Beauty is in the eye of the beer-holder, especially at these 14 DC bars that bring it in the looks department. From dark and broody to warm and glowing, it’s hard not to pay attention to your surroundings when you’re imbibing in one of these stunners. Some try to replicate Paris, others draw from history, and one goes full-on steampunk.
Red carpets in DC are cheesy. Red velvet upholstered bars are not. The lush fabric combined with dark wood and twinkling chandeliers makes for a bar that takes your breath away. It’s impossible not to feel important at Off the Record. Fortunately, the political caricatures lining the walls keep things from getting too serious. The bar opened in its current iteration in the late ‘90s, so someone tell Billy Joel you don’t have to be young to be beautiful.
Sure the centerpiece at Quill is the glowing glass bar modeled after the one at Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris. In fact, the sweet slab at Quill is the only all-glass bar in America. But there’s more to this Thomas Jefferson-inspired bar that makes it beautiful. Take the parquet flooring that matches the flooring in TJ’s Monticello home or the book room that’s also a match. On the walls you’ll find 18th-century maps tracking the former president’s exploration of the wine regions of France, Germany, and Italy. Soak in the historic ambience over a fancy cocktail, live piano music, and frequent breaks to puff on cigars on the bar’s patio.
When you walk into a bar, you likely don’t pause to appreciate the floor. But, at The Rye Bar inside the Capella Hotel, you should. The flooring is a re-edition of the classic Versailles parquet seen in the Chateau de Versailles in France, as well as many other castles of the 17th and 18th centuries. Also cool is the honey onyx bar that gives the space even more of an opulent feel. Take in the gold-and-brown-hued setting while sitting on a Chesterfield and admiring the fine art.
When you climb the stairs to Daikaya Izakaya think of your ascent as a 14-hour flight to Tokyo. The bar’s design so closely resembles Japanese pubs across the Pacific that it’s transformative. Before building out the restaurant, the design team took a trip to Japan for inspiration and brought back textiles, posters, and other authenticities. From the ropes that form a cool barrier between tables, to the red-hued bar displaying sought-after Japanese whisky bottles -- this spot is a stunner.
Sure the downstairs of Ri Ra Georgetown is good looking, but the second floor holds something really special -- a 1,200sqft bar within a bar called The Whiskey Room. Everything about it is masculine and Irish, like certain distinguished grandfathers. Amber lighting reveals a polished copper bar top, antique mirrors from the Emerald Isle, and an extensive whiskey collection. Not only is the bar beautiful, but the flattering light means anyone in it will look beautiful, too.
You probably came to POV to show the view off to visiting friends. But do yourself a favor and pause to take in the sleek, patriotic design inspired by the landmarks that dot our city -- like a dome-shaped bar. Then there’s the red tape installation poking fun at the bureaucratic obstacle course that is politics. Finally, the bar had a little fun by inviting in street artist AIKO to create a whimsical installation inspired by DC architecture. Who knew mimicking monuments could create such a sexy setting?
This bar is Adrian Grenier level of dark and broody, so bring an entourage (!) of friends to experience it before a Caps game. It’s brassy and legit gold-leafed like a hotel bar in the 1920s, where classic cocktails were just known as cocktails. There are Art Deco embellishments everywhere, including cage-like structures protecting precious bottles and a sweet black-and-white-tiled floor. The dim lighting adds drama, and a sultriness that The Greene Turtle somehow lacks across the street.
H Street NE
Even though Copycat Co. is a laid-back bar, its design is anything but banal. Instead, the upstairs oasis is full of ornate details like a jade-colored screen that begins at the top of the stairs, wraps around the bar, and forms a screen over the half-moon window. The dark wood, jewel-toned accents, cool moldings, and velvet upholstery combine for an exoticism that feels more like something you’d stumble upon on vacation than above a dumpling shop in DC.
