Say #thanksobama with a “Dancefloor Journey” dedicated to him on the night before the nation bids him farewell. The 9:30 Club is your one-stop shop for booze, grooves, and moves, where you probably won’t be able to hear any political arguments over the loud music.
For comfort food and unique cocktails, head to Bonfire. Their bar snacks -- like short rib tots and skillet mac made with smoked gouda and truffle Cheddar -- lay the perfect foundation for copious drinking. Plus, you can never go wrong with warm, sweet s’mores on a bitterly cold night. All the marshmallows are house-made and come in flavors like peppermint, salted maple, and pumpkin spice.
One of DC’s OG power-dining spots, Cafe Milano may be your best bet to rub elbows with the political elite during normal hours. It’s doubtful she’ll be there this week at any hour, but Hillary Clinton was spotted there this month in one of her rare public appearances since the election. Don’t expect things to get rowdy here, but stop in to finish off a sophisticated evening with a Negroni nightcap and classic Italian dishes.
Embrace the spirit of inclusivity by dining your way around the world at this cozy gathering place. Compass Rose’s menu showcases street foods from Nigeria, Korea, Tunisia, Argentina, and many more. Don’t miss the restaurant’s signature dish, khachapuri, a traditional Georgian item that combines some of our favorite things: cheese, bread, eggs, and butter. The drinks are also quite eclectic: You can close out a night with an amber wine, a Moscow Mule draught, or a good old-fashioned Stroh’s lager, among many other selections.
Even if you haven’t set foot in a Hard Rock Cafe since the Clinton administration, don’t write it off for inauguration festivities. There’s bound to be tons of great people-watching with all the rowdy tourists, and for history buffs, it’s located right next to Ford’s Theatre. And who knows -- maybe some celebs will decide to hang there simply to hide in plain sight?
This fine French establishment is another good bet for politician sightings. Michelle Obama, Newt Gingrich, and Joe Biden are just a few of the VIPs who have stooped to dine with the plebs here. You can gossip the night away over on-point steak frites and a nice glass of red wine like a true American pretending to be a Parisian. Don’t skip dessert, because masterful pastry chef Fabrice Bendano turns flour and sugar into gold on a daily basis, like the Palet Chocolat-Framboise.
Throw it back to the 1800s with a visit to the old time-y Old Ebbitt. They have a dedicated late-night menu with wings and burgers, in addition to a respectable entrée selection including steaks, seafood, and pastas. The biggest reason to go? Half-priced oysters nightly from 11pm to close.
When you’re in for a night of bad decisions, Madam’s Organ has got you covered (and possibly uncovered, if things go well). Cheap booze and karaoke are often a recipe for regret that also has the potential to lead to an inaugural hookup. Just avoid disclosing your political views before stumbling off into the pre-dawn glow, or else risk sabotaging your romantic rendezvous.
Craft cocktails at Red Light often come with a pyrotechnic show: think blow-torched garnishes and drinks that are literally on fire. Bring a date and snuggle up on the heated outdoor patio or mingle in the often-crowded bar area for some unique spins on drinks and snacks.
Here’s a gameplan for the lazy: drink at a hotel bar so you don’t have to find a way home at the end of the night. Then again, running a tab at The Ritz might cost you a small fortune, where signature cocktails go for $17 a pop. But if you’re feeling fancy, you won’t be let down by the two swanky food options. The dining room, Degrees, offers upscale American fare, including regional nods with the DC Brau Brined Cornish Hen and District Hot Chicken with Virginia hot sauce. The cocktail lounge, dubbed The Living Room, has a huge fireplace and free s’mores that are passed around by butlers.
This Boston transplant is here for you when all you want is a cheap burger and a beer in the wee hours. There’s no need to panic over pronouncing foie gras that late at night -- the wildest thing on the menu of classic fast-food offerings is a jalapeño burger. And while not overtly political, Tasty Burger does reference Parks and Recreation with its Chicky Chicky Parm Parm.
Like any respectable sports bar, The Prospect is lined with giant TVs -- over 40 of them in total, plus two private viewing boxes. For a refreshing change of pace, you can belly up to the bar and scream at strangers over ESPN highlights instead of politics while noshing on more-creative-than-average pub food, like loaded venison fries and crab flatbread.
Wave goodbye to the Obamas or say hey to your new neighbors from The Hamilton, which is just a stone’s throw away from the White House. (Please do not literally throw stones at the White House, unless you want to spend the rest of inauguration week in the clink.) Enjoy live music and cocktails that come with a history lesson, as the drinks list features American spirits and recipes that predate Prohibition.
