Experience Some of Best Bars In Washington, DC
From the uppermost corners of Northwest D.C. all the way down to Southeast, D.C. is populated with clubs, lounges and pubs. Whether you’re a lifelong resident, a newcomer, or just in town for a quick visit, knowing where to find nightlife is essential.
25. Penn Social
Penn Social D.C. is a 13,000 square-feet giant adult playground. It is a two-floor venue with three bars and over 30 draft beers. There are old school arcade games and an assortment of board games. While Penn Social is good for the standard open mic nights, trivia battles and sweeping variety of parties, they host other events like sneaker competitions, record fairs and even pageants. In just over a year, it’s established itself as a jack of all trades.
24. Nanny O’Briens
Every now and then, you have to visit a good Irish pub. Nanny O’Briens resides way uptown in Cleveland Park, but don’t consider its location exile”consider it a blessing. If you don’t live in the area or frequent it, it gives you a reason to explore a different area of the city. Be sure to check out the daily specials: the highlight comes mid-week, when they do 35 cent chicken wings for a five-hour eating frenzy that attracts hungry customers from all over the city. They have traditional buffalo wings, but you’re cheating yourself if you don’t try the “Maryland” style, dry rub wings. Nanny’s draws everyone: families, professionals seeking post-work fun at the bottom of a glass and college students from the various schools in the area. Survey the room and it will remind you of Kavanagh’s from The Wire, only it doesn’t host wakes.
23. Stan’s Restaurant
Upon entering Stan’s Restaurant, you’ll immediately feel like you walked into Nipsey’s from Martin or Natalie’s from New York Undercover. Say hello to one of D.C.’s best kept secrets, a place where you’re given a huge cup filled with liquor accompanied by another glass filled with a chaser. Drinks can be expensive for this reason, but just know that you’re definitely getting your money’s worth. If you took Easy Rawlins out of Walter Mosley’s novels and dropped him in modern day D.C., he would kick it at Stan’s. They favor a soundtrack of old school soul and R&B, and you almost expect radio legend Donnie Simpson himself to emerge and talk you through finishing your plate of chicken wings while Atlantic Starr plays in the background. Whether you’re looking for a launchpad for your evening or just want to get a good, strong drink before calling it a night, this off the grid gem with over three decades of tradition is screaming your name. Don’t underestimate the potency of those drinks, though, and don’t say we didn’t warn you.
22. Smoke & Barrel
So you like whiskey? They have a plethora. Enjoy barbecue? They do the damn thing. Have a fascination with barrels? So do they. Adams Morgan’s Smoke & Barrel is for for guys (and girls) who use tree branches as toothpicks. Though they specialize in whiskey, they also have a solid list of beers on tap, by the can and by the bottle. The BBQ Nachos are as amazing as they sound, with red bell peppers, jalapenos, sour cream, and salsa piled on top of your choice of chicken, tofu, vegetarian chili or brisket. They also have a BBQ Sampler that can serve from one to four people; it depends on how many people you have with you and how hungry you are. They serve ribs because it would be a crime if they didn’t, and you can have them dry, wet, muddy or chipotle honey butter style. Definitely make it a point to try one of their whiskeys and the Sweet Potato Donuts before you either continue your night or call it a night.
21. The P.O.V Rooftop Lounge and Terrace (The W Hotel)
This might be an unpopular opinion, but the W Hotel’s P.O.V Rooftop Lounge and Terrace deserves a spot on this list because of its remarkable view. There are rooftop bars in D.C., but none are reminiscent of New York City. That alone sets the P.O.V apart. No, it’s not as laid back as some of the other establishments on this list, but it offers arguably the greatest vantage point in the District. It works for both high-energy weekend parties and the remorseful morning-after brunches that follow, and the view of the city is so calming that you’ll forget all about your hangover.