The upstairs lounge at Provision No. 14 looks like it was carefully procured from the estate sale of the coolest of whacky aunts. Victorian-style couches and chairs upholstered with old coffee sacks don’t quite match, but it doesn’t matter because the overall effect is very Anthropologie. The cerulean-colored walls and basket lanterns lend a Southeast Asian feel for even more attractive quirk. The downstairs bar is quite striking too with its stools made from old oil cans.
There’s nothing quite like Flight Wine Bar in DC thanks to its dramatic wooden centerpiece that looks like the underbelly of a mushroom with its arcs. It draws your eye to the circular bar that acts as the heart of the operation. Look down at the floor and you’ll notice it’s cork -- quite a fit for a wine bar -- and also note the stone-tiled bar top and wine bottles on display reminding you what you came here to do.
Bars don’t have to be dark bomb shelters to be beautiful, as Nido in Northeast proves. The designers punted away from the industrial reclaimed wood look in favor of a bright and airy space where you can catch your breath. It should feel Mediterranean like the food. Owner Erin Lingle gave a hat tip to her mom, Robin, by going nuts with robin’s egg blue and the actual bar is made of beech wood. The Woodridge newcomer is the perfect place to sip vermouth and be swept away to wherever you studied abroad.
Ever been turned on by those steampunk cyborgs that have machinery where one arm belongs and a corseted bust of some kind? If the answer is yes, you might be attracted to The Alex and its Van Helsing aesthetic. One of the first things you’ll notice at this sunken hotel bar is a 20ft brass pipe ceiling installation. Though it’s not overly apparent, the bar, like the hotel that houses it, is a tribute to Alexander Graham Bell.
A brilliant shade of green saves this basement bar from suffering from no windows, and actually transforms it into quite a looker. The shade is one of those greens that bridal magazines dub parakeet, grasshopper, or something equally esoteric. Also sexing things up is a glowing onyx bar that makes for a good cocktail Instagram shot every time. The mahogany-and-glass back bar with its traditional details, antique mirrors, chartreuse tiles, and illuminated shelves complete the dual-personality design feel that pulls at both turn-of-the-century and today.
With this historically appointed beaut, the devilish attractiveness is in the details. From the lanterns suspended from metal hooks and military jacket buttons that were won in an eBay battle, to the tufted benches adorned with plaid flannel that say “stay a while,” McClellan’s is the king of cozy. The framed old-timey photos are a nice touch too. Also note the sexy feminine curve to the bar top that swirls from one end of the small bar to the other. There’s really no bad seat in the house.
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Laura Hayes is a DC-based food, drink & travel writer who also contributes to Washington City Paper, Food Network, Edible DC, and others. She’s a little jealous of these bars that #wokeuplikethis. Follow her on Twitter: @BTMenu.
1. Off the Record800 16th St NW, Washington
2. Quill at the Jefferson1200 16th St NW, Washington
3. The Rye Bar1050 31st Street NW, Washington
4. Daikaya705 6th St NW, Washington
5. Rí Rá Georgetown / Whiskey Room3125 M St NW, Washington
6. POV Rooftop Lounge and Terrace515 15th St NW, Washington
7. Denson Liquor Bar600 F St NW, Washington
8. Copycat Co.1110 H St NE, Washington
9. Provision No. 142100 14th St NW, Washington
10. Flight777 6th St NW, Washington
11. Nido2214 Rhode Island Ave NE, Washington
12. The Alex1075 Thomas Jefferson St NW, Washington
13. Boss Shepherd's1299 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington
14. McClellan’s Retreat2031 Florida Ave NW, Washington
If you're across the street from the White House, head to Off the Record. Situated in the Italian Renaissance-style Hay-Adams hotel, this aptly named haunt looks like an over-the-top hideaway of the political elite. Don't be surprised if you noticed Frank Underwood sipping a Sazerac by the bar...
