Food

Rooftops Can Be Crazy Hot—Chill Out in These Great Basement Bars Instead

Take your next drink underground.

The Dabney Cellar serves 30 wines by the glass in a 30-seat bar. Photograph by Andrew Cebulka.

Rooftops are snazzy and all, but it’s hard to beat a great basement bar, especially when it’s 90-plus degrees and the air feels like a cat sitting on your skin. We prefer to hide from the sunlight—and crowds—in these drinking dens instead. Here are some of the best, listed in descending order from classy to dive-y. 

The Dabney Cellar
1222 Ninth St., NW
Of all the places to drink below ground, the Dabney’s sister wine bar is definitely the most romantic. Think flickering candles, exposed brick, oysters, Mid-Atlantic hams, and abundant natural wines.

Off the Record
800 16th St., NW
Hotel bars already feel like hideaways to us locals, and the basement bar of the Hay-Adams seems especially so. Come for the dark paneling, rich upholstery, fancy nuts, and bartenders who know how to make a proper martini.

Denson Liquor Bar
600 F St., NW
Take a date to Chinatown’s vintage-feeling cocktail den, where you’ll find creative cocktails and the best of both worlds on the bar food menu: a selection of grilled cheeses alongside Petrossian caviar.

capitol hill, places to drink in downtown dc Off the Record, inside downtown DC's Hay-Adams, is the quintessential old-school hotel bar. Photograph courtesy of the Hay-Adams.
Off the Record, inside downtown DC’s Hay-Adams, is the quintessential old-school hotel bar. Photograph courtesy of the Hay-Adams.

Sotto
1610 14th St., NW
Ghibellina’s moody subterranean sister books live music every week, Thursday through the weekend. During Sunday brunch, find free tunes starting at 11 AM, $6 brunch cocktails, and Ghib’s pizzas and brunch dishes. 

Player’s Club
1400 14th St., NW
Summer seekers may hightail it up to the new rooftop bar here, but we’re happier living like a mole person in this retro game bar. There’s plenty to keep you underground for hours: Skee-Ball, billiards, arcades, a naughty claw machine (first prize: sex toys!), and a takeout window for Shake Shack above.

Destination Wedding 
1800 14th St., NW
Sip chilled rosé and “vod sods” (fancy vodka sodas) at this nuptially themed drinking den. Destinations themes like Mexico or Japan change semi-regularly, but you can always get down under the disco ball. 

Destination Wedding
Destination Wedding takes over 2 Birds 1 Stone. Photo by Raisa Aziz

Crimson Whiskey Bar
627 H St., NW
The Hilton brothers pack three Southern-leaning bar/restaurant concepts into Chinatown’s Pod hotel. Head to the lowest level where you’ll find a whiskey tavern with moonshine cocktails and bites like pork ribs and fried oysters. 

La Pop
1847 Columbia Rd., NW
Who needs an airy cafe when you can get your iced coffee—and cocktail—fix in a library-esque hideaway? Drink either at any time (it’s a timeless basement, after all). Food comes from sister Afghan restaurant Lapis next door, including the full brunch menu on weekends—typically without any wait. 

Georgetown Piano Bar
3287 M St., NW
It’s singalong central at Georgetown’s live piano bar helmed by accomplished pianists Hunter Lang and Spencer Bates. Prepare to belt out tunes in the high-spirited basement with cocktails named after famous musicians.

It’s all about the pong at Spin. Photograph courtesy of Spin

Spin DC
1332 F St., NW
It’s all about the pong at DC’s one-and-only ping pong bar—an offshoot of the Manhattan original. In addition to the games, look for an international menu (bao! shawarma!) and “spin-offs” (ha!) on classic cocktails.

Baba
2901 Wilson Blvd, Arlington
If you like Balkan food and hate sunlight this cocktail and small plates spot below Ambar is your place. You can also drop down for all-you-can-eat brunch on weekends with 25-cent drinks and live entertainment on weekends.

The Game Sports Pub
2411 18th St., NW
Sisig meets sports at this eclectic bar where you can cheer on the Nats over excellent Filipino fare. Cool off with one of co-owner Jo-Jo Valenzuela’s tasty cocktails—try a boozy Weng Weng punch at your own risk—and then turn up the heat with grilled pinoy pork belly bowl.

Quarry House Tavern, Jackie Greenbaum
Quarry House co-owner Jackie Greenbaum resurrects the beloved Silver Spring dive. Photograph by Evy Mages

Quarry House Tavern
8401 Georgia Ave., Silver Spring
Folks have been hiding out in some iteration of this basement bar since its 1934 beginning as The Grotto Grill (and maybe a speakeasy before that). Today, there’s a hefty craft beer and bourbon selection—also a small menu section of “crap” (i.e. PBR), boxed wine (“try it over ice!”) and greasy-in-a-great-way burgers. 

Free State Bar
501-b G St., NW
Why cross the border when you can frequent a Maryland-themed bar in DC? We kid, love MD! This is our pick for a chill spot near the Capital One Arena that stocks a strong Maryland/Mid-Atlantic selection of beers and spirits, and snacks like Berger cookies and Utz chips. 

The Mirror
1413 K St., NW
Directions to downtown’s faux-speakeasy sound like clues in a Nancy Drew mystery: Beneath an abandoned storefront…down the stairway…pull the mirror, which is really a secret door… Once inside, it’s all about the drinks (if you’re hungry order from the “menu” of Lunchables).

The Mirror, a modern speakeasy bar, is semi-hidden downtown. Photography by Nick Klein.

Barrel
613 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
Barrel’s basement often plays home to in-house pop-ups, whether a Donald Trump-themed bar or the current Rum DMV, “a celebration of rum, hip-hop, and the Washington Metropolitan area.”

Kingfisher
1414 14th St., NW
If there’s anyplace more chill than a basement bar that serves canned beer (and wine), shot combos, and free popcorn it would be called Antartica. Plus, there’s daily happy hour until 8 PM.

Atomic and Bedrock Billiards
3427 Connecticut Ave., NW; 1841 Columbia Rd., NW
Game dens Atomic and Bedrock have been neighborhood fixtures since the early ’90s in Cleveland Park and Adams Morgan, respectively. Come for cold beers, chill vibes, darts, pool, shuffleboard, and jukebox tunes. 

Kingfisher on 14th Street street has a laid-back vibe, free popcorn, and daily happy hour. Photography courtesy of Kingfisher

Capitol Lounge
229 Pennsylvania Ave., SE
“No politics. No Miller Lite.” Those are the rules of Cap Lounge. Everything else about this Hill bar is pretty chill, including the basement where you can play free billiards on Fridays (6 to 9 PM) alongside $5 shots of Fireball.

Stan’s Restaurant
1029 Vermont Ave., NW
It’s easy to forget if it’s daytime—or 2019—at Stan’s, which has been serving strong, unfussy drinks and American fare like club sandwiches steak Diane to a downtown crowds for 50 years. 

Bottom Line
1716 I St., NW
A downtown drinking fixture since ’79, this friendly bar is a no-frills spot to hide out over $4 happy hour drafts after work and only leave when the sun’s down. 

Recessions
1823 L St., NW
This is arguably the best-worst basement bar in DC. Dim lighting? Check. Weird green carpeting? Check. Pakistani lunch buffet? Sometimes. Near-nightly karaoke and cheap beer? You bet. 

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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.