Photo by Farrah Skeiky
Courtesy of the Watergate Hotel
Take your D.C. drinking experience to new heights.
From the shaded terraces of five-star hotels to rowdy wooden decks atop local dives, these rooftops “raise the bar” on alfresco evenings in the nation’s capital.
Whether you’re conducting a survey of Washington, D.C.’s craft beer and cocktail scene or looking to see the city from a different perspective, there’s a rooftop bar to suit your needs. With views that span from brilliant sunsets over the Potomac waterfront to the dramatic moonlit scenes of Washington’s iconic monuments or the skylines of its charming low-rise historic neighborhoods, these bars can elevate a simple happy-hour cocktail to something special. Although warmer months are the obvious time for open-air gatherings, many of these bars keep the party going year-round with retractable roofs, space heaters, and fire pits.
When the Columbia Room opened on cobbled Blagden Alley in 2016, its rooftop patio, the Punch Garden, only served punches. But a full bar has since been added, and small bites can be ordered, too, making this green and breezy spot a popular destination. Heaters allow year-round access to the Punch Garden except in the most blustery weather.
The Columbia Room serves a creative twist on the D.C. classic Gin Rickey cocktail that’s worth ordering. The bar’s Salted Fino Rickey substitutes sherry for gin and, instead of the usual lime juice, adds an oil extracted from lime rinds that have been vacuum-sealed with salt and sugar overnight. The bar’s meticulous attention to detail extends to the ice cubes, which are locally sourced and cut to spec by an artisanal ice maker. This exacting practice has brought the Columbia Room numerous accolades, including Outstanding Bar Program from the James Beard Foundation in 2017 and 2018. 124 Blagden Alley NW, Shaw; columbiaroomdc.com
The rapidly developing Wharf neighborhood has become the city’s fun waterfront destination. The best place to watch the area’s ongoing transformation is from Whiskey Charlie, an indoor-outdoor cocktail lounge on the 10th floor of the Hilton Canopy Hotel. Day or night, the views over the sparkling marina and its surroundings docks and streets are stunning and serene. Get cozy around fire pits on the roof deck or find a table inside the glass-enclosed “cabin” lounge. Come for the views and be equally wowed by the local craft beer, served by the can, or cocktails, which are served by the glass, carafe, or in a tankard for four or more. 975 Seventh St. SW, The Wharf, whiskeycharliewharf.com
Article continues below advertisement
Colada Shop brings the vibrant colors and flavors of Cuba to the city streets of Washington, D.C. From strong coffee in the morning to a selection of tropical cocktails thereafter, as well as a food menu with croquetas and churros, this Havana-themed hideaway is a haven off the chaotic 14th and U Street Corridor. Up on the open-air rooftop patio, string lights hang overhead, and herbs grow in containers along the roof’s edges; the sofas and blue and yellow chairs invite relaxed conversations. Choose a breezy afternoon to visit, and order an elevated version of a cocktail you’d drink on a beach vacation—think high-end daiquiris, punches, and piña coladas—then close your eyes, and you may think you hear the ocean. 1405 T St. NW, 14th St. Corridor; coladashop.com
D.C. native and renowned whiskey expert Bill Thomas opened Jack Rose Dining Saloon to share his passion with the locals. The Adams Morgan establishment is home to one of the largest collections of whiskey—over 2,500 bottles—in North America. A selection this deep means that pours can range from an affordable $8 to some top-shelf elixirs at $1,200. (Don’t assume the cheaper drink will be rotgut, though; Thomas’s staff curates the list to provide the best tastes for all budgets.)
The Saloon’s rooftop spaces provide different experiences depending on the season. In winter, a fireplace in the glassed-in Balcony Room becomes the cozy focal point. In warmer weather, the mood is traded for something more playful as the open-air tiki bar brings the focus outside again. Cigars, sold on-site, may be smoked on the deck. 2007 18th St. NW, Adams Morgan; jackrosediningsaloon.com
Don’t have a ticket to the baseball game? Not to worry—this popular bar atop the Hampton Inn & Suites overlooks Nationals Park stadium with a view straight across home plate. Arrive early to secure a good spot and celebrate the roaring energy of a game day with buckets of beer and a baseball-themed bar menu. Even if the Nationals are playing out of town, the bar’s panoramic views of the Navy Yard, the developing Capitol Riverfront neighborhood, the Anacostia River, and the Washington Monument are impressive. 1265 First St. SE, Capitol Riverfront; totydc.com
Article continues below advertisement
Red Derby is a favorite local dive bar where almost everything—craft beer, cider, mead, sake, and even some wines—comes in a can. There’s also a full bar with cocktails by the glass. The bar goes out of its way to be friendly to those keeping gluten-free with a special drinks menu. Unlike the hotel rooftop bars downtown, the view from the Red Derby’s doesn’t overlook iconic landmarks, but it does show off the pretty Columbia Heights neighborhood to great effect. Bartenders curate playlists for their shifts, and you can count on David Bowie showing up in the mix. 3718 14th St. NW, Columbia Heights; redderby.com.
Every floor of the three-level H Street Country Club is packed with games: On the way to the Pool Bar roof deck, you’ll pass shuffleboard and Skee-Ball on the first floor and indoor mini golf on the second. Once at the top, corn hole and giant Jenga are the featured games. There’s no actual pool, but swimming pool–themed signs hang on the walls, reminding guests of rules like, “No Smoking. No Running. No Diving.” The Mexican-inspired menu spotlights margaritas made from freshly squeezed juices as well as a popular Mexican Mule, an aromatic concoction of vodka, fresh cilantro, jalapeño, and lime juice. The west-facing roof deck is great for watching the sun set behind the Washington Monument and keeping an eye on bustling H Street below. Families with children are welcome during Saturday brunch and before 7 p.m. Sunday to Friday. 1335 H St. NE, H St. Corridor; hstcountryclub.com.
In addition to lending its name to the Nixon administration scandal, the Watergate hotel is also a D.C. institution because its 15th-floor rooftop bar affords one the best views in the city. The 360-degree panorama sweeps from the Washington Monument to the gleaming Potomac River and Georgetown streets surrounding the hotel. The bar is typically open only between April and October, but Top of the Gate also hosts a holiday pop-up between November and January, when Mel’s Rink Foundation provides a sky-high ice skating experience. 2650 Virginia Ave. NW, Georgetown; thewatergatehotel.com.
Its unobstructed and highly photogenic views of the White House, National Mall, and Washington Monument have made POV, at the top of the W Hotel, one of the most popular rooftop bars in Washington, D.C. In spring 2019, a newly renovated POV will open with an urban design inspired by D.C.’s street art and metro system. New folding windows will offer some options for keeping the bar comfortable and open, even with D.C.’s variable weather. Details about the updated food and drink menu will be revealed in the coming months. 515 15th St. NW, Downtown; povrooftop.com.
Sign up for the Daily Wander newsletter for expert travel inspiration and tips
Please enter a valid email address.