You Want Something Low-Key
Sometimes you’re looking for a bar that’s, well, just a bar. Quarry House Tavern (8401 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring) pairs its wings and fried pickles with bourbon and PBR. At Bloomingdale’s cash-only Showtime (113 Rhode Island Ave., NW), it’s all about beer-and-shot combos, a funk-and-soul jukebox, and live music on Sundays. Want cocktails without the pretension? The Passenger (1539 Seventh St., NW), one of the first bars to put Shaw—and DC at large—on the mixology map, still pours delicious, unfussy concoctions alongside Schlitz and a killer chili dog. Newer to the scene is Petworth’s unassuming Reliable Tavern (3655 Georgia Ave., NW), which feels like the kind of place where you’d sip Bud Light over a game of pool but is also on a par with the city’s top cocktail dens. Beer lovers seeking a change of pace should check out High Side (4009 Chain Bridge Rd., Fairfax) for Virginia brews plus Taiwanese bar food such as scallion pancakes and chicken dumplings.
You’re in the Mood for Love
Romance means different things to different people, but most of us can agree on one thing: French wine helps. A crackling fire doesn’t hurt, either. You’ll find both plus a nice charcuterie board at Georgetown’s narrow Le Bar à Vin (1035 31st St., NW). In Logan Circle, Tom Brown’s hidden-away Left Door (1345 S St., NW) pairs a moody, Gatsby-era vibe with expertly made sours and Gibsons. At PX (728 King St., Alexandria) in Old Town, you can sip a Virginia Is for Lovers cocktail (local rye, fig syrup) in the sophisticated candlelit speakeasy. Also for lovers: Shaw’s Dabney Cellar (1222 Ninth St., NW), which offers snacks such as oysters and Southern ham as well as lovely wines and cocktails in an intimate subterranean setting.
You Want to See (and Drink) Where the Booze Gets Made
Only in the last several years has the DC government made it legal for distilleries to operate their own bars, and Union Market rum maker Cotton & Reed (1330 Fifth St., NE) is one of the best spots for a tour and tasting. Mad-scientist barman Lukas Smith experiments far beyond the tropical drinks you might associate with rum. We love bitter-sour concoctions such as the Redbeard, with white rum, Campari, ginger beer, and lime. The gorgeous bar top etched with plant and animal drawings is too irresistible not to Instagram.
You Want to Stick It to the Man
It’s no secret how Adams Morgan’s Green Zone (2226 18th St., NW) feels about the President. One of the menu staples is a potent rum-mezcal punch dubbed “F— TRUMP!,” and a sandwich board out front frequently comments on investigations or impeachment. We come for the excellent cocktails infused with Middle Eastern flavors. Our usual order: the Janissary Corps, with gin, pistachio, lemon, and “silky magic” accompanied by muhammara, a red-pepper/walnut dip with pomegranate syrup.
You Want to Hang Out With the Man
The Trumpworld den of choice is—no surprise—the Trump hotel’s gilded Benjamin Bar (1100 Pennsylvania Ave., NW), where cocktails run to $169 (for a refresher made with sweet Tokaji wine). Just don’t go expecting a Sarah Sanders sighting—think more along the lines of Charlie Kirk. You might catch off-duty pols kicking back at Navy Yard’s Mexican-themed Mission (1221 Van St., SE), Capitol Hill’s laid-back Union Pub (201 Massachusetts Ave., NE), or the marble-clad bar at Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab (750 15th St., NW).
You Dig All Things Sour
If your idea of cider is sweet, alcoholic apple juice, you’re missing out. Truxton Circle cider house Anxo (300 Florida Ave., NW) specializes in funky and sour apple brews both fermented in-house and sourced from around the world. Pair puckering sips with Spanish pintxos (bite-size snacks), meats, and cheeses. There’s also a production facility and tasting room (711 Kennedy St., NW) in Brightwood Park.
