The Best Bars in DC to Drink at Right Now
There’s plenty to drink about in DC. Washingtonians have important jobs (or so you’d think, based on how much we like to brag about them), and keeping up with the politicos that you occasionally rub elbows with can be a full-time job on its own. Luckily, when it’s time to unwind, DC has everything from a dirty dive that’s a 180 from your buttoned-up desk job to a swanky cocktail bar for exploring the booming craft cocktail scene. This list contains all the bars you need to drink at right now, and it’s always updated with brand new openings and old standbys, so you never have to question where to get your next drink.
A sleek cocktail bar to learn about the classics
The name Astoria may bring to mind the New York City neighborhood, but this bar is named after a legendary book that defined drinking in the years following Prohibition. Brass finishes and deep blue velvet seats mimic the bar at the renowned Waldorf-Astoria Hotel and the menu of classic cocktails was inspired by The Old Waldorf-Astoria Bar Book. Devin Gong and Chu Yi come from CopyCat Co. -- a swanky cocktail bar that has more than proved it’s worth its salt -- so the classic cocktails on the menu are on par. The menu explains the origin of daiquiris, gimlets, Old Fashioneds, and more, so you might even learn a thing or two when you belly up to the seatless bar. From the menu and decor alone, the bar is a time machine. But the expert Szechuan fare like pork chili wontons, sober soup borrowed from CopyCat, and $14 cocktails will bring you back to reality.
A true dive that brings nightlife to a daytime destination
A vacant space covered with graffiti outside Union Market once housed a cafeteria. That is until the mind behind Buffalo and Bergen, Gina Chersevani, opened Last Call in October and breathed new life into the forgotten space. The bones remain the same -- the bar has plenty of worn-down brick, well-traversed wooden floors, and its name is scrolled outside in spray paint. But, the addition of darts, pinball machines, and a Ms. PacMan don’t hurt. As in all good dives, you’ll mostly see patrons drinking beer, but alongside the drafts is a carbonated Old Fashioned that provides a twist on the most classic of drinks. Don’t sleep on the other cocktails -- most of which have prices in the single digits -- or the food, either. The brisket panini is hastily made behind the bar, but could be vying for the title of one of the best bar snacks in the city.
Whimsical spot to celebrate women
Walk inside Pom Pom, the dreamy re-brand of the popular restaurant Hitsumi, and you’ll instantly get a burst of energy. That’s what multicolored pom poms around the bar/chef’s table, a bevy of plants, and brightly colored floral cocktails will do for you. The spot specializes in light riffs on Asian fare, with many vegetarian dishes gracing the menu and, while this isn’t a traditional bar, the drinks can’t be ignored. The female-run restaurant practices what it preaches and stocks its bar entirely with wine, beer, and spirits made by women around the world. Every cocktail highlights the bar team’s prowess by using inventive ingredients like toasted sesame seeds and even house-made, non-alcoholic campari and vermouth for a mocktail dubbed the Nahhhhgroni. Plus, the menu is a work of art with illustrations of prominent women who inspired the drinks, like Serena Williams and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Shaw, Navy Yard
A late-night fried chicken bar so nice they opened it twice
When Roy Boys opened its first location in Shaw earlier this year, DC dwellers couldn’t get enough of the well-crafted cocktails, fried chicken, and old school hip-hop decor. So they quickly opened a second outpost in the trendy Navy Yard neighborhood just three months later. The draft lines at both locations strictly showcase local brews, and they also keep a stock of ponies (aka mini, seven-ounce cans of beer) on hand in case you want to mix things up. The shaken and stirred varieties play with unique ingredients like activated charcoal and beets in the Black Excellence cocktail and oyster brine from one of the restaurant's signature dishes in a play on the classic martini, the Dirty Roy.
