Like many other large professional cities filled with “type-A” people, happy hour in DC is a THING. It is both a social and professional ritual. Everyone from twenty-something broke interns to serious professional political operatives at the top of their game can be seen out in DCs bars and restaurants – often even at the same place.
I came to DC over 2 ½ years ago on a fellowship. I was blessed enough to have an awesome class and make some wonderful lifelong friends. Several of those friends and I have made it our mission in life to find the perfect happy hour. This list represents my favorite spots based on 32 months of research.
DC Political Happy Hour: Off the Record at the Hay Adams hotel – just a short walk from the White House is distinctly DC. The walls are lined with caricatures of Washington’s politicians and even the drink coasters are caricatures of the day’s most talked about figures. This is not your causal neighborhood bar but is a place you should come to at least once while in DC.
Drink with Dinner/Lunch: Old Ebbitt Grill is one of my favorite places in DC and somewhere I take all visiting family and friends. I love the vibe. I love the history (1856 – the oldest Salon in Washington). I love the décor with the wood paneling and stain glass. And even though I am anti-hunting, it is said the animal heads on display were shot by President Teddy Roosevelt (so I am willing to let it go). While they don’t have a Happy Hour menu, this is still one of my favorite places to take someone for a drink after work, sit at the bar and order a fantastic meal.
Classy: Similar to Off the Record, the Round Robin bar at the Willard hotel is a DC landmark that has been around since the 1850s. It has served Mark Twain and Walt Whitman and this is where Martin Luther King finished his “I Have a Dream” speech. What can I say, I am a history buff and love to step back in time. They are famous for their Mint Julip introduced there by Henry Clay in the early 1800s.
Because it is my list: Béarnaise is located between Capitol Hill and Eastern Market. Is has a small bar that offers fantastic (and bottomless) fries for $5 which I like to enjoy with a $10 glass of Sparkling wine. Really, what better way to end a day with girlfriends?
Bar Food: Down near Georgetown, the water and even the Kennedy Center, Farmer Fishers Bakers has an extensive drink menu along with fabulous bar food at a great price in huge quantities. From their website, “Farmers Restaurant group is a collection of restaurants, majority owned by American Family Farmers established on a platform of farm-inspired American food and drink in modern, upscale casual, and eco-friendly settings.”
The Hill: Two watering holes for Hill staffers are Tortilla Coast (House) and 201 Bar (Senate). I personally prefer Tortilla Coast because I love a good Margarita with Chips and Salsa. But 201 Bar has a more traditional bar menu with wine and cocktails along with bar food. If you are hoping to catch either place on a busy night full of staffers relaxing from a long day or week, make sure to pay attention to the Congressional calendar.
Best View: POV at the W hotel and Skydome lounge in Pentagon City have two of the best views of the city. The POV overlooks the White House with a view of the Washington Monument. This is THE place to go. Expect it to be crowded and expensive. But you only live once! The Sky Dome is less crowded, less expensive and less cool. But you will get wonderful views of the Air Force Memorial, Pentagon, and DC skyline from this rotating lounge. The drinks and the food are nothing to write home about, but remember you are there for the view…
Wine Bar: Sonoma on Capitol Hill or Grape and Bean in Old Town are two great wine bars. The upstairs Avenue Lounge is a relaxed and open atmosphere to catch up with friends and enjoy a glass of wine. It is always lively but rarely too loud or crowded. Grape and Bean is a small intimate shop in the heart of Old Town. They have mid-week early specials around 4 pm.
Cheap: Jug and Table is in the heart of Adams Morgan. They have a wide menu of wines by the glass, or during happy hour they offer jugs of wine for $25. I am told they also have beer and cocktails, but really, I have a hard time believing anyone orders them when you can enjoy an entire jug of great wine for $25.
Pizza: Yes, a pizza happy hour! I love pizza and I love it even more when it can be combined with a happy hour (or brunch). For a great pizza happy hour, check out Ghibellina in Logan Circle. In between lunch and dinner they stay open and serve $10 pizzas along with discounted cocktails and wine. Their sangria is fabulous and not to be missed.
Large Group: Hawk and Dove on Capitol Hill is one of the most accommodating places in the city for a large group. They have a couple of different bar areas that you can reserve without a monstrous down payment or minimum charge. They have a wide bar menu at a reasonable price.
Eastern Market: I couldn’t decide to recommend Ambar for happy hour or save it for another list so don’t be surprised if you read about it again. Ambar has a fun rooftop terrace, great happy hour prices and a great menu of Balkan tapas.
Gallery Place: This area is filled with restaurants and bars. It is also an easy walk from the Mall after a full day of sightseeing. My go to selections for this neighborhood are Match Box (for any occasion), Jaleo (especially in the summer so I can sit outside and people watch while sipping on their Sangria) and Bar Louie which just has a fun vibe and great happy hour specials.
DuPont Circle: My favorite place here closed. I have been to several others but none worth recommending. Don’t worry, I will keep working on it and get you a recommendation before publishing part II! Although for an unusual experience you could try the Madhatter with their huge fishbowl green drinks or the Russia House which feels like you have stepped into movie.
Foggy Bottom: Finally, my last recommendation is the GCDC Grilled Cheese Bar. Because really, if you aren’t going to have pizza and drinks, then grilled cheese is the next best option!
Don’t worry, I haven’t stopped going to happy hour and hope to add several more places to this list before we move. In fact, I’ve already gotten started and while writing this post I sent some girlfriends an email to set up our next date. I take my job seriously and won’t let you down!