wine list includes about 80 pours by the glass and more than double that by the bottle. The food—cheese and charcuterie plates, dips, chocolate—isn’t meant for sustenance but rather as nibbles to complement the wine.

The Wine Kitchen (7 S. King St. , Leesburg; 703-777-9463; thewinekitchen.com) is the anti–wine bar, a place that aims to demystify wine drinking. It does this with a cozy farmhouse atmosphere; a list of five dozen bottles broken into easy-to-understand categories; and, most memorably, calling cards passed out with each glass of wine—the equivalent of those index cards in independent bookstores where staff scrawl personal and often funny recommendations. The cooking, which summons a big-city bistro, is as much a draw as the wine. Look for a rendition of chicken and waffles that substitutes a marvelously fried quail, a changing selection of very good soups, and a stellar croque monsieur.

Hang at a Dive

When the Quarry House Tavern (8401 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring; 301-587-8350; quarryhousetavern.com), a 77-year-old basement dive, changed hands in 2005, regulars were worried that the new owners—Jackie Greenbaum and Patrick Higgins of the nearby retro-cool restaurant Jackie’s—would do away with its grubby charm. The neighborhood tavern is still as dark and sticky as ever, but the new owners have expanded the beer list to nearly 300 and added 275 types of whiskey. They’ve also spruced up the menu and brought in live music on Saturdays.

The tiny Clarendon hangout Galaxy Hut (2711 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-525-8646; galaxyhut.com) draws a crowd of twentysomething hipsters. The appeal: 20 beers on tap and 30 in bottles plus old-school arcade games and a jukebox loaded with indie rock, electronic, and post-punk tunes. The menu has lots of vegetarian options—a cheesesteak made with seitan, for example—plus bar staples such as onion rings and tater tots. On Sunday and Monday nights, Galaxy Hut hosts live music with a lineup heavy on local acts.

Kick Back in a Lounge

With three working fireplaces, multiple staircases, and vases of flowers, Eighteenth Street Lounge (1212 18th St., NW; 202-466-3922; 18thstreetlounge.com) feels like a stylish house party. Once you get past the unmarked door, the velvet sofas provide an intimate setting for the sounds of some of Washington’s hippest DJs.

For an international vibe, head to Clarendon’s Guarapo (2039 Wilson Blvd., Arlington; 703-528-6500; latinconcepts.com). Hookah pipes can be shared, and sugar-cane-syrup cocktails and salsa beats provide South American flavor in the minimalist red space.

You can up your evening’s glamour quotient at Parisian-inspired Napoleon Bistro & Lounge (1847 Columbia Rd., NW; 202-299-9630; napoleondc.com) and indulge in Champagne cocktails amid red-and-black decor reminiscent of a palatial dining room. Make your way downstairs to the Metropolitain Champagne Bar, where DJs spin international dance music and bartenders keep the bubbles flowing.

Visit a Speakeasy

The craft-cocktail scene here is still young, but if it has a granddaddy it’s Todd Thrasher. The whiz of a bar-man—part of the Restaurant Eve crew—created the area’s first modern speakeasy, PX (728 King St., Alexandria; 703-299-8385; eamonnsdublinchipper.com). Thrasher dreams up concoctions with such mix-ins as house-made cola, smoke-infused rye, and hibiscus. The swank spot usually requires a reservation, and there are rules: no jeans, no swearing, no standing around. But the shockingly good drinks make us happy to oblige.

There’s no drink menu at the Passenger (1021 Seventh St., NW; 202-393-0220; passengerdc.com), a transportation-themed bar near the Washington Convention Center—just tell brothers Derek and Tom Brown what flavors you’re craving and they’ll come up with a drink to suit. For those who prefer beer, the bar has four on tap plus cans of conventional, craft, and cider brews. The spartan space is decorated with blurry cityscapes of Washington taken from a car window and a custom-built train cabin in back.

Stepping into the Gibson (2009 14th St., NW; 202-232-2156; thegibsondc.com), where you’ll also find Derek Brown behind the bar, is like walking into a film-noir hide
away (its unmarked door is right next to Marvin). Many of the antique cocktails—when’s the last time you had Bénédictine?—pack a strong punch. On most nights you’ll need a reservation, but if you don’t have one you can put your name on the list and the host will text you if a table becomes available. In summer, the back patio is an urban oasis.

Cozy Up by a Fire

With mismatched furniture and turn-of-the-century decor, the lounge at Dupont Circle’s Tabard Inn (1739 N St., NW; 202-331-8528; tabardinn.com) feels more antiques shop than bar. The well-worn couches are good for snuggling in front of the wood-burning fireplace. The bar menu includes a few seasonal cocktails plus wines by the glass and more than a dozen bottled beers, including Belgian and German. Sunday nights, there’s live jazz from 7:30 to 10:30.

For a sleeker atmosphere, head to Degrees Bar & Lounge in the Georgetown Ritz-Carlton (3100 South St., NW; 202-912-4100; ritzcarlton.com), where you can sink into comfy couches and warm up with a single malt or an oozy chocolate tart.

At the elegant but welcoming bar at Restaurant Eve (110 S. Pitt St., Alexandria; 703-706-0450; restauranteve.com), you’ll find crackling flames, great bar nibbles, and Todd Thrasher’s fabulous cocktails. Arrive early, as the small bar gets crowded almost every night.

Classic Hotel Bars

Nothing says Washington like an old hotel bar. Hotels have been central to the city’s culture since its founding—the term “lobbyist” came from the favor seekers who gathered in the lobby of the Willard, after all. You can still get an unparalleled mint julep in the circular Round Robin Bar (Willard InterContinental, 1401 Pennsylvania Ave., NW; 202-637-7348; washington.interncontinental.com) if the mood strikes.