Guess what this bar specializes in
Agave junkies will, unsurprisingly, find their fix at Tequila and Mezcal -- but you won’t find a traditional printed menu of the bottles it has available because it’s constantly changing. The husband-and-wife duo behind this bar source out most of their spirits from small-batch suppliers and change out the menu just about every week. There’s more stability on the bar’s cocktail menu, where you can play it safe with a margarita or be a little more adventurous and sip on the spicy Burro Loco, garnished with a cricket. All of the syrups and juices are made fresh in house, so you can’t go wrong with any cocktail or small-biz spirit you choose.
A spirit lovers dream multiplex
Jack Rose Dining Saloon is lauded as the go-to spot for whiskey in the District, so owner Bill Thomas used The Imperial as a place to expand into other spirits. And expand he did. Occupying the corner where three main streets converge, the three-story Imperial is best described as a complex. After five years of construction, the speakeasy-style cocktail bar Dram & Grain occupies the basement level, a traditional bar sits in the first-floor dining room, and a rooftop bar rounds out the drinking venues. Like its sister spot Jack Rose, The Imperial has a thing for rare and vintage bottles and offers up hard-to-find labels rum, brandy, and Chartreuse.
Newcomer to DC’s tiki trend
We’ll get to the OG of DC’s tiki bar scene in a bit, but for now, let’s introduce the challenger. Wrestling announcer voice: Coming into a rowdy Adams Morgan neighborhood with a not-to-be-messed with food menu, it’s Tiki on 18th Street! A handful of tiki spots opened this year including Tiki TNT at The Wharf and Coconut Club by Union Market, but this Adams Morgan’s spot is kicking the neighborhood’s tired nightlife scene up a notch, expanding it beyond just a drunken college destination. The bar is led by owners who know a thing or two about rum and are pros mixing the drinks, so it brings forward a strong list of Zombie, Mai Tai, and Piña Colada variations. Plus, don’t miss the Polynesian-meets-Mexican food curated by Jo-Jo Valenzuela, who runs the acclaimed, Filipino-focused sports bar downstairs.
Highball cocktails with a side of sushi and songs
DC has always had karaoke options, but they often came with cheap well drinks served in plastic cups. That is, until Zeppelin entered the scene. While the upstairs group sing-a-long style karaoke upstairs is worth a trip on its own, it takes a backseat to everything else going on at Zeppelin. A gorgeous metallic cocktail bar occupies most of the first floor and heralds cocktails mainly from a Suntory Highball Machine -- a contraption that chills and carbonates the highballs that Zeppelin is known for. Before karaoke commences, the main upstairs dining room is led by veteran Japanese chef Minoru Ogawa, who provides a mix of yakitori, sushi, and sashimi.
Est. 2017 | Shaw
Wine bar - Pretension = Maxwell Park
Discussing wine with a sommelier can be intimidating. But three pros teamed up to create a wine bar that flexes its expertise while remaining approachable. The staff behind the bar at Maxwell Park will run you through everything from your pick’s temperature to its terroir as they scroll out the information on a chalkboard bar top so you can lock in your newfound wine knowledge. The menu changes monthly -- aside from about two-dozen standards -- and past themes have ranged from a type of wine like pinot noir to a timely category like the “Hog Days of Summer,” which featured pours that pair well with pork.
Est. 2016 | Dupont Circle
Quirky cocktails that pull from the kitchen downstairs
This cocktail bar got a fresh look earlier this year when it moved across town to the space above the flagship Hank’s Oyster Bar location in Dupont Circle. The menu of cocktails fit into four categories ranging from new takes on classic orders to drinks that rely on the kitchen downstairs for ingredients and inspiration. The food is known across the District, but the drinks at Hank’s are worth a dedicated trip.
Est. 2016 | LeDroit Park, Brightwood
A spot to forget about breweries
DC has plenty of breweries. But ANXO Cidery & Pintxos has you covered when you’re in the mood for something sweeter. ANXO was the first maker to distill cider inside the District, and its menu features mostly cider made in house with a few guests from around the world that make the cut. You can easily spend the day sampling cider that ranges from bright and fruit-forward to funky and acidic, and bartenders will help you decode the menu and explain how each type of apple influences the products. Or you can up the ante on your brunch and pour cider straight into your mouth from a porron while you feast on Basque-inspired dishes called pintxos. Your bottomless mimosas could never.
