Food & Drink

The Best Bars in DC to Drink at Right Now

Updated On 01/02/2018 at 11:39AM EST Updated On 01/02/2018 at 11:39AM EST
Hill Prince
Hill Prince | Rachel Maucieri
The Passenger

The Passenger

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 in 2016 with a new location not too far up Seventh Street. The better news? Despite the new address, not much has changed inside. The Passenger still encourages patrons to chat with bartenders about what 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.

Farrah Skeiky

ANXO Cidery & Pintxos Bar

LeDroit Park

A Basque country bar producing their own cider
This cidery and pintxos bar inspired by French and Spanish Basque country changed the cider game in DC when it opened last year. The space is stunning, and there’s no way you can miss the 660-gallon Mastro Battaio barrel sitting near the entrance upon arrival, -- that’s where ANXO allows yeast to naturally transform fresh-pressed apple juice to cider, and you can be damn sure they’re going to show it off. Save some room for those pintxos, like the salt-cod fritters and short rib montadito. The team recently expanded with a new cidery and tasting room in Brightwood Park.

Bar Pilar

Bar Pilar

Logan Circle

Locally-sourced small plates and cocktails
A pioneer of the 14th Street restaurant boom, Bar Pilar has never tried to be hip. Named after Ernest Hemingway’s boat, the comfortable two-level space is divided between a downstairs bar that fills up quickly on the weekends, and a relatively relaxed upstairs, where Jesse Miller's outstanding small plates take center stage. The 20 or so beers on the menu are well chosen, but you’re better off opting for a cocktail, concocted with house-made sodas and poured with a heavy hand. Or if you’re feeling a little frisky, Bar Pilar is responsible for some of the city’s best adult slushies.

Rey Lopez

Espita Mezcaleria

Shaw

Mezcal mecca showcasing Oaxacan cuisine
If you’re going to put "mezcaleria" (literal translation: a mezcal factory) in the name of your restaurant, you better back it up with a whole lot of distilled agave. In this regard, no one can accuse Espita Mezcaleria of falling short. The Oaxaca-inspired hotspot carries over 90 varieties of small-batch mezcal, all part of a program overseen by first-time restaurateur -- and certified master mezcalier -- Josh Phillips. Dive into the world of the sometimes smoky, sometimes not spirit with curated flights of three different mezcales. Or, if that sounds a little intense, start with a Mayahuel, the tangy and savory house margarita... made with mezcal, of course. Don’t forget to look around while you’re there, too. The bright and colorful space is graced with murals by Yescka, a politically active Oaxacan street artist with a cult following south of the border.

Jack Rose Dining Saloon

Jack Rose Dining Saloon

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. If moonlight and crowds aren’t your thing, make a reservation at Dram & Grain, the intimate, leather-clad cocktail lounge in the basement.

Laura Hayes/Thrillist

Dacha Beer Garden

Shaw

German brews and brats in Shaw
Grab a 33-ounce glass boot of crisp Sion Kölsch and a brat with beer kraut and camp out in the city’s premier beer garden. Equally popular with millennials, older folks, and canines, this dog-friendly space attracts big crowds. The former parking lot has steadily improved as a destination over its four years in business, most notably having undergone a significant expansion of its kitchen, increasing the number of beers on tap, and adding spaces to stretch out in.

Laura Hayes/Thrillist

2 Birds 1 Stone

Logan Circle

Expertly executed cocktails beneath Doi Moi
Once a week, 2 Birds 1 Stone bar director Adam Bernbach literally draws up a menu for his 14th Street bar. These vibrant but simple flyers provide a tidy metaphor for the concoctions they advertise: The flavors might pop, but the ingredient list can be distilled down to a few words, because not all high-end cocktails need a short story affixed to them. Of course, the devil is in the details, and this veteran of Bar Pilar (and current bar director of Estadio, Doi Moi, and Proof) doesn’t include anything in a recipe -- be it house-made ginger beer or elderflower vinegar -- that isn’t perfect. These drinks take a while to make, but that doesn’t deter big crowds on the weekends, nor does the fact that the basement bar is minimally marked. Once inside, though, the 60-seat lounge is refreshingly bright with white walls and ceilings... and plenty of birds, naturally.

Laura Hayes/Thrillist

Hank's Cocktail Bar

Petworth

Quirky cocktails in a former church
At the only member of the Hank’s family explicitly dedicated to mixology, cocktails come first -- before the modest beer and wine selection, before the delectable small plates, before the casual occult décor. The church-turned-bar is here to stay, and it’s kept patrons coming back with a rotating selection of seasonal, chef-inspired drinks with playful names, made by barkeep Jessica Weinstein, who came over from one of owner Jamie Leeds’ other restaurants, Hank’s Pasta Bar.