20. Biergarten Haus
Since opening its doors three years ago, the Biergarten Haus gave Northeast H Street precisely what it needed: A legitimate beer garden. With its exterior adorned with flags, it damn near feels like an embassy”one specializing in German cuisine and, obviously, beer. While a full liquor bar is available, indulge in the beer (you are at a beer garden, after all). The interior design is very thorough, creating a non-D.C. atmostphere through the abundance of flags, sturdy benches and wooden stools surrounding barrel tables meant for drinking and dining. The large, outdoor patio is great for accommodating the inevitable overflow of beer-thirsty patrons. The food menu consists of classic appetizers like the Bavarian Pretzel Rolls (which are heated to perfection), Schnitzels for those seeking a classic german meal and a New York Strip Steak if you’re so bold. If you think the Biergarten Haus is great now, just wait until Oktoberfest. That’s when the real, Beerfest-esque fun starts.
19. Velvet Lounge/Dodge City
Velvet Lounge and its neighbor, Dodge City, are like siblings, with Velvet Lounge being the more rebellious of the two. Where Dodge City is straight-laced, Velvet Lounge is the tatted-up problem child. It’s front window is covered in stickers and the interior is decorated in graffiti and random photographs, like the one of Rev. Jesse Jackson. The outdoor patio is covered in amazing murals, giving you plenty of art to ogle while consuming cheap beer. Velvet Lounge also acts as a concert venue and has a bathroom that people who remember or know anything about CBGB would appreciate. The narrow dance floor can get overpopulated on crowded nights, but this dive employs cool staff members and has cultivated a look literally worth 1,000 pictures.
Dodge City is clean-cut, but also has a large outdoor patio enclosed by a huge wooden fence lined with towering plants. That feature (as well as the alcohol) will make you feel like you’re someplace other than D.C. during warmer months. The bar area on the first floor is small, so venture up to the second floor for more space at the other bar and enjoy the sounds of the DJ, who operates out of the back corner.
18. Chez Billy
This French bistro is large and gorgeous, with exposed brick walls, a fireplace and secluded areas that offer a great bird’s-eye view for all you people watchers. Oh, and the chandeliers will make you think of Chandelier. In April, it opened its covered backyard patio just in time for its first birthday. The open space is fitted with wooden benches and a full bar complete with eight taps.
Chez Billy also has a distinct vintage vibe thanks to its history: It was previously Billy Simpson’s House of Seafood and Steaks. Part of the National Register of Historic Places, the restaurant was a pillar of D.C.’s African-American community during its era. Simpson was an active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, and his establishment was a favorite of Sidney Poitier, Redd Fox and Dick Gregory when they were in town. Hence the name, “Chez Billy.” yes, it is expensive ($24 steak fries; $12 cocktails), but management appears to have heard the complaints and worked to reduce prices.
DC9 is best suited as a concert venue, but it’s still a great bar if you’re there at the right time and on the right night. Drinks are reasonably priced and the bartenders are personable types who don’t mind reflecting on the 1985 Super Bowl Champion Chicago Bears team, or the Super Bowl Shuffle. Journey upstairs for a show or to access the other bar while cult classics like Point Break are projected onto a screen. The upper level features a rooftop deck where you can see just about everything on U Street and most of what’s going on as 9th Street slowly becomes downtown. Whether you’re looking to watch your favorite band play or just looking to drink while you overlook the city, DC9 is always a good call.
16. The Capitol Lounge
Before you pull that trigger of hate, appreciate how the Capitol Lounge caters to everyone. You can hear Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney’s “The Girl Is Mine” (or really, anything you want) on the jukebox in the Kennedy room, then dance your ass off to Lady Gaga (if that’s your thing) next door in the Nixon room.
The bar is also deceptively large; if upstairs isn’t your thing, take that trip downstairs to the Loser’s Lounge for some pool. Self-awareness is the Capitol Lounge’s biggest strength”hell, it bills itself as “The Bar Everyone Can Agree On.” Whether you’re the diviest of dive bar divers, a Hill staffer or just someone who loves jukeboxes stocked with classics and $1 tacos, you can thrive here. While we’re on the subject of food, they have great specials on grub and liquor daily; just pick a day and you’re bound to score a deal. The staff is also very friendly, something that makes you want to keep coming back.