Est. 2016 | U Street
Learn from the pros
When you want to know what to drink, you ask a bartender. But if you’re ready to really learn a thing or two, go straight to the source. Service Bar has become an industry hub and is a cocktail bar made for the most seasoned in the business. The book-long menu has every classic cocktail you could rattle off alongside tiki drinks, and even an industry-favorite Miller High Life pony and shot combo -- all at good-for-DC prices.
Est. 2016 | U Street
The long-standing star of DC’s runaway tiki scene
DC’s tiki bar scene is no joke. The cocktail trend swept across the country, and Archipelago was the first dedicated spot to kick it off here in DC. Kitsch and tiki go hand in hand, so expect to see plenty of Magnum P.I. garb and Hawaiian shirts. If your main objective is to snap some photos for social media, you won’t be disappointed by drinks served in giant flaming pineapples or adorned with a banana carved into a dolphin (props to the person with that task on their prep list). But unlike most trendy bars, Archipelago’s drinks aren’t to be messed with. You’ll find a surprisingly solid beer selection and a Mai Tai so strong my mom tapped out after a sip or two.
Est. 2013 | Downtown
A barstool here is your ticket to the best show in town
DC is home to storied venues like the Kennedy Center and the 9:30 Club, but the best show in town doesn’t sell tickets. It takes reservations. And it’s happening at Barmini. Next door to Jose Andes’ tasting menu extravaganza, Barmini is more lab than bar and it’s stark white interior carries on that analogy beautifully. You can order a la carte from the menu -- and the drinks align with typical DC prices at $14-$20 each -- but if you’re going to go, you might as well go all out. The cocktail flight comes at a steep $95 per person, but this revolving door of libations will keep you entertained all night long. Past themes for the cocktail flight have included elements like a mojito gel spheres, Legos, and Pokemon cards.
Est. 2013 | Shaw and Navy Yard
Drink brews out of a giant boot
DC’s favorite day-drinking destination got a whole lot better in 2019. That’s because there are now two places to get beer in Dacha’s famed 33-ounce glass boot: a casual, refurbished parking lot in Shaw or along the waterfront in Navy Yard. The beer garden (which, ahem, is one of the best in the country) offers a bounty of ales from German to DC-made varieties and snacks like bratwurst and a monster pretzel with all the fixings.
Est. 2011 | Adams Morgan
A massive whiskey collection few can rival
Let’s start with the obvious: Jack Rose’s whiskey selection is absolutely bonkers. At almost 2,700 bottles and counting, it’s one of the largest collections of the spirit on this side of the Atlantic. The visual of all these glass vessels lining the walls of the spacious first-floor dining room -- and the bookshelf ladders required to reach them -- is a sight to behold. But what’s most remarkable about Jack Rose is the attention it gives to almost everything else, too. The beer program is excellent, and there’s also the open-air terrace, which alternates between hot sips in the winter and tiki drinks in the summer.
Est. 2010 | Shaw
Innovative cocktails served in regal surroundings
Derek Brown's Columbia Room is a little like a Wes Anderson film: whimsical, playfully ornate, and crafted with an attention to detail. In its previous life down the street, Columbia Room was an unassuming, snug 10-seat bar in the back of The Passenger. Since the concept reopened in Blagden Alley, it’s become something much grander. Namely, it’s expanded to not just three spaces, but also three different concepts: The Punch Garden, an outside deck that offers bottled cocktails and punches; the Spirits Library, a regal room rich with leather chairs, woodwork, and antique cocktails; and the Tasting Room, which offers visitors a four-course, pre-fixe menu.
