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The 18 best bars in DC for all types of drinkers

The best bars in DC range from historic watering holes to starlit patios

Anna Rahmanan
Written by
Lori A May
Contributor
Anna Rahmanan
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It should come as no surprise that the best bars in DC are as vibrant and diverse as the city itself. The city is overflowing with craft beer drinkers, wine bar lovers, and cocktail joint aficionados alike — from the capital’s diplomatic drinkers to collegiate kids in search of comradery, there’s room for all sorts of establishments and patrons.

The fact that DC isn’t technically a state has its perks: locals enjoy certain alcohol-related loopholes that aren't found in other parts of the country. For example, local restaurants and bars can purchase their liquor stock directly from distilleries and breweries, cutting out the wholesale middleman that functions as a distributor in other states (it’s a win for mom-and-pop breweries, to say the least).

So raise your old fashioned glass, clink your beer stein, or salute with your favorite vintage as you discover the best bars in DC.

RECOMMENDED: the best restaurants in Washington, DC

The best bars in DC

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Penn Quarter

For local foodies, José Andrés’ Minibar is the Moby Dick of DC dining reservations: available to those truly dedicated diners who pursue it for months. For the rest of us, there’s Barmini, the adjacent “cocktail lab” that lets you try Andrés’ creations without the lead time. The menu boasts more than 100 crafty libations in addition to flight offerings, and there’s also a modest snack menu. The experience comes with a hefty bar tab, but for cocktail lovers and seekers of imaginative dining, this is a must-visit.

  • Bars
  • Cocktail bars
  • Shaw

This no-nonsense corner bar in Shaw is modestly decorated inside, while the exterior features a coveted reservation-based patio. Cocktail prices here are on the lower side, which is amazing considering you’ll find arguably the city’s best Negroni alongside a nice selection of domestic and imported beer, wine, and basic bar bites.

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  • Bars
  • U Street Corridor

This neighborhood joint is focused on farm-to-table food with drinks. The brunch menu is a hit with mimosas and affordable cocktails served in mason jars, while an unlimited mix and match cocktail option is yours for just $25. Enjoy the casual vibe as you sip on a brunch bubbly while you munch on buttermilk fried chicken pancakes.

  • Bars
  • Adams Morgan

Were Jim Morrison ever to be reincarnated and transported to Washington, DC, the response to his immortal request, "Show me the way to the next whiskey bar" would inevitably lead him to Jack Rose. This is, quite simply, the best place to drink whiskey in Washington, with a remarkable selection of more than 2,700 bottles. The tall, clubby space feels like a library with leather seats and ladders, a necessary feature to help bartenders reach the highest bottles; if you don’t know much (or anything) about whiskey, don’t be afraid to ask—the bartenders are happy to impart their wisdom. On sunnier days, there’s also an outdoor terrace and tiki bar.

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  • Restaurants
  • Fusion
  • Adams Morgan

There’s always a lively vibe at Perry’s whether you opt to dine inside, on the rooftop terrace, or the front patio. Twinkle lights adorn the venue and create an intimate atmosphere while patrons enjoy sushi and sashimi in the evenings, followed by ramen or beef bowls. Sunday’s drag brunch is so in demand that there are now two seating times and reservations are a must. For casual bar outings, try a rice lager, rice wine, or sake.

This inventive venue is a one-two punch with a casual walk-in ramen bar on the first floor and a reservations-only upper level with intimate seating. Go here for a sophisticated night out with friends and enjoy an impressive Japanese whisky menu or shochu, Japan’s national spirit. Keen to snack while you sip? Pair your drinks with authentic ramen, flavorful skewers, or small bites like grilled oysters.

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  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • Southeast

This beloved spot in the Navy Yard neighborhood is a paradise for craft beer connoisseurs thanks to dozens of draft selections and a rotating burger of the week. All beers come in two sizes—a tasting portion and a full glass—so you can try a few before you commit to anything. The friendly servers are more than happy to walk you through the menu to make sure you're happy with your selection.

  • Bars
  • Downtown

The Old Ebbitt first opened in 1856 as a boarding house, and over the years its most illustrious guests have included Presidents Grant, Johnson, Cleveland, and Teddy Roosevelt. Known as the oldest dining saloon in Washington—and just a block from the White House—the main dining room is still a popular venue for the power lunch crowd. Better yet? Two interior bars draw people from all walks of life in search of oyster bar bites and a classic old fashioned.