15. Red Derby
Sometimes, hole-in-the-wall neighborhood bars are the best bars, just look for the red derby painted above the black door and you’ll know you’re in the right place. The color theme remains consistent once inside, with the walls in the dimly lit bar painted red. The Red Derby has a stellar collection of beers and there are always specials, just make sure you inquire about them. The deck is very popular and while it deserves its acclaim, that popularity leads to it filling up quickly. If you want a seat (or even a good spot), you’d better get there early. Then there are the board games. Everything is more fun when you’re drunk (except mornings), so drunken board game wars should hold a special place in your heart. You’re really afforded the opportunity to be a grown kid at the Red Derby, and that holds a ton of weight.
14. Old Ebbitt Grill
Old Ebbitt Grill, founded in 1856, proudly wears the crown of D.C.’s oldest saloon. Any fans of Clyde’s will recognize the menu, which Old Ebbitt shares with the restaurant thanks to a partnership dating back to the 1970s. Situated near the White House, it’s a great place for people watching”when you’re not being distracted by the marvelous, Victorian-inspired interior decor. If it’s late and you’re hungry, Old Ebbitt’s late night menu is among the city’s elite, especially for seafood lovers. Earlier this year, the bar teamed up with Print Signal Corp. to print receipt-sized pages or recent headlines, giving customers news to read while they pay their bills. Whether you’ve spent a lot of time in D.C. or you’re just visiting, make it a point to set foot in Old Ebbitt Grill. Let it be sooner rather than later, because the bartenders are all warm and knowledgeable, the food is excellent, and it caters to news junkies.
Brixton’s rooftop offers one of the best views of the city. Brixton provides three spacious levels of entertainment, beginning with the first floor restaurant. Conquering each floor is like beating a video game level, and this is your warmup”use it to prepare yourself for what’s to come. Up just one level is the Lodge Bar, which is decorated with fireplaces, chandeliers composed of antlers and leather couches. The only signal that this dimly lit area is modern are the flat screens. Sit in one of the wooden booths or chill at the bar and order some food.
The Caribbean Curry Glazed Chicken Wings will satisfy your hunger if you’re looking for a snack, and the Brixton Burger (good when topped with bacon or a fried egg) is where its at if you need a larger meal. Finally, there’s the rooftop, which offers a stunning view of the D.C. skyline. It can get very loud up here, but you can seek refuge at one of the two bars, or duck off into the corner and marvel at the scenery. If you’re big on atmosphere and great aerial views, Brixton is your type of spot.
12. Meridian Pint
The Columbia Heights bar is a huge proponent of sustainability and American craft beer, so note that a lot of the equipment and furniture have been recycled and that they’re all about keeping the money in the area. They have 24 beers on tap and 140 by the bottle, but the food is coveted as well. If you want a quick bite, try the fries with rarebit sauce (a combination of cheddar cheese and beer sauce), which you’ll devour in record time without even noticing because the sauce is that good. Back to beer for a second, though: Meridian Pint has booths that are fitted with taps on the table, allowing customers to pour their own beer. Even with its extensive beer list, delectable menu and self-serving option, Meridian Pint is still very much the relaxed, roomy neighborhood bar that you can walk to on a whim.
11. The Looking Glass Lounge
This split-level hangout is located right in the heart of Park View. It’s everything a neighborhood bar should be: Low key, laid back and quiet”until the weekend arrives and people shed their inhibitions. A calm Friday night at the bar can quickly turn into an ’80s dance party should the DJ play gems like Jody Whatley’s “Some Kind of Lover” or Janet Jackson’s “When I Think of You.” The basement features another bar and an outdoor patio that’s so clutch during the summer months. Their daily happy hour features $2 off draft beers, $1 off imported bottle beers and half-price half-smokes”a sausage variation that’s a staple in the D.C. area. There are also weekly food specials such as $5 wings (try the “Down & Dirty” flavor) all night on Sundays and half-price burgers and mushroom burgers during happy hour on Wednesdays. Best of all, you can enjoy your food and liquor while listening to Tribe’s People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm in its entirety.