1. Madam's Organ2461 18th St NW, Washington
2. The Prospect1214 U Street, Washington
3. Compass Rose1346 T St NW, Washington
4. Le Diplomate1610 14th St NW, Washington, DC
5. Cafe Milano3251 Prospect St NW, Washington
6. Old Ebbitt Grill675 15th St NW, Washington
7. Bonfire1132 19th St., NW, Washington
8. The Hamilton600 14th St NW, Washington
9. The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown, Washington, D.C.3100 South Street, N.W., Washington
10. 9:30 Club815 V St NW , Washington, DC
11. Tasty Burger2108 8th St NW, Washington
12. Hard Rock Cafe999 E St NW, Washington
13. Red Light1401 R St, Washington
This rowdy four-floor D.C. bar maintains the motto, "Where the Beautiful People Go to Get Ugly" -- locals will tell you that the statement holds. Known for the throngs of lively college kids stumbling in and out of its entryways until 3 am, this Adams Morgan spot is a fantastically irreverent crowd favorite. The bar has everything from a year-round roof deck, to live music, trivia, and "Drunkeoke" (it's exactly what you think). Stationed right in the heart of trendy Adams Morgan, Madam's serves a number of sandwiches and bar snacks, along with a full list of soul food entrees -- but it seems that drinking is the preferred means of consumption. The house cocktail menu is impressive, and upon request, the bartenders will top any drink off with a shot of red bull. So, whether searching for soul food and live blues, or 22-year-olds taking tequila shots while belting Christina Aguilera songs, Madam's Organ is certainly the place.
Guests at The Prospect are glowing, and, while admittedly it might be the light of the 40 HiDef televisions on display, we’d like to think it has something to do with the U Street bar’s shakeup of traditional pub fare. Here, loaded fries are laden with venison, Cheddar, green onion, and creme fraiche, and nachos are strewn with braised goat, feta, tomato, razel hanout, and cilantro, while “Handhelds” like the Jamaican jerk sandwich or the venison chili dog will lend you a sense of sophistication not typically associated with football Sundays. Featured signature cocktails are an Applejack Highball with brandy, lime, ginger, cranberry, and cider, and an Old Fashioned sweetened up with salted caramel.
Compass Rose’s culinary muse is, simply put, the globe. Its menu of sharing plates synthesizes street and market food from around the world, conflating Danish smorrebord with house-cured steelhead, dill-caper remoulade, troute roe, rye bread, and flowers with Indian bhel puri chaat, a dish of baby kale, puffed rice, sev, potato, tomato, peanuts, mango, mint, and tamarind chutney. Going to Compass Rose without trying the Georgian khachapuri is like going to Moscow and skipping the vodka -- it’s simply unthinkable. Resembling an almond-shaped eye, the delicacy has a crusty, bready lid, a bubbling, cheesy retina, and, best of all, an egg yolk pupil in the center of all the action, staring right at you.
Le Diplomate is a Logan Circle brasserie from acclaimed restaurateur Stephen Starr, meaning you can count on its traditional French dishes to be consistently excellent. From hors d'oeuvres like fresh oysters and steak tartare with quail egg to entrees including moules frites and beef bourguignon, the menu is brimming with classic, perfectly executed plates. There's even a killer cheeseburger on a house-baked brioche bun. Be sure to secure a sidewalk seat for that extra Parisian feel.
The elegant Cafe Milano in Georgetown is a who's-who-of-DC. From government officials to journalists to diplomats, the customers here can be as notable as the restaurant's exceptional Italian menu. Nearly all of the pasta is homemade daily, including the must-try pappardelle gucci with veal ragout, seasonal mushrooms, and white truffle oil. You'll also want to order a glass of Sangiovese or a classic cocktail (Aperol Spritz, Negroni) as you rub elbows with some of the city's most famous faces. Unless you're looking to make connections, the prices might push you to make this a special occasion-only spot.
Depending on your tastes, it will either be extremely appealing or off-putting that the Old Ebbitt Grill is the oldest saloon in Washington, once frequented by Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Roosevelt, and McKinley. Just steps away from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Old Ebbitt’s Beaux-Arts façade begs you to enter for a cocktail, while its mahogany and velvet booths and bars set in marble, brass, and beveled glass implore you to stay for a few more as you imagine what kind of political secrets and scandals were shared here. As you’re doing your best Woodward and Bernstein impressions, munch on breakfast, lunch, brunch (if you’re there on a weekend), or dinner. The menus certainly have a Southern slant (chicken and waffles, crab cakes, shrimp and grits), though you can also opt for house-made cannelloni, pappardelle, and ravioli or flash-fried swordfish tacos.
