The Best Bars in Washington, D.C.

Happy hour is a beloved D.C. institution, and there are storied bars like Jack Rose as well as newer hot spots where you can raise a (discounted) glass with locals. As with restaurants, the nightlife scene has gotten better and more varied in recent years. Head to trendy areas like the U Street Corridor and 14th Street for creative cocktails, sleek wine bars, and craft beer. For live music, try a jazz club in Georgetown or eclectic favorite venues in Adams Morgan.

800 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20006, USA
Discreetly tucked downstairs at the Hay-Adams Hotel just a little more than a stone’s-throw from the White House, this aptly named bar invites customers to muse about the deals that must have been made within these scarlet walls. The caricatures hanging around the room create a sort of satellite to the National Portrait Gallery—is that Marion Barry hanging behind the bar? Or Ruth Bader Ginsburg presiding over that table by the window? Trying to identify the faces on the walls may distract you from seeing who’s sitting beside you. If you know your D.C. players, you’ll recognize the elite of national politics tucking into shrimp cocktails and great burgers during a working lunch or sipping Sazeracs after a long day on the Senate floor.
501 9th Street Northwest
José Andrés’s futuristic Willy Wonka cocktail factory, Barmini, is a playground for the adult imagination and taste buds. Liquid nitrogen wafts from beakers as mixologists deliver hits of scented smoke to customers along the futuristic all-white bar and the Alice in Wonderland–inspired lounge cubbies. Each drink has its own ritual preparation, from the thematic glass in which it’s served to the tweezer-precise placement of garnishes. You can even pair drinks with “snacks” from the kitchen shared with Minibar, Andrés’s adjacent two-Michelin-star restaurant. For the best experience, chat up the mixologists—you may even get to sample a concoction that hasn’t yet hit the menu.
515 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20004, USA
For decades, this rooftop terrace bar situated at the W Hotel (formerly the Hotel Washington, circa 1918) has provided some of the most stellar views of the White House, monuments, memorials, and beyond. P.O.V. is open year-round, unlike many other local rooftops, and encourages guests to show up by 9 p.m. Once you’ve found a spot to lounge on a velvet banquette, order a round of craft cocktails along with small plates from world-renowned chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
600 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20005, USA
This 37,000-square-foot bar packs in crowds for regular live music shows. And it slakes their thirst with mint juleps, draft beers, a large selection of wines, and cocktails like the Rickey, named in honor of Colonel Joe Rickey, an influential lobbyist who first popularized the drink at the now-extinct saloon Shoomaker’s. Some consider it the official drink of D.C.—consisting typically of gin, sparkling mineral water, and fresh lime juice on the rocks in a highball glass—and the Hamilton is a great place to try it.
1940 11th St NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
At this contemporary wine bar with an outdoor patio and bocce ball court, patrons can enjoy more than 100 wines from all over the world, along with a full menu devoted to locally sourced produce and ingredients. Vinoteca hosts a weekly live flamenco night; wine classes for small groups in the upstairs lounge; and happy hours with wine flight samples to support local nonprofit organizations and causes.
116 Rhode Island Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001, USA
Since 2011, this pub has been a go-to spot for residents of D.C.'s Bloomingdale neighborhood. The name is a historical nod to the formation of D.C. as America’s capital city (40 boundary stones were placed to demarcate the city’s original borders from Maryland and Virginia, making them the oldest federal monuments in the U.S.). The space has an inviting vintage feel, with an oak bar, wood panels, a tin ceiling, and exposed brick. Feast on classic pub fare and imbibe craft beers, cocktails, or one of the 64 whiskeys.
1500 New Hampshire Ave NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA
Attached to the Dupont Circle Hotel, Doyle (formerly Bar Dupont) is a lounge with floor-to-ceiling windows and a patio that enable you to observe the hustle of the neighborhood from a refined vantage point. In the sophisticated midcentury bar area (designed by Martin Brudnizki Studio), bartenders concoct both cocktail classics and their own creations like the Avocolado (Flor de Caña rum, Koko Kanu, coconut, avocado, pineapple juice) and a generous selection of craft beers and mock-tails.
2007 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Located on the edge of the Adams-Morgan neighborhood, this saloon features library-style shelves of over 1,400 varieties of whiskey from floor to ceiling. Single Malt and Blended Scotch, Irish, Canadian, Belgian, Japanese, Indian, Welsh, and American (bourbon and rye) flavors are provided in one or two ounce pours. If whiskey isn’t your drink of choice, craft beers and cocktails are available as well. Aside from the main bar, it features a whiskey cellar, a tiki bar, and an open-air roof terrace for drinks and cigars while witnessing the revelry below on 18th Street.
2007 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Our favorite D.C. cocktail is the rye-based Maiden Voyage at the Dram & Grain. At first, it drinks like a Sazerac. As the ice melts, the bitters emerge and it’s like a whole new drink. —Sarah Baird

