Washington, D.C.’s Finest Bars: Where to Drink in the District

The opulent bar at Ciel Social Club | Credit: Ciel Social Club

With over 170 nations represented in just 68 square miles, the District serves as a captivating destination for diners looking to sample flavors from across the globe—drinks included. As the city’s culinary scene thrives and expands, choosing where to grab a drink has never been so much fun.

From unmarked doors that lead to stylish, subterranean social clubs to rooftop lounges with specialty cocktails and unmatched monument views, here are some of Washington, D.C.’s best bars.

Smoke and Mirrors – DC (Navy Yard)

Handcrafted cocktails at Smoke & Mirrors | Credit: Photo Fusion Media

Set on the 11th floor of the AC Hotel Washington DC, Smoke and Mirrors is one of Navy Yard’s newest rooftop lounges, focusing on high-quality handcrafted cocktails. A peaty glass of boulevardier uses 16-year-old single malt scotch, while the lounge’s titular cocktail, which also features a single malt, shakes things up by adding French liqueur, a wine-based aperitif, and bitters. The outdoor patio here, which opened in February, is one of the best in the district, with fire pits, a retractable canopy, and unobstructed U.S. Capitol views.

JoJo Restaurant and Bar (U Street)

At JoJo’s, a lively spot in the U Street district, there are plenty of nods to the area’s rich history. Sip on neighborhood-themed cocktails such as The Ellington, an ode to D.C. jazz legend and composer Duke Ellington, a rye sour made with apricot syrup, bitters, lemon, and an egg white. Its happy hour, which runs daily from 5 pm to 7 pm, features dishes that are heavy on the Cajun flavors, such as bourbon-glazed wings and a grilled chicken sandwich. The flavorful plates perfectly complement the weekly live musical performances by homegrown and out-of-town jazz, funk, soul, and blues musicians.

Alias on 14th (14th Street)

The sultry interiors at Alias on 14th | Credit: Alias on 14th

Whether you choose to enter from the unmarked pink door on 14th Street or walk down a secret back staircase inside the Mediterranean hotspot Dolce Vita, your final destination is the same: a moody New York-style social club with floral-accented seats and a striking ceiling, lined with fleur-de-lis tiles. Alias on 14th’s standout cocktail program by veteran bartender Evan Cablayan shies away from Prohibition-era cocktails, and prioritizes bolder flavors and theatrics instead. A bright pink cocktail with citrus vodka and raspberry is topped with a drinkable bubble, while a dram of bourbon, bitters, and orange peel is infused with smoke before it’s ready to serve.

Flight Wine Bar (Penn Quarter)

Opened in 2014 by sommeliers and first-time restaurateurs, Swati Bose and Kabir Amir, Flight Wine Bar received rave reviews from local critics and diners eager to try its selection of wines from lesser-known vintner regions such as Lebanon, Greece, Turkey, and the Balkans. Today, the expertly curated wine menu has blossomed to include over 600 bottles, more than 30 by-the-glass options, and 22 flights. Featuring three oak-aged red wine pours, the “I Like Oak and I Cannot Lie” is a great starting point for budding oenophiles, earning it a much deserved “Outstanding Wine Program” place on the 2020 James Beard Awards semi finalist list.

Bar Chinois (Mount Vernon Triangle)

Neon lights illuminate Bar Chinois | Credit: Bar Chinois

Adding to D.C.’s ever-growing list of MICHELIN guide restaurants is Bar Chinois, a modern industrial-chic spot that opened in 2021. Step into the neon-lit dining room and order several plates of dim sum to share—the Singaporean fried fish, fried chive dumplings, and pork belly bao are not to be missed. The beverage program, helmed by Margaux Donati and Jacob Simpson, focuses on French-inspired cocktails such as the Kir Royale and a twist on the Vieux Carré, crafted with rye, cognac, and a locally-sourced Sichuan pepper amaro. Happy hour, which runs Tuesday to Saturday from 5 pm to 7 pm, features dollar dumplings and half-priced cocktails.