10. Cafe Saint-Ex
A D.C. staple for the past decade, Saint-Ex adopts its name and aviation theme from French aviator Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Located right on the corner of 14th & T, Saint-Ex is what a good bar should be: Versatile. If you want to enjoy a nice outdoor meal and look at what Northwest 14th Street has become, you have the option of doing that. If you want to sit inside and drink at the upstairs bar, you can do that as well. But if you’re looking to get it in basement-style, hit the steps in the back to Gate 54, where there’s a happy hour from 6 p.m. until 10 p.m. from Tuesday through Friday. During the day, Gate 54 boasts an exclusive beer menu; at night, it hosts a dance party that’s reminiscent of the high school basement parties of your youth. Just be aware that it gets crowded fast.
9. Wonderland Ballroom
There’s no Alice in Wonderland theme at the Wonderland Ballroom, it’s more like a dim afterlife for memorabilia”a pack rat’s paradise. It’s adorned with signs ranging from old school beer advertisements, to street signs and a liquor store sign which brilliantly and triumphantly rests above the upstairs bar. Head upstairs to hear DJs get it in, but remember that heat rises and you will sweat it out on the dancefloor. The bathrooms are decorated with tell-tale graffiti and you’ll find a new hilarious statement everytime you visit. The bar offers cheap food and reasonably-priced drinks, like a daily happy hour from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. with $2 off all drafts and rail drinks, and you kind of owe it to yourself to try the Blueberry Pancake Beer. Aside from the famed outdoor patio that’s typically packed on weekday evenings and weekday afternoons around this time of year, Wonderland also hosts weekly Bocce ball competitions and its Annual Sundress Party, a fundraiser that aids a different local charity each year.
8. Backbar at the 9:30 Club
History aside, there’s another reason that the 9:30 Club is one of the best concert venues in America: It has Backbar. How many venues have their own bar that’s equally as awesome? Located in the basement of the venue, Backbar is an escape from rabid concert crowds and the long lines at the 9:30’s other bars. If you’re one of those folks who likes to get to shows early, you can find solitude at Backbar while waiting for the show to begin. It’s a subterranean wonder that you might not even notice, but once you’re there, you’ll never want to leave”at least not until the show starts.
7. The Hamilton
Taking the name of the dueling Founding Father of the United States is a bold move, but The Hamilton is daring like that. It’s almost intimidatingly large, containing multiple bars and a live music venue in the basement. At the restaurant, they have lunch and dinner menus for regular dining and sushi, but it’s the late night menu where all of the good stuff is located. You can have one of their boozy milkshakes, or check out the drinks menu, which is stacked with wines, beer by the draft, bottles and cans, and The Hamilton’s signature drinks. Downstairs is The Hamilton Live”the restaurant’s 500-person concert space. The only challenge with visiting The Hamilton is finding a parking spot (especially on the weekend) due to its close proximity to the White House, because you’re in contention with tourists. Still, The Hamilton is as reputable for having great bars with creative drinks (in addition to the classics) as it is for what’s quickly becoming one of the city’s best venues for live music.
6. Rock & Roll Hotel
Another product of H Street’s simonizing, Rock & Roll Hotel is an extremely well-conceived venue that’s excellent for catching a show, grabbing a drink, or Sunday brunch on the rooftop. The first floor is a divey atmostphere with a stage that hosts concerts and the second floor is home to a rooftop deck and bar that’s equally effective for Friday night liquor guzzling or private parties as it is for weekend recovery brunches. There’s a daily happy hour from 6 p.m. until 8 p.m. with $3 PBR’s, $4 rail drinks, $1 off everything else and half-price wings. The name makes you think of petulant rock stars destroying hotel rooms during drunken, drug-fueled benders, but the only damage done at Rock & Roll Hotel is on the dance floor.
