Washington, D.C. is, of course, the epicenter of American politics. It’s the literal seat of our government, a city teeming with politicians, lobbyists, ambassadors, lawyers, and staffers of every political stripe. It’s also a very diverse city full of regular people living their lives and occasionally looking for a place to sit down and have a drink and maybe a bite to eat. Regardless of our political affiliation, this is something most of us can agree on: every city needs a comfortable bar in which you can enjoy a classic cocktail or try something completely new. D.C. has plenty of options in both categories.
Of course, you can find a few venerable (if slightly stuffy) hotel bars that have been around for decades or longer, places where the political class comes to unwind after a long day passing or obstructing legislation. And these serve their purpose, as sometimes a bar like this is exactly what you are looking for to enjoy a stiff martini and some quiet conversation. On the other hand, the culinary scene is thriving in D.C., and the bar scene along with it. There are many newer places to drink around town in neighborhoods like Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, and Georgetown. From tiki to gin emporiums to bars with unrivaled whiskey menus, our nation’s capital has something for every palate. Here are some of the best bars in Washington where you can find a drink, unwind, and discuss politics or the new starting Wizards lineup if you prefer.
Jack Rose Dining Saloon
Jack Rose is best known for its deep whiskey list, featuring rare bottles, Scotch Malt Whisky Society selections, and pretty much every whiskey from every whiskey-making country that you can think of. But there are also some good cocktails to be found throughout the various rooms of this venerated establishment, including a Perfect Manhattan and American Trilogy (rye and apple brandy) made using private barrel picks. Despite its reputation, you can order a cocktail without whiskey here—try The Gardener (gin, celery-infused vermouth), or even a vodka-based drink like the ginger and kiwi-flavored Fashion is Danger: Redux.
Tiki on 18th
It seems every city has a new tiki bar to drink in, and D.C. is no exception. Tiki on 18th opened last summer above the Game Sports Pub. In addition to Polynesian-inspired food, this intimate, modern bar has a relatively small cocktail menu that makes up in quality for what it lacks in quantity. The Jet Pilot combines absinthe with overproof rum, not a typical flavor profile for a tropical drink, while the 1933 Mai Tai keeps it simple with two types of rum, lime, and orgeat. You can also go ultra-minimalist but classic with the Rum Old Fashioned, made from just three basic ingredients: rum (or rhum), sugar, and water.
There are three separate experiences at Columbia Room–the Tasting Room, the Spirits Library, and the Punch Garden, all of which pair cocktails with food. And some of these cocktails are sort of elevated riffs on classics that have gotten a bad rap over the years, unjustly or not. For example, in the Tasting Room, drinks are paired with a four-course menu, like an Appletini made with Calvados, cognac, and clarified apple, or a Long Island Iced Tea that combines St. George Terroir Gin, Absolut Elyx Vodka, and Green Pepper Rum. The other two rooms have a la carte options, including five different types of Old Fashioned (each based on a different spirit), and the Double Dealer, a mix of rye, dry vermouth, and beet and strawberry oleo.
Barmini is Jose Andres’ cocktail ying to his dining yang, Minibar. This self-described “cocktail lab” offers over 100 different drinks that are served as flights (reservation only) or on their own, along with some small snacks. There is no menu listed on the website; instead, patrons arrive and peruse the lengthy cocktail list that at various times has included a Ramos Gin Fizz, a Crossed Eye Mary (aged rum, passion fruit espuma), and other classic and new creations. But the best experience here is undoubtedly the flight option, where you entrust your evening’s experience to your more than capable and highly creative bartender’s hands.
Bourbon Steak is Michael Mina’s popular Georgetown steakhouse located at the Four Seasons Hotel. But beyond the expertly prepared meat, there is an inspired cocktail list that pays tribute to the classics while also going well beyond. This fall you’ll find a few Elijah Craig bourbon drinks made with amaro and Falernum to celebrate Bourbon Heritage Month. There’s also the Autumn Smoke, made with peaty Ardbeg single malt and apricot liqueur, and a wine and whiskey cocktail called Peanut Butter Jelly Time that mixes peanut-butter-washed bourbon with pinot noir. Classics are done right as well. The BSDC Manhattan isn’t just any Manhattan, it’s made with Sagamore Spirit signature barrel rye and Virginia Distillery signature cuvee cask. There are a few drinks that are presented tableside as well.
Another gin-centric place to drink in D.C. is Wisdom, which has been around for over a decade. For the truly dedicated, there’s a Gin Club you can join for $30 per year; members get cocktail and gin event discounts. For the gin-curious, stop by and order a custom-made martini, as the menu guides you through the steps of crafting one to your particular taste. There are also Spanish style gin and tonics and a slew of house cocktails. A few of these even veer away from gin, like the rye-based First We Take Manhattan, and the habanero-infused tequila (pick your heat preference) Mother of Dragons.
D.C. residents looking for some ramen head to Daikaya, where they find an excellent drinks menu to go with their food. There is an impressive collection of hard-to-find Japanese whisky, with pricey but delicious selections to choose from, like Yamazaki 18 and Hakushu 12. The cocktails at this cozy downstairs spot are creative and varied, with Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, and Highballs that can be made with various types of Japanese whisky. Or there are the house selections, like Dial Back The Moxie, a shochu and aged rum concoction, or a molecular gastronomic version of a sake bomb that consists of a sake sphere, ginger beer, and Sapporo.
Round Robin Bar
In a town full of lobbyists and politicians, of course there are some old-school bars where you will find classic cocktails in a refined environment. Round Robin Bar in the Willard InterContinental Hotel has been around since 1847. It just feels like a classic, with a mahogany bar, leather chairs, and sketches of people like Mark Twain on the walls. There are three barrel-aged cocktails to choose from: a Negroni, Manhattan, and Boulevardier, each aged for three months in a different barrel type. But you won’t be disappointed if you go simple and order a classic like a Mint Julep, Moscow Mule, or a martini that arrives cold and balanced, exactly the way it should be.