The Hay-Adams’s basement bar, Off the Record (800 16th St., NW; 202-638-6600; hayadams.com), is just what its name implies: quiet, reserved, and dripping with history. Sip a Manhattan, a martini, or a glass of red wine and take someone into your confidence. The bar bites—smoked almonds and wasabi peas—will help fill any lulls in the conversation.

The newly renovated Jefferson hotel is situated somewhere between past and present. The dark-wood Quill bar (1200 16th St., NW; 202-448-2300; jeffersondc.com) has been updated with a glowing (some would say jarring) orange bar. Enhanced by an extensive collection of scotch and lots of little nooks and side rooms, it’s tailor-made for discreet dates.

Just Coffee

For a casual date, browse the books and grab coffee at Kramerbooks & Afterwords Cafe & Grill (1517 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-387-3825; kramers.com). The cozy indoor bar makes for easy conversation with a literary vibe while the glassed-in terrace provides ample opportunity to people-watch.

Java enthusiasts swear by Big Bear Cafe (1700 First St., NW; no phone; bigbearcafe-dc.com). The beans come from boutique North Carolina importer Counter Culture, and you’ll find gingerbread and rugelach from local baker Pollystyle.

The pastries are the stars at Leopold’s Kafe & Konditorei (Cady’s Alley, 3318 M St., NW; 202-965-6005; kafeleopolds.com), but the pressed coffee—from Viennese institution Julius Meinl—is also a standout, and the light, airy space is welcoming. In warm weather, the patio is a pleasant place.

If you can’t decide whether to meet for coffee or a drink, keep your options open at Grape & Bean (118 S. Royal St., Alexandria; 703-664-0214; grapeandbean.com), a wine-and-coffee bar in Old Town. The tiny space boasts an $11,000 Clover coffee machine, one of only a few hundred worldwide and a cult item among coffee fanatics.

During the day, grab an espresso, pastry, or cup of tea and relax on the leather armchairs at Mayorga Coffee Roasters (801 Pleasant Dr., Rockville; 301-990-8722; mayorgacoffee.com). Started by a Rockville resident who grew up in Nicaragua, this local chain works to promote sustainable farming in rural communities by sourcing beans directly from small coffee estates in Latin America.

Authentic Irish Pubs

The pale-yellow building that houses the Irish Inn at Glen Echo (6119 Tulane Ave., Glen Echo; 301-229-6600; irishusa.com/irishinn) looks as if it could have been plucked from the Irish countryside and plopped down here. A warren of formal dining rooms takes up most of the space inside, but the pub in front is the biggest draw. Regulars pull up a stool at the 30-foot oak bar or squeeze into one of the plaid booths for a pint. You won’t find shamrocks or Irish-American kitsch, but you may hear brogues—several servers come from Ireland. Every Monday night, there’s live Irish music.

At the Old Brogue Irish Pub (760-C Walker Rd., Great Falls; 703-759-3309; oldbrogue.com), it’s not uncommon to see patrons pushing tables together to make room for friends. That’s because this pub has been a neighborhood favorite for almost 30 years. Friendly servers shuttle well-poured pints of Guinness, Harp, and Smithwick’s. Ask for a table in the back room, where low ceilings with wooden beams and a roaring gas fireplace make you feel like you’re in a friend’s living room.

You can hear traditional Irish music from 7 to 9:30 every Friday and Saturday night at the Auld Shebeen (3971 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax; 703-293-9600; theauldshebeenva.com), another beloved neighborhood joint. The kitchen turns out good renditions of shepherd’s pie and Guinness beef stew. Saturday at noon, amateurs take the stage for an Irish-music open mike.

For more Irish tunes, head to the Dubliner (520 N. Capitol St., NW; 202-737-3773; dublinerdc.com), where there are live acts every night. Guinness, Smithwick’s, and a few signature brews are on tap at the dark-paneled pub, and the kitchen serves classics such as fish and chips.

Potent Martinis

Casino Royale it isn’t, but the hefty martinis at Russia House (1800 Connecticut Ave., NW; 202-234-9433; russiahouselounge.com), along with the Old World decor and pounding Europop, might make you forget you’re in Washington. The martini menu features seasonal specials such as Cherry Vanilla (Bing cherry and Madagascar-vanilla-infused vodka), the vodka menu has 107 selections from 17 countries, and you may run into a homesick Caps player or two among the crowd.

The throwback decor at Johnny’s Half Shell (400 N. Capitol St., NW; 202-737-0400; johnnyshalfshell.net) makes the place look innocuous, but don’t be fooled—the gargantuan martinis are some of the most lethal in the area. If you can wrestle a seat from one of the Senate staffers propping up the bar, you can enjoy oysters on the half shell ($27 a dozen), served with plenty of bread to mop up the liquor.

For purists looking to recapture the era of liquid lunches, Ray’s the Classics (8606 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring; 301-588-7297; raystheclassics.com) knows how to shake it: straight up, with just the faintest hint of vermouth. White tablecloths and a marble bar give it old-fashioned charm, and the bar serves Ray’s acclaimed Hell-Burgers without the long waits of Michael Landrum’s Arlington location.

Sleek wood paneling and lime-green stools give Black’s Bar and Kitchen (7750 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda; 301-652-5525; blacksbarandkitchen.com) an ultramodern feel, but
the spacious bar offers standout versions of classic drinks, including an extra-dry, extra-smooth Smirnoff martini. During happy hour—weekdays from 4 to 7—select drinks are $6; try the tart White Cosmopolitan or the watermelon martini for a post-work meet-up.

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