This appeared in the March/April 2015 issue. Dram & Grain is a reservations-only cocktail bar in the basement of Jack Rose Dining Saloon. It’s slated to move to an expanded space within The Imperial (a new dining and nightlife concept from the owners of Jack Rose) in late 2018.
1421 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002, USA
Owned and operated by college pals Thomas Boisvert and Kathleen Davis, this inviting H Street spot pairs an eclectic global list of more than 30 wines by the glass (including a few on tap) with well-chosen nibbles like hearty bruschettas and build-your-own grilled cheese sandwiches. Creative offers like “Heavy Pour Mondays,” where one-third of a bottle fills each glass, and their nightly “Standby Flight List,” a five-wine sampler for only $15, have made the Pursuit a local favorite.
2461 18th Street Northwest
For a night of music, soul food, and raucous fun, head to Madam’s Organ, a local landmark in the Adams Morgan neighborhood. It’s not hard to find this place; look for the large mural of “Madam” on the side of the building and an entrance that defies description (“urban junkyard,” perhaps?). Inside, things are just as wacky—don’t touch the taxidermy and don’t try to figure out the signs—and the crowd eclectic. Madam’s Organ dishes up live music every night of the week, mainly blues and bluegrass. There are multiple levels: live music on one, pool on another, lounge on another floor, and finally, the rooftop for views of the city. Warning: This place packs a big crowd on the weekends, as the fun and noise level ramp up.
1622 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009, USA
Whether it’s brunch, happy hour, or date night, Barcelona Wine Bar’s shared-plate dining and drinking experience is a D.C. socialite staple. Mingle over pitchers of red wine sangria with a rotation of farm-to-table tapas, including a light spinach and manchego frittata with a bacon crunch at brunch and a spicy eggplant caponata with sweet pepper, basil, and parsley at dinner. People-watch from the garden patio or gather inside the rustic-chic dining room, where the Jamon Mangalica ham being hand-sliced will inspire you to order the charcuterie. After crisscrossing arms with your dining partners to share bites of elevated, familiar flavors, finish on a comfort-food high with a spoon fight over their luscious flourless (gluten-free) chocolate cake. You can do it all again at a second location on Wisconsin Avenue in Cathedral Heights.
901 U St NW
A loud mix of hipsters, college students, and professionals enjoy three floors of entertainment and fun at this traditional-themed British pub. Nosh on favorites like fish and chips, bangers and mash, and the “Brixton Burger” with bacon and fried egg on its first floor restaurant. Down a pint of Fuller or St. James at the second floor’s Lodge Bar adorned with wood paneling, brick walls, antler lighting fixtures, and leather furniture. Or head upstairs one more level to bask in the panoramic views of D.C. and the surrounding U Street neighborhood on its rooftop deck.
1212 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20036, USA
Once the home of Teddy Roosevelt, this two-story lounge has featured local and world-renowned DJs spinning house, electronic, and trip-hop since 1995, as well as live bands playing jazz, hip-hop, reggae, funk, samba, and Latin. Along with the beats, enjoy the chill, living-room-like ambience, stylish crowd, and strong drinks in a variety of spaces—the Deck Bar is a favorite summertime hangout.
1337 Connecticut Avenue Northwest, 2nd Floor, Washington, DC 20036, USA
No signs designate this speakeasy-style bar located near Dupont Circle, but rather a green light and a relief of Senator Morris Sheppard, namesake and architect behind the Sheppard Bone-Dry Act of 1917 banning booze in DC. Upon seeing the green light, enter the lobby and take an escorted elevator ride to the second floor where a 35-seat small, sexy, dark place with banquettes, chandeliers, and photos from DC’s prohibition era awaits you. While enjoying the bevy of rotating cocktails and snacks like deviled eggs with caviar and key lime pie, honor the following rule: no photography inside.
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