A tallboy's worth of drinking establishments that deserve your attention opened in 2014, broadening DC's bar options in a major way. Here are the best 11, ranging from new dive bars that manage to look worn-with-love, to sophisticated places for cutting-edge craft cocktails. Get thirsty...
DC's 11 best new bars of the year
"SCORE," said everyone ever who got their hands on the secret phone number to make a Dram & Grain reservation. That’s because seats are limited at this almost-impossibly-cool bar in the bowels of Jack Rose Whiskey Saloon. Oh, and also because the drinks don’t disappoint in terms of taste or creativity. Whether head barman Trevor Frye is jamming a molten hot rod into a flip or making one cocktail morph into another using a flavored ice orb, you’re likely to try something you’ve never had before. Here are 12 reasons to get there if you haven't been, and go again if you have.
DC gained a trip to the shore sans traffic and annoying sand with the opening of Pop’s SeaBar. It’s as laid back and unpretentious as a boardwalk hole-in-the-wall with its fried seafood, uncomplicated cocktails, and beers hugged by koozies. The drink that catapulted Pop’s into bar fame is the ice cream sandwich luge — a mint chocolate chip sando serves as the vehicle to shoot amaro. Also try the hat tip to Maryland, known as the Hup Hup Orange Crush.
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, who brings the swagger of having worked at The Columbia Room. She’s behind the 39th Infantry cocktail, which contains rye, Cardamaro, Amaro Montenegro, spiced gomme, and colonial bitters. The 39th New York Infantry, like many of these ingredients, was Italian -- hence the nickname "The Garibaldi Guard".
Sneaking in with a 2014 nod is Ivy & Coney, because New Years Day doubled as their opening date. Even though it’s been less than a year, this Shaw haunt has enough grit and charm to feel like it’s been around forever. When you climb the flight of stairs to the entrance it feels like you’re being transported to the Midwest, thanks to the bar’s Chicago and Detroit theme. To maximize your Ivy & Coney experience, go during a ball game for a beer and a dog. But shhh, don’t tell tourists about it.
The beverage program at Roofers Union pleases beer nerds, cocktail freaks, and winos alike. Find quirky picks on a draft list divided by sliding scale categories like "Tart to Sour to Weirdly Awesome", plus some unique bottles. Cocktail wise, the Don Burgundy pleases with its Pig’s Nose Blended Scotch, El Maestro Sierra PX Sherry, and walnut butters. All boozy beverages compliment Chef Marjorie Meek-Bradley’s stuffed sausages and bar snacks. In addition to enjoying a drink on the roof deck, keep your eye on Roofers Union for inventive events, beer release parties, and standout specials.
Pinball tournaments, Walking Dead episodes, and other shenanigans sum up Lyman’s Tavern, which is housed in a former laundromat. If pinball doesn’t lure you, you can drink a cold beer and ogle the Super 8 camera collection and the various jackalopes while pondering if they exist in the wild. You’ll find a lot of craft beer to go with your Sriracha-buttered popcorn, but far less craft cocktails. The bartenders prefer you drink it neat like they do in Montana (another one of the bar’s themes). Pro tip: the best day to visit is on your birthday, because you drink free until you start behaving badly.
The cheery sunlit beer garden that opened this summer was an instant hit. And how could it not be, when it’s named after a German drinking song? Fortunately, there are two indoor floors to keep the two-pound pretzel party going on all year long. Wash said colossal snack down with your choice of 16 German beers on draft. The menu reads like a wall in the beer hall of fame: Spaten, Hofbrau, Erdinger, Franziskaner, and Weihenstephaner to name a few.
This is your neighborhood bar, even if it’s not in your neighborhood. There’s no bad seat in the house: you can plop down on a workman’s bench surrounded by vinyl, on an RFK stadium seat, or at a bar made from a bowling alley. From there, order off a carefully curated and well-priced menu of 30 whiskeys, or an American craft beer list ranging from predictable to esoteric. Take down their bagged bar snacks (Cheetos! Little Debbie’s!) and invest some time in ogling the cool finds on the walls, ranging from a map of Bermuda to molds for locomotive parts. Think you have some equally fascinating ephemera? They might let you trade it for a drink.
This Capitol Hill opening made its presence felt with its cascading barrel-aging program, plus bar food that pretty much goes unmatched. Be sure to visit the Elixir Bar downstairs, where you can scan shelf after shelf of impressive brown liquor in their private dispensary. That’s where they store the good stuff that appears on their 150-choice whiskey list. There’s also a separate cocktail list downstairs and upstairs (read: double the cocktails). Bonus: their slogan, "bourbon with balls", is fantastic.