Courtesy of Churchkey

ChurchKey

Logan Circle

Explore hundreds of beers curated by flavor profile
ChurchKey is more than a beer bar -- it’s an institution. The best breweries from around the country send their finest ales and lagers to the slick Logan Circle establishment, and often only there, at least locally. Of course, not many other bars have the bandwidth to accommodate over 30 offerings from Bell’s at one time, but with 50 taps, five casks, and a selection over 500 bottles, it’s just another night at ChurchKey. The majority of beers come priced north of $7 and are served in 10 to 14 oz pours. For craft aficionados, it’s worth the splurge for a sublime swig of a rare brew.

Courtesy of Scott Suchman

Columbia Room

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 prix-fixe menu of three or five cocktails, plus snacks, for $85 and $115, respectively. On New Year’s Eve, there will be a five-course dinner with vintage Champagne and luxe cocktails in the Tasting Room, plus a party in the Spirits Library with cocktails, Champagne, and hors d’oeuvres.

Laura Hayes/Thrillist

Copycat Company

Atlas District

Classic cocktails made accessible
Copycat Company is hardly a bright and cheery sight. The wood is dark, and whatever light leaks in from the half-crescent window at the front of the bar is filtered by a green-tinged screen. The one place where illumination appears to be a priority lies behind the bar, where two big chalkboards break down cocktails with thoughtful details (and pie charts!) well beyond just the ingredient lists. Sometimes that means a bitterness scale, sometimes it’s a geographic map, sometimes it’s a history lesson. Copycat Company's offerings vary slightly every day depending on who’s behind the bar, but shifts are posted four or five days in advance on its website if someone makes your favorite Negroni.

Courtesy of Wisdom

Wisdom

Capitol Hill

Of all the gin joints... you want this one
DC’s obsession with whiskey probably makes gin feel like Jan Brady, but the clear, aromatic spirit has a hell of a champion on Capitol Hill. With over 100 options, this "cocktail parlour" boasts the largest collection of gin for many, many miles. Sip it in the house favorite cocktail Eminent Domaine (Bluecoat, ginger cognac, amaro, and pressed apple) or a choose-your-own-adventure martini, which the menu lovingly provides a how-to guide for ordering. And while they have every other spirit for your pleasure (including plenty of absinthe), the menu also will kindly remind you of one universal truth: "The only real martini is a gin martini."

Cotton & Reed Distillery

Cotton & Reed Distillery

NoMa

Rum cocktails that are (basically) NASA-approved
This craft rum distillery near Union Market is equipped with a bar focused on cocktails made with the star spirit. Cotton and Reed was created by two former NASA strategists, and their spirits are delightfully quirky, with striking sugarcane notes in the white rum and a completely unique blend of botanicals, from bitter gentian to sweet fenugreek, in the dry spiced rum. They recently debuted an allspice dram, and new seasonal releases are always in the pipeline. Enjoy the Redbeard, made with rum, campari, ginger, and lemon, while admiring the wooden bartop graced with laser-etched flora and fauna.

Service Bar DC

Service Bar DC

U Street Corridor

Cocktails and fried chicken in a cozy spot
As the name implies, Service Bar aims to please. This cocktail and fried chicken joint has everything from inexpensive classic drinks to innovative seasonal concoctions. They also have a rotating regional menu that spotlights drinks from varying geographic areas. If you go with a group, definitely reserve the Snug Room, a private tasting nook with set menus that can be tailored to your preferences. Whether you’re in the exclusive hideaway or the main bar area, you’ll be well taken care of by the bar’s proprietors, Chris Willoughby, Chad Spangler, and Glendon Hartley.

Truxton Inn

Truxton Inn

LeDroit Park

The place to spend hours in a velvet chair with a stiff martini
Truxton Inn comes from the team behind McClellan’s Retreat. Designed to feel like an old hotel bar, this cocktail spot in Bloomingdale has an intimate library vibe, with antique furniture and knick knack-adorned bookshelves. The menu is divided into two parts: "Suggestions," which are no-frills traditional cocktails, and "Recommendations," which are riffs on those classics. There’s also a small menu for nibbling, with cheese boards, seasoned popcorn, and snack mix.

District Distilling Co

District Distilling Co.

