Best rooftop bars in Washington, DC
Named for the multicultural neighborhood in South London, this three-story lounge in Shaw is a prime spot for pub quiz and pre-show drinks (the 9:30 Club is one block away). It’s a big, friendly place with a sizeable rooftop patio that overlooks the booming U Street corridor. Belly up to either bar or perch around the wrought iron railing with a Pimm’s Cup or a shandy in hand—just keep within cooling distance of the fans (a thoughtful touch). The soundtrack is always on point, if loud. Look south as you toast your good fortune: Views of the city include the top of the Washington Monument.
DC’s monumental views are world famous, but there are plenty of charming vistas with nary a marble column in sight. From the poolside lounge atop the Donovan Hotel, soak in views of church steeples, elegant row houses and parks. Sip salted Vietnamese lemonade and tea-infused cocktails while snacking on sushi, wild mushroom tacos, pork bao and habanero-spiked peel-and-eat shrimp from Zentan, the Asian-inspired restaurant in the lobby below. Feel free to ask what bartender Matt Allred has invented lately. A recent creation, Campari-flavored fruit roll-ups, put smiles on the faces of even the most jaded foodies.
There’s a lot going on at DC’s brown liquor paradise: a basement speakeasy called Dram & Grain and a dark bar boasting the largest collection of whiskey in the Western Hemisphere. But the true party’s up top. The expansive rooftop has three distinct spaces: a semi-private dining room overlooking the street; a wide open-air terrace serving wood grill burgers and tacos; and a seasonal tiki bar. The large terrace is graced with a retractable roof and has a state-of-the-art stainless steel draft system. Be sure to order the barbecue platter while you’re at it. Note: The outside space is cigar friendly, a rarity in the District.
Home to Latin-Asian flavors and plenty of South American-inspired cocktails, Masa 14 is a top choice if you’re with a big group. It stands to reason: Richard Sandoval serves a small plates menu, and promos include all-night happy hour (Tues), half-price sushi (Wed), and bottomless weekend brunch. The cocktail list contains margaritas, caipirinhas, mojitos, palomas, Pisco sours and more. The space frequently hosts DJs, at which point the rooftop morphs into a club. When it does, lines can get really, really long; only early birds get the (tequila) worm. If the crush is too much, head next door to El Centro D.F., Sandoval’s taqueria with, you guessed it, a rooftop deck.
Simply put: Welcome to the gay Cheers. Nellie’s is a lively sports bar geared toward men and the men who love them—although everyone’s welcome. The first floor has a long bar and a games room, where themed events are hosted nightly (bingo, poker, trivia). The rooftop deck has a small bar and a DJ station. It’s not much of a dance spot with the exception of Sunday’s Guil-Tea parties throughout the summer. Thanks to a retractable roof, it can be enjoyed year-round. Whether you come to flirt or just the shoot the breeze while enjoying one, Nellie’s deck is a high-energy neighborhood spot.
Tucked inside a Federal row house near Howard University Hospital, this bistro and bar set the standard for fine food and drink in Shaw from day one. It set the bar even higher when it opened a roomy rooftop deck in 2012. One section features a compact bar made from materials from a Wyoming barn; the other, high top tables ideal for catching a sunset with a beer in hand. Come for Sunday brunch, and get a second helping on Tuesday night when the bistro serves breakfast for dinner. Warning: Chicken and waffles with a side of cayenne honey served under a bed of stars is habit-forming.
The only public rooftop deck in Georgetown, the Observatory is a seasonal perch atop The Graham hotel. When the weather cooperates, it’s a beast: 3,000 square feet offering 360-degree views of the oldest neighborhood in DC and across the Potomac to Virginia. While there’s no dress code, per se, you should dress to impress. Even the hostess offers “chic” as the suggested attire. Be prepared to compete with ballers who spend: In addition to the usual wine and cocktail lists, there’s a cigar menu and bottle service. DC will never be confused with Miami, but this joint is the closest we’ll get to South Beach.