Part of the fun of anticipating Red Light’s opening was speculating about how risqué the owners were willing to take it, as the bar’s a throwback to the days of prostitution on 14th St. Fortunately (yes, fortunately), they kept it classy. After starting out as strictly desserts and slightly saccharine drinks to match, they retooled their menu and drink list to be a little more balanced. New beverage director Jonny Fellman’s Walking on Water with rye, dry vermouth, rose water, and sarsaparilla is quite tasty, as are the new dishes with a savory slant. Don’t worry — you can still get their signature Black and Tan donuts.
This is where Bill Murray’s character in Lost in Translation would go to drink in DC. Its amber lighting is slightly akin to the New York Bar atop the Park Hyatt in Tokyo. Though it’s not in a towering hotel, The Whiskey Room is perched above Rí Rá Irish Pub. There, you’ll find themed whiskey duels that allow you to sample nips side by side, a Scotch sommelier who will use her Spidey senses to find the perfect pour for your taste buds, and finally, some elevated bar bites and fancy cocktails.
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1. Dram & Grain2007 18th St NW, Washington
2. Pop's SeaBar1817 Columbia Rd NW, Washington
3. McClellan’s Retreat2031 Florida Ave NW, Washington
4. Ivy and Coney1523 7th St NW, Washington
5. Roofers Union2446 18th St NW, Washington
6. Lyman's Tavern3720 14th St NW, Washington
7. Sauf Haus1216 18th St NW, Washington
8. Lost & Found1240 9th St NW, Washington
9. Barrel613 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington
10. Red Light1401 R St, Washington
11. Rí Rá Georgetown / Whiskey Room3125 M St NW, Washington
Dram & Grain is a badass underground whiskey den run by Trevor Frye and Nick Lowe of Jack Rose Dining Saloon (which just so happens to be what is on top of said whiskey den). If you can get the secret phone number (via secret business card), you can text these guys on their burner (so cool!) and get yourself into one of three seatings on Saturdays only. Expect creative cocktails (red-hot pokers, smoke-filled concoctions), whiskey on tap, and only one vodka drink (called the Training Wheels -- just don't order it, ok?).
This casual Adams Morgan seafood bar from the people behind Cashion's Eat Place offers great food and drinks, including a fried oyster sandwich and peel 'n' eat shrimp.
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.
Ivy and Coney is a homey dive bar in Shaw that delivers a relaxed neighborhood vibe, delicious hotdogs, and a menu that includes nothing over $6.
Complete with a "coverall wall" (it's exactly what it sounds like), Roofers Union is a cool, industrial-looking rooftop perch in Adams Morgan. Craft beers and cocktails complement a menu full of hearty sausages, burgers, and snacks. In addition to enjoying a drink on the roof deck, keep your eye on Roofers Union for inventive events, beer release parties, and standout specials.
Sliders, dogs, and tacos are the main staples at this Columbia Heights dive bar. Here you will find pinball machines, PBR on draught, local beers like DC Brau, National Bohemian, and Atlas Brew Works, and a good number of domestic bottles. If it gives you any idea of what the atmosphere is like, the casual bar features stuffed jackalope heads, cross-stitched signage, and retro decorations. Now with the addition of an outdoor patio space, hot dogs aren't the only dogs welcome at Lyman's ... in other words, bring your pooch.
With 16 German drafts (non-German beer is not welcome here!), giant pretzels, and a sweet outdoor space with long, communal tables, Sauf Haus is all that you could ask for in a beer hall. Oh, and they've got foosball and brandy, too.
This is your neighborhood bar, even if it’s not in your neighborhood. There’s no bad seat in the house: you can plop down on a workman’s bench surrounded by vinyl, on an RFK stadium seat, or at a bar made from a bowling alley. From there, order off a carefully curated but well-priced menu of 30 whiskeys, or an American craft beer list ranging from predictable to esoteric. Take down their bagged bar snacks (Cheetos! Little Debbie’s!), and invest some time in ogling the cool finds on the walls, ranging from a map of Bermuda to molds for locomotive parts. Think you have some equally fascinating ephemera? They might let you trade it for a drink.
If you're in Capitol Hill and you like bourbon, this Southern bar is for you. The bar menu features two full pages of bourbon varieties, and if brown water is too strong for you, there are also 16 domestic beers on tap, and a few wines. The two-level space includes a downstairs hideaway called Elixir Bar, where you can scan shelf after shelf of the impressive whiskey collection. Though Barrel is definitely a drinking spot, the kitchen serves a menu of Southern comfort-inspired food like fried chicken, mac & cheese, and bacon fried rice.
Brought to you by Chef Robert Underwood and Ari and Micah Wilder, Red Light is an innovative and unique dessert and cocktail bar in Logan Circle, serving up specialties like Black and Tan Donuts, alcoholic slushies, and a variety of other one-of-a-kind libations and sweets.
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.