Everything You Need To Know About Outdoor Dining in DC
These patios and rooftop bars are open, but with significant changes.
Packed restaurant patios and rooftops used to be a sure sign of spring and summer as the quintessential robin or the later sunsets. As with most everything else, that’s obviously not the case for 2020. But with restrictions loosening around the region, many are eagerly embracing the opportunity to regain a modicum of normalcy by sitting on a patio for a glass of rosé and a chef-prepared meal that didn’t arrive in a box.
What does Phase 1 and 2 mean for dining in DC?
In the District, Phase 1 began on May 29, allowing restaurants to offer outdoor dining service, and even convert sidewalks and roadways into “streateries.” Restaurants that were lucky enough to have existing patio, backyard, or rooftop space have welcomed diners back, but with a few significant changes.
The most noticeable differences are that tables must be spaced at least six feet apart and patrons must be seated in parties or six or less. Establishments are asked to collect contact information from diners, and many are requiring reservations and limiting seating windows to an hour-and-a-half. Customers are required to wear face coverings while not eating or drinking, and to keep six feet away from anyone not in their party.
On Friday, June 19, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that Phase 2 would begin after the weekend, permitting indoor dining at restaurants. But the mandates include operating at half capacity, spacing tables at least six feet apart, and capping six people to a table. The face masks and gloves for employees handling food are still in effect. However, the CDC still recommends dining outdoors at tables spaced six feet apart.
How are restaurants getting creative to accommodate?
To try to make all of these regulations feel a little more normal, Ellen Kassoff, co-owner of Equinox Restaurant, has created “garden pods” surrounded by custom trellis planters on wheels. “You need an oasis in the city,” she says of her reimagined patio and glass-enclosed outdoor garden room. The lush green dividers keep parties six feet apart without leaving empty gulfs of space between tables.
“We’re lucky in that we are zoned by the city for half of our patio to be sidewalk café,” she says. This includes an 18-seat patio and a 20-seat climate-controlled atrium covered by glass. “Even if it’s sweltering outside, or raining, you can eat outside.”
What other safety measurements are DC restaurants taking?
Even so, Kassoff says keeping up with the changing regulations has been challenging. Employees must wear face coverings while working and wear gloves when handling food. Social distancing and more frequent disinfecting is also required. “It’s really really really hard to open a bottle of wine with gloves on. It’s really hard to carry cocktails with gloves on,” she says. “They’re really navigating fine dining service with gloves on.”
There is a litany of other requirements and recommendations, from posting educational signage and hand sanitizer stations to using disposable paper menus and eliminating communal serving areas like buffets. Some restaurants have also implemented contactless menu and payment options via QR codes or pre-ordering systems.
Kassoff’s employees were all required to sign a pledge acknowledging that they have read and promise to abide by these new rules before returning to work. “No staff is going to do anything to veer off what's required of them because they want their jobs,” she says. “They don’t want to be the one to get somebody sick.”
What are the rules in Maryland and Virginia?
In Maryland and Virginia, regulations for outdoor dining are similar, with masks, proper spacing, and frequent disinfecting required. On June 12, Northern Virginia moved ahead to Phase Two, allowing indoor seating as well, but at 50 percent occupancy and with proper spacing. Maryland also advanced to Stage Two on June 5, but without allowances for indoor seating. DC is tracking the community spread of COVID-19 to determine when to enter Phase Two, but the earliest possible date is June 19.
Where are the best outdoor dining spots around DC?
Based on the crowds on patios and rooftops in the past few weeks, it’s clear that even a pandemic can’t stop patio season. So, we’ve rounded up our favorite al fresco dining locales around the city, with special consideration for those with lots of space, particularly aesthetic surroundings, or unique and creative modifications.
Chef Michael Rafidi’s long-awaited Levantine restaurant barely had a chance to open before the COVID-19 closures. Albi has been offering takeout, but is now also seating guests on the patio with a summery menu of warm pita with flavor-packed dips and hummus, refreshing chilled salads, and grilled meats and seafood.