The Arsenal at Bluejacket (Navy Yard)

Housed in one of Navy Yard’s historic buildings, this laid-back microbrewery has brewed one-of-a-kind ales and lagers since 2013. As a popular hangout for Washington Nationals supporters, the on-site restaurant features a menu full of seasonal pub fare. Fan favorites, such as the tots and chicken wings—best dunked in one of D.C.’s most iconic condiments, mambo sauce, a bolder take on barbecue sauce—are carefully selected to align with the rotating selection of unique beers available on tap.

Tabard Inn (Dupont Circle)

The garden patio at the Tabard Inn | Credit: Tabard Inn

Stop by for a drink at the Tabard Inn’s lounge, and you’ll be transported back to the property’s 20th century heyday when it served as a gathering place for the district’s crème de la crème. Antique embellishments and distinctive works of art set the tone for romantic date nights. Diners can also expect live jazz every Sunday and Monday from 6 pm to 8:30 pm—it’s considered the city’s longest-running jazz show—as they sip on house-made manhattans and citrus-forward martinis.

Salazar DC (Logan Circle)

Tequila shots at Salazar | Credit: Dan Schwarz for Salazar

Housed in the heart of Logan Circle’s famed 14th Street drag is Salazar, an 8,000-square-foot oasis serving Tex-Mex cuisine, tequila, and a spirited time. Diners can  choose from four bars spread out over three levels, including an all-weather rooftop section and a moody cellar that comes alive with the sounds of Latin music on weekends. Salazar, which takes its neon “drink tequila daily” sign quite seriously, has over 50 different types of the Mexican liquor to choose from, along with $4 tacos on Tuesdays—plus bottomless margarita weekend brunches.

Morris (Mount Vernon Triangle)

Specialty cocktails reign supreme at this playful bar, nestled inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. Co-founded by D.C.-based restaurateur and Top Chef alum Spike Mendelsohn, this creative spot is nothing short of Instagram-worthy, thanks to its pastel-blue walls, retro-themed seats, and a hand-painted cherry blossom mural. A tropical-themed menu is served on the bar’s colorful outdoor patio; pours range from strawberry daiquiris to riffs on the piña colada, made with extra dry rum, pineapple, coconut, and lime.

Ciel Social Club (Mount Vernon Triangle)

Sweeping district views from the wraparound terrace at Ciel Social Club | Credit: Ciel Social Club

From its vantage point atop the AC Hotel Convention Center, the 3,200-square-foot penthouse lounge Ciel Social Club is all about unforgettable district views. The wraparound terrace at this chic spot means diners can see both the U.S. Capitol dome and the Washington Monument in one fell swoop. Sip on seasonal cocktails such as the Amarga Caliente—it’s made with tequila, mango, pineapple, lime, and habanero—while sampling Mediterranean-inspired small plates such as the yogurt-marinated lemon chicken in a piquant tomato sauce.

Red Derby (Columbia Heights)

Since opening doors in 2007, Red Derby has become a neighborhood staple for Columbia Heights residents and visitors alike. Grab a seat inside this cozy dive or ascend to the rooftop deck (it’s open year-round), where a 24/7 happy hour special of $3.50 beers, tequila, and whisky shots await. Quirky theme nights, such as Tendie Tuesday and Paul Rudd Wednesday, also feature half-off food items such as tater tots, onion rings, and chicken tenders.

Bodega Spanish Tapas & Lounge (Georgetown)

Bodega Spanish Tapas & Lounge brings the best of the Iberian Peninsula to Georgetown’s iconic M Street. Striking damask walls, intimate dining alcoves filled with bullfighting decor, and a quaint outdoor patio complete with a tiled fountain, charm diners at this romantic Spanish spot. Happy hour runs every Sunday to Friday from 4 pm to 7 pm featuring $3 pintxos and $18 sangria pitchers.

Christabel Lobo is a food and travel writer based between Washington, D.C. and south India. Find her on Instagram @whereschristabel and Twitter @wheresbel. 

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