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  • Bars
  • H Street Corridor

Cocktails. Dumplings. Repeat. That’s pretty much the game plan at this H Street, a casual venue by Minibar veteran Devin Gong. The kitchen serves Chinese street food (steamed bao, potstickers, and meat skewers) indoors while a patio bar delivers artful concoctions borrowed from mixologists Gong has met and liked (hence the name). Can’t find something you like? Check out the blackboard filled with flavor combinations and build your own cocktail from scratch.

  • Bars
  • U Street Corridor

For a rooftop brunch, the dedicated tailgate menu at Brixton (wings, burgers, and $6 drafts) ticks all the boxes. But you can also settle down inside for lounge dining on dishes like pan-seared salmon, pork chops, and veggie burgers along with popular drinks like Pimm’s cups, Newcastle on draft, and Fuller’s London Pride in bottles. The vibe inside is that of a classic neighborhood pub with leather stools and wood accents, and it stays cozy most nights (though it can get busy with college kids late at night).

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  • Bars
  • Lounges
  • Northwest

This Petworth favorite comes from the owners of Wonderland Ballroom in Columbia Heights. The upstairs bar serves as the setting for a popular trivia night, while the lower-level hosts DJ nights that sometimes highlight ‘90s hip hop or ‘80s music. The back patio is a low-key mingling scene and the weekday happy hour is a great way to stretch your buck.

  • Bars
  • Breweries
  • Shaw

Whiskey lovers will feel right at home inside this Irish-leaning Bloomingdale mainstay. When it first opened in 2011, the neighborhood was still under the radar—its location on the tiny strip of Rhode Island Ave. is more happening than ever before, but Boundary Stone still draws a loyal crowd with its front patio, cozy booths, and elevated late-night pub grub (like it’s hard-to-resist honey hot chicken sandwiches).

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  • Bars
  • Sports Bars
  • U Street Corridor

A gay-friendly sports bar? Mais oui, with a famed drag brunch, trivia and game nights, and a whole lot of sporty stuff, too. Some nights the dancefloor is the spot to be, other times it’s settling in for a game near the HD televisions. Expect an eclectic crowd, a sports bar menu with traditional wings and nachos, and fun tunes in the background other days.

  • Restaurants
  • Northeast

Brookland’s Finest is a little bit Mr. Rogers, a little bit Charlie Sheen. Though it’s often crawling with families, this neighborhood joint also slings stiff, classic cocktails and stays open late on weekends. The menu is a real comfort food crowd-pleaser—cheeseburgers, spaghetti and meatballs, poutine, and crispy kale salads will all hit the spot. Hungry for more? Head back the morning after to nurse your hangover at brunch.

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  • Bars
  • Columbia Heights

This upper Columbia Heights bar has everything a neighborhood watering hole could need: a no-frills bar with a collection of well-loved board games, pool tables, and a spacious all-weather heated roof deck strung with café lights. The beer menu is outstanding with dozens of customer favorites alongside seasonal and novelty options.

  • Bars
  • Federal Triangle

Reminiscent of an old-fashioned gentlemen’s club, take a seat in the dark-hued round space and see how many portraits of previous guests you can recognize: Walt Whitman, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and President Abraham Lincoln (who lived at the hotel for two weeks before his inauguration) are among the distinguished subjects.

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  • Bars
  • Beer bars
  • H Street Corridor

Biergarten Haus is a Bavarian-style beer hall with one-liter pours and robust German food. The outdoor patio is one of the largest in the area, while inside you’ll find a folksy sports vibe. Indeed, the TVs are tuned in for soccer and football, while patrons can also stop by the occasional trivia night. No matter what brings you in, it’s hands down the most welcoming spot to grab a brat and a pint.

Sonoma offers a welcome grown-up respite from all the other dives and sports bars stretching down Pennsylvania Avenue. The long granite bar, exposed brick, and extensive wine list make for a stylishly urban feel, and the upstairs lounge has plenty of comfortable alcoves for anyone hoping to sit and chat (although it’s often closed for political functions and events). Sonoma’s proximity to the House office buildings also allows for great eavesdropping while you’re savoring that pinot—as long as you’re not put off by the ping of a thousand text messages.

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