U Street Corridor

Craft spirits distilled on site, paired with comfort food
Rare is a distillery that puts as much emphasis on the food as they do the spirits. Enter District Distilling, the first of its kind in the city. The U Street kitchen and bar populates a series of 19th-century rowhouses with German copper pot stills, a 42-plate twin copper column system, a tasting room, and a sprawling dining area. Head distiller Matthew Strickland oversees production of bourbon and rye whiskeys, American dry gin and Western-style gin featuring wild juniper, vodka distilled from barley and rye, colonial-style white rum, and small-batch international specialties. They also offer a bottle-your-own experience for personalized gift-giving. In the kitchen, chef Justin Bittner channels his farming roots into the seasonal American menu.

La Jambe

La Jambe

Shaw

A wine bar by a French expat
La Jambe’s owner, Anastasia Mori, says she opened the wine bar because she couldn’t find the perfect spot in DC that reminded her of home. It may not have the same nostalgic memories for everyone, but this unpretentious Shaw gathering place will still feel as comforting as an old friend. It’s also a great place to get an education in French wine, cheese, and charcuterie without any pretension. Pair a glass from the extensive French-only wine list with one of the curated meat or cheese boards and prepare to have your horizons expanded.

April Greer/Thrillist

Colada Shop

U Street Corridor

Affordable Cuban cocktails, coffee, and sandwiches
Mixology showman Juan Coronado and his team put a spotlight on Cuban culture this year by opening the second location of Colada Shop in the city. The bright, zippy cocktails here are a great escape from the depths of winter, and their $8 price tag is a welcome change of pace around these parts. The urban outpost -- modeled after Miami's ventanitas -- is right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the U Street and 14th Street corridors, but it’s a perfectly chic hang to refuel with seriously strong coffee, flaky pastelitos, stuffed empanadas, Cuban sandwiches, and plantain chips.

Five to One

Five to One

U Street Corridor

Musically inclined spot named after a song by The Doors
The menu at Trevor Frye’s new bar is called the set list, which perfectly sums up what Five to One is all about. Designed as an homage to its neighbor, the 9:30 Club, it’s all about music and booze in perfect harmony. The cocktails fit into four categories: "originals" are house creations; "covers" are riffs on drinks from other bartenders; "throwbacks" are classics; and "freestyles" are staff choices. There are frequent changes to the set list depending on who is playing at the 9:30. Frye didn’t want to leave out those who prefer beer or wine, so there’s a carefully curated selection of both.

Rachel Maucieri

Hill Prince

Atlas District

Culinary cousins (literally) put the horse before the cart
Nick and David Wiseman, the pair of cousins behind DGS Delicatessen, Whaley’s, and Little Sesame, have created another easy-going neighborhood spot -- with an equestrian twist. Seriously, the bar’s namesake is a Preakness-winning stud, and the setting is a restored carriage house with a courtyard in the back. The menu is straightforward and easy on the wallet, with classic drinks, seasonal specials, and beer and wine, all averaging $8 to $12. Snack options are sourced from local favorites like Gordy’s and Red Apron. On Friday and Saturday nights, a DJ spins throwback, golden era, and feel-good jams.

Marissa Bialecki

Maxwell Park

Shaw

A variety of wine varietals that won't intimidate anyone
Three somms walk into a bar... and turn it into one of the hippest spots for wine in the city. Grape guru Brent Kroll teamed up with two like-wined friends, Daniel Runnerstrom and Niki Lang, to create a wine bar that’s playful yet educational. They manage to provide a space to really get into the vines -- er, weeds -- and learn about wine, from temperature to terroir, without being stuffy. There’s even a chalkboard bartop for taking notes (or doodling) about the 50 by-the-glass wines and the more than 500 bottles. Each month, the glass list is governed by a different theme, like global blends or mountain-grown grapes, plus a rotating selection put together by all three partners. Cocktails, craft beer, and small plates are also on offer.

Scott Suchman

Primrose

Brookland

French wine and bistro classics in a stylish space
Husband and wife duo Sebastian Zutant, former partner and beverage director of Red Hen and All Purpose, and Lauren Winter of Edit Lab brought a piece of Paris to Brookland with the opening of Primrose. The wine bar is a warm and romantic space featuring feather chandeliers and a patterned ceiling. Vin is the focus, with 15 by-the-glass selections and 75 bottles, sourced primarily from small and natural producers in France and Virginia, where Zutant makes his own wine at Early Mountain Vineyards. Chef Nathan Beauchamp is in charge of the cuisine, with a menu of French bistro classics like coq au vin, steak frites, beef bourguignon, and French onion soup. You can also expect charcuterie and cheese plates, bien sûr.