Adams Morgan is home to an increasing number of great neighborhood eats, such as Cashion’s Eat Place, Mintwood Place and Pop’s Sea Bar. That said, Perry’s is the long-standing and undisputed queen of DC rooftop restaurants. Since 1984, Perry’s has been a rom-com-worthy setting—it’s that easy to love. Enjoy Japanese izakaya and sushi menus, as well as an extensive wine list and cocktails, including the house favorite, elderflower-scented sangria, all served under a twinkling “tent” of lights. Thoughtfully designed flower boxes ring the exterior, making the experience that much more Insta-worthy. Tip: Between 5 and 7:30pm, parties of eight or less can make alfresco dinner reservations. After 7pm, it’s first-come, first-served.
Bring your eagle-eyed out-of-towners to POV. They’ll spot secret service on the rooftop of the president’s home—it’s practically across the street—as well as political and Hollywood celebs in nearby booths. The views are jaw-dropping: The White House, the Treasury, the Washington Monument and National Mall. The late 2014 refresh only served to make this popular place more user friendly: Stadium-style seating provides uninterrupted views. That said, what arrives at the table is well worth a double-take. POV offers weekend brunch, after-work cocktails and late-night parties. Try the Marion Berry (gin, blackberries, blackberry foam). Reservations are a must: Be sure to ask for seats in “Monument Corner.” It’s often cordoned off for VIPs and bottle service ballers on Friday and Saturday nights, but it’s worth a try early in the week. Skip the valet parking if you can. It’ll set you back $30.
A word to the plastic-dependent: Red Derby is cash only. That minor annoyance aside, the upper Columbia Heights bar has everything a neighborhood watering hole should: a no-frills bar with a collection of well-loved board games, pool tables and a spacious roof deck strung with café lights. Beer prices are so reasonable—$2 Natty Bohs, $3 PBR’s and a $6 Bud and shot combo—they’ll make you do a spit-take.
This property received a lavish top-to-bottom renovation between 2014 and 15, starting with the two-tiered rooftop—the only one of its kind in Dupont. The panoramic views of Dupont Circle, tony Kalorama and Embassy Row should be enough, but get there early, in season (Jun 1–Sep 30), and score a pool pass. For $25, a limited number of day passes are released at the front desk, granting access to the dipping pool, cabanas, covered lounge area, bar and grill. After 5pm, it’s a free-for-all. Enjoy the sunset views and of-the-moment eats: kale salads, grilled pretzels, a “Juicy Lucy” burger, plus craft cocktails.
It’s hard to imagine this handsome three-story bistro and bar was once an aquarium-themed watering hole, but times change. Now that craft cocktails and house-made sausages (not saltwater tanks and fish pellets) are the big draw, this is the place to be. Roofers Union is the baby sister of Ripple, the Cleveland Park bistro named for a Grateful Dead song. Indeed, it’s a long, strange trip the top floor: Climb two sets of stairs and turn left. Named for the building’s former occupants, this joint has a wide rooftop deck. It’s a go-to spot for taking in 18th Street’s nightlife crowds, and come July 4, it’s a cool place to watch fireworks burst around the Washington Monument. Settle in at the bar and have a beer. Suds are divided into flavor sections, including “fruity,” “delicately bitter” and “weirdly awesome.”
It’s not a bar, it’s a sit-down restaurant (so sue us). And when Bon Appetit named it the “best new restaurant in America” in 2014, the lines went from long to longest. The only way to make a reservation is to gather your friends and book a dinner for eight-to-10 guests in the private rooftop garden. The space is lovely: a small patio planted with fragrant herbs and flowers. Save your pennies. It’ll cost you $125 to dine on a progression of small plates and family-style platters: Imagine silky popcorn soup topped with grilled lobster, cacio e pepe pasta, extra crispy fried chicken and mint chocolate meringues. The restaurant is famous for its warm service and rooftop diners have a dedicated server. The kitchen can accommodate vegetarians as well as diners with allergies and gluten-free diets.
Immediately south of Dupont Circle is a Munich-inspired beer hall. Cuckoo clocks and two-pound pretzels are a dead giveaway that this place doesn’t take itself too seriously, though its expansive roof deck—all 2,000 square feet of it—is not for the faint of heart, or hearing. The oompah music sets the mood, as do the massive beer steins. Choose a half or whole liter of German beer (there are 16 drafts to pick from). Then settle in at one of the orange communal tables to meet your neighbors. It’s bright, so be sure to wear your sunglasses. Also arrive early: This place feels like a mosh pit by 9pm.