You’re an Aspiring Ariana Grande
Not quite destined for the Grammys? Live-band karaoke is the next-best thing. At Hill Country Barbecue Market (410 Seventh St., NW) in Penn Quarter, sing alongside the HariKaraoke Band every Wednesday in the basement bar. Recessions (1823 L St., NW) in downtown DC brings together people from all walks of life for more traditional karaoke Tuesday through Saturday, and King Kong–size beers often have the whole crowd singing along. Prefer a smaller audience? Muzette (2305 18th St., NW) in Adams Morgan offers nine private karaoke rooms, more than 70,000 songs in multiple languages, and plenty of soju. Zeppelin (1544 Ninth St., NW)—Shaw’s new haunt for Japanophiles—offers a middle ground. After dinner hours, the second floor transforms into a communal karaoke room where cordless microphones and Japanese and English songbooks circulate. Fuel up with whiskey highballs for liquid courage.
You Want an Irish Bar Without the Kitsch
The Irish Inn at Glen Echo (6119 Tulane Ave., Glen Echo) feels more like a Donegal country roadhouse than a shamrock-festooned knockoff—especially if you sip a pint on the porch. At Kirwan’s on the Wharf (749 Wharf St., SW), Tipperary native Mark Kirwan imported all the furnishings from Ireland and takes a from-scratch approach—no frozen fish or chips here—for the modern Irish menu.
You’re Seeking a Good Bar Dog
The Detroit-style chili dogs, pickle-topped Chicago dogs, and Buffalo-inspired wing dogs are like everything we love about Shaw’s cash-only Ivy and Coney (1537 Seventh St., NW): a little messy and unabashedly lowbrow, but packed full of neighborhood flavor.
You’re Seeking a Good Dog in a Bar
Throw a treat to Bardawg, the mascot and resident mutt at the outdoor beer garden Bardo Brewing (25 Potomac Ave., SE). With an acre of waterfront space and a pup-friendly policy, there’s plenty of room for both humans and canines to play.
You’re Pre-Gaming Near Capital One Arena
Penn Quarter bars can lean a little touristy, but we’d hit Free State Atlantic Bar (501-B G St., NW) even if there weren’t a game to catch. The Mid-Atlantic-inspired spot pairs beachy orange crushes and Virginia IPAs with Ocean City treats like Dolle’s taffy and Fisher’s popcorn. Even better, it lets you bring in takeout fried chicken and dumplings from the Japanese Bantam King, which is right upstairs.
You Want to Drink Discreetly
It’s hard to find an establishment more understatedly opulent than the darkly lit Quill (1200 16th St., NW) in downtown DC’s Jefferson hotel. It’s our first stop when we want a properly made Manhattan or martini with a side of privacy. Shaw’s 600t (600 T St., NW) is just as hidden, but more gritty-cool than polished.
Seventy and sunny outside? Take advantage! Shaw’s Calico (50 Blagden Alley, NW) is a string-lit indoor/outdoor playpen scattered with folks sipping gin-and-pomegranate cocktails out of Capri Sun–like pouches. In the Pike & Rose development, Owen’s Ordinary (11820 Trade St., North Bethesda) pairs a big patio with draft beers and well-executed fry-basket classics. On the snugger side are spots like Garden District (1801 14th St., NW), a beer garden that fills up fast, thanks to its killer burger and short list of beer and wine, and Westover Market & Beer Garden (5863 Washington Blvd., Arlington), which draws fans from beyond the neighborhood with a massive beer selection (from both its draft lines and the shelves in the adjoining market).
You’re Craving Something Frozen—or Fiery
Whether you’re sipping an island-style piña colada or a flaming rum drink from a pineapple, Archipelago (1201 U St., NW) is our top choice for a tiki fix. A new Szechuan-influenced menu brings another level of heat, making us wonder why nobody paired a swizzle with dan-dan noodles sooner.