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1. The Passenger 1539 7th St NW, Washington, 20001

When the original Passenger closed at the end of 2014, it felt like losing a loved one. Thankfully, the endearing, unpretentious cocktail joint returned at a new location not too far up 7th Street, where it still encourages patrons to chat with bartenders about what flavors, spirits, or ingredients they’re in the mood to drink, and let the experts take it from there. But don't worry, there’s a chalkboard menu with four or five rotating cocktail options if you’re feeling anti-social. The space also retains its worn-in vibe with carryovers from the old Passenger (church pew booths, a Steve McQueen mural) and vestiges from other DC hotspots (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 -- only now it has Chartreuse on tap and a concert stage upstairs, too.

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2. ANXO Cidery & Pinxtos Bar 300 Florida Ave NW, Washington, 20001

Housed in a redbrick former rowhouse in Truxton Circle, ANXO Cidery & Pintxos Bar brings Basque cuisine and homemade hard cider to DC. The beverage program not only offers twenty ciders available on tap and hand pump, with at least four from Spain, but also a strong craft beer program. Barcelona native Alex Vallcorba’s menu emphasizes Basque pintxos, or small snacks, particularly with sandwiches called montaditos. Large plates like hanger steak and fried pig ears are available at both the indoor and outdoor dining areas, spaces that juxtapose industrial themes of exposed brick walls with gentle, cool-toned wooden décor.

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3. Bar Pilar 1833 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

A pioneer of the 14th Street restaurant boom, this comfortable, nautical-themed spot is inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s boat, Pilar, and divided between a downstairs bar that fills up quickly on the weekends, and a low-key restaurant upstairs, where outstanding small plates take center stage (from honey-roasted beet salad to lamb belly bolognese). The 20 or so beers are well-curated but a tad overpriced, so you’re better off opting for a craft cocktail, many of which are mixed with house-made sodas and even include adult slushies, such as the "Violet, You’re Turning Violet," which swirls jalapeño tequila, wild blueberry, pineapple, allspice dram, and ginger into a spicy and sweet concoction.

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4. Espita Mezcaleria 1250 9th St NW, Washington, 20001

Decked out with street art on nearly every wall, Espita Mezcaleria is a serving up Southern Mexican fare and more than 85 mezcals with a hint of hipster flare in Shaw. Alongside excellent cocktails, the menu features everything from tacos and ceviches to seven different kinds of mole (go for the beef short rib option). There are a few shareable plates, too, like seared octopus with salsa, smoked barley, fried pabalo, and roasted cauliflower.

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5. Jack Rose Dining Saloon 2007 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

With over 2,400 kinds of whiskey lining the brick walls of this high-end saloon, Jack Rose has one of the largest whiskey libraries in the country. The spacious, bi-level Adams Morgan establishment offers a relaxed dining experience downstairs, and a spot to enjoy drinks and watch sports upstairs. Food-wise, the fried chicken skins are a fan favorite, and more adventurous items like rabbit & beans, wild Atlantic rockfish, or Broken Arrow Ranch venison make the staff's expert cocktail pairings an absolute pleasure.

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6. Dacha Beer Garden 1600 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

It turns out Russian owners Ilya Alter and Dmitri Chekaldin know a lot about German beer -- their friendly, open-air Shaw garden offers a broad selection of international suds, plus a menu that not only features standard bratwursts and pretzels, but also extends its reach with a bucket of mussels, a chicken schnitzel sandwich, and grilled steak skewers. Grab a communal picnic table and raise a pint in the seasonal garden, which is open in spring through fall.

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7. 2 Birds 1 Stone 1800 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

Situated in Logan Circle, 2 Birds 1 Stone may be hidden beneath Doi Moi off bustling 14th Street, but it’s far from unknown in the DC cocktail world thanks to its expertly crafted concoctions. The chic, often-crowded bar is known for its original creations (check out the punch du jour) and its re-imagined classics, such as a tequila-infused dark & stormy. The stylish, subterranean space is surprisingly bright, sporting plush seating and exposed brick.

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8. Twisted Horn 819 Upshur St NW, Washington, 20011

Located in an old church with tables constructed to look like confessionals, a board-game inspired drink menu and bathrooms that trick you into thinking you could possibly be on drugs, The Twisted Horn is as quirky as it gets. But quirky definitely works in its favor with bar snacks inspired by Japanese onigiri rice balls and cocktails so inventive, we'll keep coming back until we've tried every one.