Current hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 4-8pm
The Four Seasons just reopened Bourbon Steak, now with a bigger and even better patio to accommodate outdoor diners. The space has doubled in size, incorporating the front and back patios of the hotel to allow for sophisticated social distancing. There are also some luxe new items on the menu, like a lobster salad and an Australian wagyu filet, which complement fan-favorites like duck fat fries.
Current hours: Wednesday-Friday from 5-10pm; Saturday-Sunday from 3-10pm
Calico’s urban backyard in Blagden Alley was made for outdoor dining. The walled-in multi-level space -- with a wooden deck terrace and a turf lawn below -- is equipped with picnic tables, string lights, lush planters, and a metal greenhouse frame, epitomizing the neighborhood cookout vibe. The menu follows suit, with loaded tots, Philly-style tomato pie, watermelon salad, BBQ brisket sandwiches, plus draft and frozen cocktails.
Current hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 2-10pm; Friday-Saturday, 2pm-midnight; and Sunday, 2-8pm
One of the most photogenic in DC, City Winery’s spacious rooftop is enclosed by a wall of green vines and set under twinkly lights. The menu has various cheese and meat plates, fries, wings, handhelds like burgers (beef and Impossible) and a truffle chicken salad sandwich, and City Winery wines by the glass or bottle.
Current hours: Friday-Saturday, noon-10pm; Thursday and Sunday, noon-8pm
The garden-like rooftop patio of the Columbia Room and a newly converted “streatery” out front are opening as a sandwich and cocktail pop-up, Your Only Friend. It’s an extension of partner and beverage manager Paul Taylor’s recently launched sandwich project, Get a Hero Be a Hero, which donates a portion of the proceeds to organizations like Campaign Zero and No Kid Hungry. The charitable mission will continue, as will popular offerings like the Italian hero-inspired Mort & Mootz. The sandwiches will be paired with cocktails like the frozen kalimotxo with gin, vermouth, Chinotto, and spiced cola.
Current hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 12-10:30pm
Silver Spring, Maryland
Denizens’ turf-lined beer garden in Silver Spring has plenty of room to spread out, umbrellas for shade, and a mix of picnic tables and outdoor sofas. The brewery’s got a full menu of on-tap beers, plus wine, cocktails, and the new Denizens hard seltzer. Food options include burgers, pulled pork sandwiches, crab cakes, adult grilled cheese, and more.
Current hours: Tuesday-Friday, 4-10pm; Saturday-Sunday, noon-10pm
The week of its 21st anniversary, this plant-based and zero-waste pioneer reopened its revamped outdoor patio and climate-controlled glass-enclosed atrium -- now a garden oasis. Tables are separated by custom trellis planter boxes covered in greenery for privacy and ambiance. The menus change weekly, with a focus on classic regional dishes and vegetable-forward options. Outdoor seating in the atrium is available during inclement weather.
Current hours: Lunch Tuesday-Friday, 11:30am-2pm; Dinner Tuesday-Saturday, 5:30-9pm; Brunch Sunday 10:30am-1:30pm.
Fiola Mare’s elevated waterfront deck overlooking the Potomac River has reopened for upscale coastal Italian dining. The outdoor menu includes seasonal cocktails and wines, raw bar selections, grilled seafood, and fan favorites like lobster ravioli.
Current hours: Wednesday, 4-10pm; Thursday-Sunday, 12:30-10pm
The patio at HalfSmoke is a shady, secluded spot with sofas, picnic-style seating, and globe lights hanging overhead. The entire menu is available outside, but the main event is as the name suggests: a bevy of sausages that can be customized with toppings and sauces of your choosing. The barbecue spot also has snacks like crab fries and mac and cheese bites, plus sandwiches, flatbreads, cocktails, and frozen drinks. The loaded boozy milkshakes are ready for their Instagram close-up.