Est. 2009 | Columbia Heights
Don’t judge this hipster neighborhood bar by its cover
Room 11 is a neighborhood bar through and through. Before nearby restaurant Bad Saint drew lines that stretched down the street, Room 11 held court for local hipsters from behind the corner bar. It’s a tiny spot with subway-tiled floors and a modest patio outside. But don’t be fooled by Room 11’s ultra-relaxed vibe. The paper menu will put forward a short list of cocktails that put amaro and rare spirits to use, but look behind the bar and you’ll quickly see that the spirits are sprawling and bartenders are happy to mix you up whatever you’d like if the vast selection of wine doesn’t suit you.
Est. 2009 | U Street
The speakeasy that stood the test of time
It’s easy to miss this spot, but that’s the point. A staple of DC’s speakeasy-style bar scene, The Gibson is hidden in plain sight behind an unmarked door alongside bustling 14th Street spots. This cozy spot was one of the first in a wave of Prohibition-inspired bars to pop back up in the District, and it’s remained popular for a candle-lit ambiance and top-notch cocktails. Bartenders specialize in a drink menu that changes with the seasons, but you can’t go wrong ordering classics from the era it’s inspired by either.
Est. 2009 | Logan Circle
Near-endless options for beer drinkers
With five casks, 50 drafts, and 500 bottles of beer, Churchkey has held its ground as a true destination -- and perhaps the destination -- for beer drinkers in DC. The best breweries from across the country have offerings at this 14th Street mainstay, and many of the brews are only available at Churchkey. The descriptive menu offers simple flavor profiles that are easy enough for newbies to decode, without leaving out precise information about the beer’s temperature and the glass it’ll be served in for those who have their drinking preferences down to a science. No matter what kind of beer drinker you are, Churchkey has you covered.
Est. 2009 | Mount Vernon Square
A (resurrected) mainstay that’s still got it
Bars come and go, but when the original Passenger closed at the end of 2014, it felt like losing a loved one -- or, at least like that time in the third grade when your best friend moved to Iowa. Thankfully, the endearingly unpretentious cocktail joint returned a few years ago. The better news? Despite the new address, not much changed inside. The Passenger still encourages patrons to chat with bartenders about which flavors, spirits, or ingredients they’re in the mood to drink, and then let the experts take it from there. The space retains its worn-in vibe with carryovers from the old Passenger (church pew booths, a Steve McQueen mural) and vestiges from other DC nightspots (Liv’s old disco ball, leopard-print chairs from the defunct Millie and Al's). It’s still the bar that sells tallboys of Schlitz and makes world-class cocktails, but now it has Chartreuse on tap and a stage upstairs, too.
Est. 2005 | H Street Corridor
Don’t come here if you’re looking for idiots, shots, specials, or politics
The Pug doesn’t have any of the above. They even say so on their website. But don’t believe everything you read on the internet, see for yourself how this too-cool-for-school spot has become a District favorite for its surprising spirits collection in a cluttered, relaxed, and classically dive bar environment.
Est. 1965 | Adams Morgan
Diner ketchup bottles serve up something different at this dive
Any place where you can find 20-somethings squirting ketchup bottles full of alcohol into their mouths is a dive in my book. So Dan’s Cafe fits the bill. Fork over $25 ($20 bucks for the drink, plus a $5 deposit for your kitschy vessel) and you’ll get a liquor and mixer of your choice inside the bottle and a handful of shot glasses for serving. It may have dark walls, sticky floors, and obnoxiously drunk occupants -- all the more reason to visit at least once.
Est. 1856 | Downtown
Don’t call this historic bar a tourist trap
Steps away from the White House, this spot can be a tourist haven. But it’s anything but a trap. There are many downtown bars you should steer clear of, but this legit historic spot is not one of them. That’s because if old wooden bar tops could talk, this one would have some serious stories. Luckily bartenders can talk and they’ll serve you classic cocktails while telling you all about how the spot you’re sitting used to be a guest house known as the saloon for presidents.
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