Imbiber’s Agenda: Inside New Dupont Bar McClellan’s Retreat

Expect Civil War era-inspired cocktails and a cozy atmosphere.

Photograph by Scott Suchman

There once was a popular Union Army general named George McClellan who was known for, among many other things, his retreats from Confederate opponents. Bad for northern Civil War soldiers circa 1862, good for drinkers in 2014. Say hello to McClellan’s Retreat, a cozy upper-Dupont bar themed around the general, whose statue resides nearby. The “retreat” in the name nods to both McClellan’s not-so-illustrious battle moves and the officers’ club vibe that pervades the space. Here’s what to look for when the 50-seat watering hole opens Wednesday.

Civil War-chic decor: McClellan’s takes over the former Veritas space, and while the concept is focused on cocktails rather than wine, the room remains cozily small. Enhancing that feel are antique and 19th-century touches, such as a dark-wood bar lit by hanging lanterns, plaid booths accented with military jacket buttons, and portraits of the eponymous general.

19th-century sips: Ever tried a Sangaree or sherry cobbler, a.k.a. the cosmo of the 1800s? Now you can. A concise cocktail menu draws half its inspiration from Civil War-era drinks, such as warm spiced rum and the cobbler, made with medium-dry sherry, brandy, lemon, and aromatic gomme syrup. The other half is filled with classics, such as a dry martini, a Negroni, and a Manhattan.

The “officer’s reserve” and happy hour: While cocktails are priced standard-for-DC in the $10-to-$14 range, drinkers can splurge on a small high-end whiskey list boasting the likes of Jefferson Reserve 21 year ($20 per ounce). More affordable brown water is also available, as well as a few bottles beers, glasses of wine, and happy hour specials between 4 and 7 on weekdays.

Lincoln-size drinks: If you think our 16th President was tall, check out the cocktail shaker that’s brought out for group drinks. Parties of two to four who want the same cocktail can get a monster Manhattan or rum-based Mary Todd shaken in the metal behemoth, which is about five times the size of a regular. Solo imbibers can still get in on the large-format fun by checking out the “daily ration,” or punch, served in an antique bowl.

Hardtack: Kidding! The Civil War theme doesn’t run that deep—just listen to the music, which is more ambient rock ‘n’ roll than Dixie. While the bar doesn’t have a kitchen to speak of, outsourced snacks like miniature quiches and finger sandwiches are available so the drinking troops don’t go hungry.

McClellan’s Retreat. 2031 Florida Ave., NW; 202-265-6270. Open daily 4 to close.

Food Editor

Anna Spiegel covers the dining and drinking scene in her native DC. Prior to joining Washingtonian in 2010, she attended the French Culinary Institute and Columbia University’s MFA program in New York, and held various cooking and writing positions in NYC and in St. John, US Virgin Islands.