Inspired by Thomas Jefferson's Monticello parlor, Quill is an upscale cocktail bar serving signature drinks, such as the "Route One Ricky" (Jim Beam rye, caramelized key lime shrub, and homemade cream soda), and American fare. There's a pianist playing live jazz most nights and new cocktails are introduced monthly.
Just because the C&O Canal isn't some major shipping lane doesn't mean it can't be a major sipping lane. So hit the Capella Hotel's legitimately beautiful Rye Bar, which serves up barrel-aged cocktails and rare rye whiskeys to patrons sitting at a marble topped honey onyx bar, or on large Chesterfield leather chairs next to floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the canal.
Authenticity is the name of the game at this warm and vibrant (think yellow and blue stripes on the wall) Chinatown ramen shop: they import their noodles from Japan, use a special recipe they concocted themselves, and make their flavorful chintan stock over 16 hours. Among their five varieties of Sapporo-style ramen is a vegan choice topped with veggies like brussel sprouts, snow peas, carrots, and braised shiitake mushrooms that -- even against the classic pork-based bowls -- reigns supreme.
Ri Ra Georgetown has hearty Irish pub fare, 16 taps and up to 100 bottles of fine craft beers, and a whole floor dedicated to a special brown liquor oasis -- The Whiskey Room has 200+ whiskeys, simple but high-quality cocktails, and a ton of knowledge behind the bar to guide you on your boozy travels.
POV offers an assortment of seasonal cocktails and a small plate food menu in a chic, top-floor sky-lounge outfitted with oversized, Alice in Wonderland-style black & red couches and glossy, darkly lacquered walls. Floor-to-ceiling windows peek out onto Downtown DC; a wrap-around terrace provides great views of the mall and the White House lawn.
It takes a little effort to find this bar that is seemingly in the basement of FUEL Pizza. But, it’s worth it. Look for a light globe that reads "Denson" and climb down a set of stairs. Your feet slapping the metal will alert the doorman (BALLER!) to swing the door open and welcome you into a sexy, boozy lair. Cocktails like Sazeracs and Negronis are the go-to here (especially during happy hour, when they’re $9 instead of $14). Along with your libations, there are snacks like steak tartare, Greek-inspired lamb meatballs, and even a green curry chicken pot pie.
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.
Located on the 14th St strip, Provision No. 14 has the trifecta of a sweet space, food that doesn’t hold back, and a trendy bar program. Sip frozen drinks on an enviable patio, or pound a burger that doesn’t hold back on luxury.
This lounge touts a wine list that reads like an atlas, with bottles from all over the world and plenty of flight options to try new types. There's an all-day happy hour on Monday and every Wednesday a new bottle is offered at 35% off.
This Woodridge spot is serving inspired dishes from Italy and Spain, including small plates & pastas, in a whitewashed restaurant that makes you almost feel like the Mediterranean is right outside. Check out weekend brunch, with of-the-moment cocktails and dishes like Tortilla Española and sweet muffins with apricot preserves.
Tucked into The Graham Hotel in Georgetown is a "steampunk"-inspired space that asks if you’re feeling luxurious today. That’s because 36 Scotches are begging to be sipped, and the cocktails deliver an uppercut to sobriety. The Graham, for example, combines rye infused with coco nibs, Bonal, agave nectar, lemon juice, and walnut bitters. Whiskey flights, like a Glenlivet vertical, are also available at The Alex. Rely on bar bites like truffle fries and sliders to keep you upright.
Located in Penn Quarter, this new Creative Eats-helmed restaurant offers up farm-to-table Southern-inspired American fare. Come for the food, (Pot Pie Fritters are a must) and stay for the extensive, high-quality drink menu.
Even if you’re not a Civil War junkie, you’re going to want to spend a lot of time here. The bar’s namesake, General George B. McClellan, would surely dig the cozy flannel banquets, dim lighting, and perfect mix of classic, original, and even throwback cocktails like a Sherry cobbler. The team includes Megan Barnes, formerly of The Columbia Room.