5. Nellie’s Bar
As D.C.’s first gay sports bar, Nellie’s was a brilliant statement. It’s located right on the corner of 9th and U Streets, so it’s impossible to miss when trekking to the city’s historic U Street Corridor, mostly because there’s always a mass of people having what looks like the time of their lives on Nellie’s main attraction”its rooftop deck. Their schedule is packed with events like Karaoke Tuesdays and Smart Ass Trivia Night every Wednesday. Nellie’s is housted in the studio of Addison Scurlock, who used to take photos of esteemed African-Americans like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois. It also got a reality television boost a few years back when castmembers from The Real World: DC journeyed there. Though it’s a gay bar, it’s target audience is anyone open-minded and mature enough to appreciate a sports bar that hosts a “Drag Brunch.” Even though it isn’t for everybody, it definitely welcomes everybody.
4. American Ice Company
If you stroll by American Ice Company prior to opening, it simply looks like a garage. But once it amasses a crowd and the liquor starts flowing freely, it becomes one of the livest bars in the area. The patio, enclosed by a wall, is populated with picnic tables. The more people drink, the more fun they have and the louder they get. Obnoxious volumes almost always mean a good time is being had. The interior is industrial, with exposed brick walls lined with wooden benches. It’s like the coolest garage ever, or your DIY grandpa’s man cave of a basement. American Ice also lets you feel like a Wolverine-esque bad-ass who drinks beer out of jars”another aesthetic touch that American Ice utilizes to really kill the game. On the food front, you can keep it simple with some veggie nachos or “swachos” (“swine nachos”) or you can boss up and try the 13th Street Half-Smoke. Their nacho experiments are good, but you can get nachos anywhere”this is D.C., go with the half-smoke.
3. Boundary Stone
Some 40 stones (considered the OG federal monuments), which are still in place today, served as markers creating the District’s original shape”a diamond. The atmostphere is always friendly, but Boundary Stone’s unique selling point is its design. From the exposed brick walls, to the tin ceiling and sliding wooden door that looks like the entrance to a barn, the pub has a very polished look. Exquisitely rustic, it’s the type of place that Adam from Girls would hang out if he lived in D.C. The stained glass window bearing the D.C. flag is another brilliant aesthetic, and when it comes to liquor, their selection of beer and whiskey is as deep as classified government records. When it comes to food, their DC Brau Chicken Sandwich is awesome, as are the Honey Hot Wings and their vegetarian compliment, the Seitan Honey Hot “Wings.” Try them all.
2. Smith Commons
Smith Commons features a main dining room and bar on the first floor where President Obama hosted contest winners of the “Dinner with Barack” series as part of his 2012 re-election campaign. Upstairs are two levels”known as “the commons””with full bars also fitted with decks perfect for drinking, as long as the weather is nice. The open living room style of the second floor provides a great look at H Street and the outdoor areas offer stunning views of the city. The building’s exterior also features artist Gaia’s Dusk of H Street mural, where Kanye’s head was projected, Wizard of Oz-style, when the Yeezus promo tour hit D.C. Smith Commons is as good for private events and Sunday brunch as it is for a casual night of drinking. The building used to be a carpet warehouse, so thank the city’s recent investment in the H Street corridor for helping to make Smith Commons possible.
Named after D.C. native Marvin Gaye and inspired by his two-year, post-Motown exile in Belgium, Marvin is a special blend of D.C. and the Western European monarchy. Ascend the steps and you’ll find the lounge and rooftop bar, which is open year round. Monday nights are a must for soul lovers, as DJs excavate classics that would make the bar’s namesake proud. The rooftop bar has over 30 Belgian ales and blondes available and has become one of D.C.’s most popular hangout spots, even in the dead of winter, thanks to its heating stations. If you’re in the mood for a meal, Marvin’s menu ranges from steak frites to its staple, the chicken and Belgian waffles.Â Marvin gets packed on weekends, with a line that regularly extends to the corner of 14th & U, but it’s well worth the wait.
You’ve got to give it up for Marvin. It embodies the history of the U Street Corridor while still embracing the city’s evolution.
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