It’s Your Birthday
Some bars are taking cues from restaurants and accepting large-party reservations—perfect for celebrating with friends. Book the Snug at Service Bar (926 U St., NW), a funky little room for three to eight in the unpretentious cocktail haven. Order à la carte from your private window to the bar—there’s a $150 minimum for drinks and bites such as fried chicken—or let the barkeeps create a tasting menu. At Dacha (1600 Seventh St., NW) in Shaw, long picnic tables in the verdant year-round beer garden can be reserved without a fee for up to 30 revelers. Ditto for nearby Takoda (715 Florida Ave., NW), which carves out space for groups of 20 or more on its airy, semi-enclosed roof deck.
You Want to Play Games
There’s a new generation of adult playgrounds in town. At Player’s Club (1400 14th St., NW) in Logan Circle, 25-odd games include classics (Skee-Ball, billiards) and a randy claw machine filled with sex toys—all fueled by a full bar and food from the nearby Shake Shack. For even less conventional entertainment, try Penn Quarter’s Kraken Axes (840 E St., NW), which matches cold brews with Canadian ax throwing. A huge refurbished Park View location with a beer garden will debut later this year. More sedate competitors can mine the trove of table games and microbrews at the Board Room (925 N. Garfield St., Arlington; 1737 Connecticut Ave., NW). Want a little bit of everything? Ballston’s Punch Bowl Social (4238 Wilson Blvd., Arlington) spans three floors with bowling, arcade games, Ping-Pong, foosball, and private-room karaoke—including a song list you can control from your phone.
You Want to Camp Out on a Rooftop
The most stunning setting at the Wharf sits on the third floor of Nicholas Stefanelli’s Italian emporium Officina (1120 Maine Ave., SW), where a loungey outdoor space lets you sit among fire pits and the restaurant’s herb gardens while sipping top-notch Negronis and taking in the panoramic river view. Meanwhile, the chic little oasis atop Logan Circle’s Colada Shop (1405 T St., NW) is our spot for a piña colada or mojito fix. Wild Days (1201 K St., NW), at downtown DC’s Eaton Hotel, feels more Miami than K Street, with its lush botanicals, global DJs, vegan-friendly tacos, and “s’mores service.”
You Want to Sip a Cocktail You Won’t Find Anywhere Else
Last month, we found ourselves drinking an espresso-based cocktail, with a garnish of crisped Parmesan cheese, that had been inspired by Swedish death metal. Where were we? Derek Brown’s Columbia Room (124 Blagden Alley, NW), of course, where concoctions often feature esoteric spirits and offbeat ingredients. (One involving “sound” comes with a pair of headphones emitting a thrumming buzz.) There, we prefer the grandfatherly Spirits Library and the breezy Punch Garden to the reservations-only tasting room, where four cocktails are paired with four small snacks for $85 a person. At José Andrés’s Barmini (501 Ninth St., NW), bartenders mix surrealist wonders served in the coolest collection of glassware we’ve seen around here. Yoda tiki glasses? Who knew? And don’t miss the heavenly grilled cheese.
You Don’t Want Any Old Sports Bar
Sizzling Filipino sisig and soccer—plus 22 screens for a full roster of sports—come together at the new and eclectic Game Sports Pub (2411 18th St., NW), which serves a global menu of snacks and cocktails from bartender-about-town Jo-Jo Valenzuela. Adams Morgan neighbor Pitchers (2317 18th St., NW) caters to LGBTQ sports fans thanks to longtime JR’s barman Dave Perruzza, who revamped the 10,000-square-foot space with five bars, including a flat-screen-heavy roof deck and sister lesbian/queer space A League of Her Own (2319 18th St., NW). Flatbreads and wings may not seem groundbreaking, but over in downtown Bethesda, Brickside Food & Drink (4866 Cordell Ave.) is serving bar snacks that are several cuts above what many kitchens sling. Think Buffalo-chicken dip and Brussels sprouts with barbecue sauce and ranch.
This article appears in the April 2019 issue of Washingtonian.