There’s snagging a reservation, and then there’s catching a vibe. The DC dining scene seems to be increasingly obsessed with the latter. What is a vibe exactly? We’re almost certainly killing one by trying to define it. It’s not about a place’s food or the cocktails (they might be good, but they’re not the point). It’s about the scene, the buzz, the energy, the feeling.
Sure, every restaurant has some kind of vibe—good, bad, weird. But having a vibe is different than being a vibe. Many spots these days try to manufacture it with their neon signs and faux flower decor, but ultimately that x factor can’t be faked. What we can say: It’s probably a little loud. It’s probably a little expensive. There’s definitely someone hotter, hipper, and more stylish sitting next to you. And unlike the “scene-y” hotspots of yore, DC’s vibiest destinations nowadays are full of people taking selfies and flooding your Insta feed.
Here are some of the vibiest spots around DC right now:
920 Blagden Alley, NW
Some rooftop bars rely on the views. This Shaw spot has its own tropical Peruvian pulse to carry it. It certainly doesn’t hurt that one of the city’s best new restaurants, Causa, is downstairs. But the indoor-outdoor cocktail spot is its own scene, whether you’re sharing ceviche (with a hot date, obvi) in the serpentine backroom or sipping pisco on the greenery-filled patio.
1622 14th St., NW
The big windows looking into this Spanish tapas spot are the ultimate 14th Street fishbowl. Something about lots of people squeezed around the bar makes more people want to squeeze around the bar—or better yet, the people-watching patio. A little chaos is the price you pay for $7 happy hour mini martinis.
1245 H Street, NE
If it feels like you’ve stepped into another world, that’s the point. This luxe newcomer draws on sci-fi and Afro-futurism for its imaginative menu and moody bar and dining room design, complete with leopard-print booths. Plus, c’mon, an actual celebrity—Common—is talking up this place to his four million Instagram followers.
3251 Prospect St., NW
Consider this Georgetown Italian mainstay the OG of vibes. You’re going because of the other people there—namely politicians, ambassadors, socialites, celebs, and an array of other power-grabbers. A $34 pasta entree is totally worth it when you’re eavesdropping on the Treasury Secretary.
476 K St., NW
The subterranean Roja lounge at this wood-fired Mexican restaurant feels like a secret lair. The low-lit den is pure mood: candles, leather seats with tiny tables, and live jazz most nights. Tequila is hands-down the vibiest of spirits (facts), and this bar features more than 100 different bottles—plus private tequila lockers.
1601 14th St., NW
It’s giving Parisian fantasyland, brunching next to Secret Service, “Hey is that…?” Stephen Starr knows how to create a space where the VIPs want to be and you want to be VIP. The see-and-be-seen French brasserie is buzzing with main character energy. No, that’s not just another seafood plateau, it’s a way of life, merci beaucoup.
1815 Adams Mill Rd., NW
Shimmering disco balls and sexy lighting make this French-Canadian bistro bar feel like a party, whether you’re stuffing your face with foie gras poutine or grooving to the weekend DJ spinning vinyl. Even a consultant can feel cool here. Don’t miss the bathrooms, where stoned koalas eating cheeseburgers grace the wallpaper.
1306 18th St., NW
The chic Dupont cafe was serving espresso martinis before they were trendy. The seasonally changing patio decor—a canopy of cherry blossoms in spring, a citrus orchard in summer—is copycatted by plenty of Insta-obsessed eateries. And the owners prefer to be called “creators.” It’s the kind of place you decide to go because you saw it on social media and it looked cool.
2002 Fenwick St., NE
It’s hard to say which feels more stylish: the cacti-lined dining room with retractable roof, the prettily plated Lebanese-Mexican plates, or the $16 cocktails with little flowers in them. This Ivy City newcomer is basically a desert oasis that evolves into dance party. Owner Nayef Issa (also a partner in Residents) is known for his music pop-ups around DC, and here he’s installed a DJ booth and state-of-the-art sound system to transform the restaurant into a club. Plus, any place that can get away with cinder-block banquettes has to be pure vibes.