It’s no surprise that the most frequently used kitchen gadget in a restaurant called Bonfire is a blowtorch. This cozy fire-themed DC eatery provides a menu brimming with smoked, roasted, and charred dishes from a skillet mac with smoked Gouda, truffle Cheddar, and cracker crust to a roasted beet salad with whole grain mustard vinaigrette and charred hanger steak with rosemary jus. There’s even an entire menu section devoted to s’mores in peppermint, pumpkin spice, and maple varieties. The inferno continues behind the bar, where cocktails like the Irish whiskey- and roasted squash-based Sas-Squash are infused with smoke “from the hearth.” Channeling a campsite in its décor with a glass-enclosed fireplace, stacks of chopped wood, and flannel blankets, you’ll likely want to ditch your urban existence for Bonfire’s glowing world.
Within walking distance of the White House itself, this traditional American eatery blends upscale-casual dining with live music. There’s a noticeable maritime focus on the menu, as regulars salivate over popular plates like jumbo lump crab cake, gingerly plated over a swoop of vibrant zucchini puree or available as a sandwich with fries and slaw. The decor blends modern tastes with Belle Époque flair (think mahogany woodwork interspersed by framed contemporary artwork, lit by art nouveau-inspired chandeliers), but the vibe is casual and unpretentious, making it a worthy outing for locals and visitors alike.
The Ritz-Carlton Georgetown brings the aesthetic concept of “industrial-chic” to soaring new heights as a luxury boutique hotel that incorporates a brick smokestack in its architecture. Through the entryway, you can unwind fireside in The Living Room, the hotel’s cozy, sumptuous bar whose lush velvet banquettes face a dramatic 130-foot wood-burning fireplace. Cocktails are inflected with 1920s elements and flavors: the Political Gambler blends spice-infused DC Green Hat gin with lime juice, maple syrup, and soda water, while the Peruvian Hemingway is an elixir of pineapple-infused pisco, lime juice, simple syrup, and Luxardo cherry. A second dining option is found at Degrees, which plates regional fare like Southern Angry Mussels, with fried garlic, jalapeno, bacon, smoked paprika, and white wine, or the spicy Southern broccoli and sausage skillet with pecorino cheese.
Part iconic music venue, and part relentless party haven, D.C.'s 9:30 club is something to behold. The dual-floored space often approaches its 1,200 person capacity, packing its ground floor as well as its wrap-around balcony. Everyone (who's anyone) from Bob Dylan and The Beastie Boys, to Adele and deadmau5 has walked 9:30's stage, while on performer-less nights, the venue hosts a DJ (complete with a light show), instantly converting the audience standing room into a spirited dance floor. You can't sit down (but maybe you can crowd surf), the music is deafeningly loud (but always good), and there is a dive bar tucked into the corner of the main floor (which doubles as a convenient make out cave). The place even has a rewards program for drinks, tickets, and merch to honor its most dedicated regulars.
The beloved Boston-based burger chain gifted DC with this North Shaw outpost, where you can devour its tender, char-edged, hormone-free patties on squishy potato buns, plus fries, shakes (spiked, if you please), craft beer, and wine. Grab a table inside Tasty Burger's industrial-chic, diner-style space, or at its full bar, and go to town on a classic cheeseburger or a specialty combo, such as melted blue cheese with crumbled bacon or pepper jack cheese and house-roasted jalapeño. Lucky for you, it's open late all week, making for a perfect post-drinks or post-9:30 Club hangout.
The self-dubbed "Embassy of Rock n' Roll" in DC, Hard Rock Cafe's Penn Quarter outpost serves the chain's usual menu of oversized American classics, including loaded burgers, extra-crispy chicken tenders, and creamy mac & cheese. Like its sister locations across the country, this branch comes with a gift shop stocked with branded souvenirs and is decked out with tons of historic music memorabilia.
The Red Light Bar is a tongue-in-cheek nod to the harrowing past of 14th Street NW and an homage to burlesque, though, thankfully, the cocktail and dessert bar’s décor is light on the red-light theme (apart from a silhouette of a woman in a corset in the mirror). The bar is concrete, and the room is dominated by shades of gray, suitable for the multitude of black-and-white images of 14th street that lines the walls. While Red Light offers appetizers and flatbreads like bacon-wrapped dates and pesto paninis, you’ll likely pay a visit for the dessert selection -- Snickers Pie, jumbo ice cream sandwiches, and the Sundae of the Month are simply too decadent to pass up.