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9. ChurchKey 1337 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005

With 55 draft lines and 500-plus bottles that all manage to deliver on quality, ChurchKey is a chic Logan Circle destination for DC's die-hard beer fans. In addition to the meticulously curated lineup of domestic brews and collabs one would expect from a top-flight beer bar, this stylish spot above sister restaurant Birch & Barley has its finger on the pulse of what’s happening craft-wise overseas, too, allowing you to one-up your friends by saying things like, “I’ve really been impressed by what’s happening in Estonia’s beer scene lately” with complete seriousness. The food menu is loaded with plenty of hearty bites like tater tots, burgers, and flatbreads to soak up all those suds.

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10. Columbia Room 124 Blagden Alley NW, Washington, 20001

"Welcome to Columbia Room, here’s a frankincense-scented towel to freshen up," is how you're greeted at this classy cocktail bar. Columbia Room, which comes courtesy of bar stars Derek Brown, Angie Salame, and J.P. Fetherston, has novelty cocktails such as the "I Never Promised You a Zen Garden," served with an actual Zen garden (made out of plum sugar) that you can rake. Opt for a reservations-only cocktail tasting menu, an à la carte experience in the reading room or al fresco in the garden, both available to walk-ins.

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11. Copycat Co. 1110 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002

From Barmini graduate Devin Gong, hip restaurant/bar Copycat Co. combines craft cocktails with Northern Chinese bites like pot stickers, skewers, and bao buns. In addition to a permanent cocktail menu loaded with the classics, bartenders rotate through weekly (hand-drawn!) specialty menus featuring toddys, daiquiris, juleps, and more. Copycat is spread out across two floors: the first is for a quick beer and bao, while the upstairs is a relaxed lounge where you can unwind for hours.

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12. Wisdom 1432 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, 20003

This Capitol Hill cocktail parlor with a vintage European feel is a gin lover's dream, offering more than 100 different bottles -- arguably the largest collection in town. Sip it in the house favorite cocktail Eminent Domaine (where gin from Philadelphia’s Bluecoat meets ginger liqueur, amaro, and pressed apple) or a choose-your-own-adventure martini, which the menu lovingly provides a how-to guide for ordering. And while Wisdom has every other spirit for your pleasure (including plenty of absinthe), the menu will also kindly remind you of one universal truth: "The only real martini is a gin martini."

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13. Cotton & Reed Distillery 1330 5th St NE, Washington, 20002

A craft rum distillery has finally landed in DC, bringing with it a bar focused on cocktails made with the star spirit. Cotton and Reed was created by two former NASA strategists, and their spirits are delightfully quirky, with striking sugarcane notes in the white rum and a completely unique blend of botanicals, from bitter gentian to sweet fenugreek, in the dry spiced rum. Enjoy the Redbeard, made with rum, campari, ginger, and lemon, while admiring the wooden bartop graced with laser-etched flora and fauna.

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14. Service Bar DC 928 U St NW, Washington, 20001

As the name implies, Service Bar aims to please. This cocktail and fried chicken spot in has everything from inexpensive classic drinks to innovative seasonal concoctions. They also have a rotating regional menu that spotlights drinks from varying geographic areas. If you go with a group, definitely reserve the Snug Room, a private tasting nook with set menus that can be tailored to your preferences.

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15. Truxton Inn 251 Florida Ave NW, Washington, 20001

Truxton Inn comes from the team behind McClellan’s Retreat. Designed to feel like an old hotel bar, this neighborhood cocktail spot in Bloomingdale has an intimate library vibe, with antique furniture and knick knack-adorned bookshelves. The menu is divided into two parts: Suggestions, which are no-frills traditional cocktails, and Recommendations, which are riffs on those classics. They’ve gone tiki for the summer, with mai tais served in pineapples, and there’s a small snack menu with Republic kolaches, seasoned popcorn, and charcuterie.

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16. District Distilling Co. 1414 U St NW, Washington, 20009

Rare is a distillery that puts as much emphasis on the food as they do the spirits. Enter District Distilling, the first of its kind in the city. The U St kitchen and bar populates a series of 19th-century rowhouses with German copper pot stills, a 42-plate twin copper column system, and a sprawling dining area. Head distiller Matthew Strickland oversees production of bourbon and rye whiskeys, American dry gin and Western-style gin featuring wild juniper, vodka distilled from barley and rye, and colonial-style white rum.

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17. La Jambe 1550 7th St NW, Washington, 20001

Anastasia Mori, the French expat who owns La Jambe, says she created the neighborhood wine bar because she couldn’t find the perfect spot in DC that reminded her of home. It may not have the same nostalgic memories for everyone, but this unpretentious Shaw gathering place will still feel as comforting as an old friend. It’s also a great place to get an education in French wine, cheese, and charcuterie without all the snobbiness.