Current hours: Daily, 11am-7pm
Chef Kwame Onwuachi’s popular Afro-Caribbean restaurant had been fully closed throughout the pandemic, but is now open for outdoor dining on the sidewalk patio. Until the kitchen returns to full capacity, the limited menu will be reminiscent of Caribbean takeout spots Onwuachi grew up with, like coconut rice bowls with fried plantains and a choice of protein (jerk chicken, Trinidadian chickpea curry, etc.) and vegetable (braised cabbage, suya-spiced Brussels, glazed carrots).
Current hours: Friday-Sunday, noon-8:30pm
After the beloved Vinoteca closed, Lulu’s Wine Garden (by the same ownership) took its place -- but only for a few weeks before going on hiatus. Now, the bottle-driven wine garden is back open, with two airy outdoor spaces: an ivy-lined front patio and a hidden back courtyard. The space is filled with patio tables featuring built-in ice buckets, natural woods, string lights, and plants galore. The menu leans Southwest, with white queso, spicy whipped feta, crispy chicken sandwiches, patty melts, and smoked pastrami pork belly on Texas toast. Drink selections include more than 45 bottles of vino, offbeat frozen cocktails, beers, local spiked seltzer, and zero-proof options.
Current hours: Wednesday-Thursday, 5-10pm; Friday, 5pm-midnight; Saturday, noon-midnight; Sunday, noon-8pm
A trippy spiraling mural ties together the Alice in Wonderland vibe of Mr. Braxton’s back patio, complete with quirky topiaries, mismatched mirrors, ornate wrought-iron seating, a vintage bike, and doorframes leading to nowhere. Step into another world and enjoy an extensive menu of starters like calamari and wings, mussels with a variety of broths, sandwiches, entrees like a rack of lamb and hemp-crusted salmon, and beer, wine, and cocktails.
Current hours: Wednesday-Friday, 5pm-midnight; Saturday-Sunday, 3pm-midnight
O-Ku’s minimalist rooftop has sweeping views of the Union Market skyline, with clean wood and brick textures and lights strung above the patio. The full menu is available outside, including sashimi, nigiri, meats from the robata grill, signature makimono rolls, sake, Japanese whiskey, and more.
Current hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 5-9pm
Peep the colorful houses along 18th Street from atop Roofers Union, which is now offering dinner service on the roof. The restaurant and bar has a vast selection of unique and specialty beers, plus wine, cocktails, and summer fare like sausages, sandwiches, flatbreads, grilled flat iron steak, and pastas.
Current hours: Wednesday-Thursday, 4-9pm; Friday-Saturday, 4-10pm; Sunday, 4-9pm
The venue of choice for Nats victory celebrations and leisurely summer days on the riverfront has reopened their massive patio, serving up New England-meets-Chesapeake coastal fare. Chow down on fried clam bellies, seafood towers, Nashville hot softshell crab sandwiches, lobster rolls, New England smash burgers, or even a lobster boil for a group. Add a few draft beers or a frozen cocktail, and you’ll feel like you’re at the shore.
Current hours: Monday-Thursday, 4-9pm; Friday, 4-10pm; Saturday, noon-10pm; Sunday, noon-9pm
The tiki bar adjoining Todd Thrasher’s rum distillery is a multi-story tropical escape. Join them on the first floor patio or the top floor deck for libations and grub with views of the Potomac. The limited outdoor menu includes tiki drinks, frozen cocktails, beer, wine, and snacks like Spam musubi, tiki tots, poke, coconut shrimp, and Hawaiian flatbread.
Current hours: Tuesday-Friday, 3-10pm; Saturday, 1-10pm; Sunday, 1-8pm
It’s worth a little drive out of the city for a taste of small town charm at the newly renovated Trummer’s. The welcoming two-story building has a wrap-around porch and spacious back patio, with latticework and greenery surrounding. They’re taking reservations via pre-order for a three-course menu, which includes a choice of soup or salad, an entrée (like red wine braised beef short ribs or hand cut pasta), a side of veggies, and desserts like chocolate bourbon pecan pie or strawberry shortcake.
Current hours: Tuesday-Thursday 5-8pm; Friday-Saturday, 12-2pm and 4-9pm
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