Washington, DC, is positively busting with bars and pubs. There are so many from which to choose, in fact, that it can be difficult to weed through the masses. The following establishments are close enough to the usual sightseeing haunts to be accessible for visitors, but are far enough away not to be overrun by tourists. Try one out the next time you’re in town for a more-authentic DC experience!
1. L’Enfant Café
2000 18th St NW; Red Line, Dupont Circle
If the metal replica of the Eiffel Tower on its roof doesn’t lure you in, L’Enfant Café’s quaint outdoor seating will. The French-style bistro owns prime real estate on the corner of Florida and 18th, and underneath its patio umbrellas is the perfect place to watch DC’s comings and goings. The menu offers a range of both Provençal and northern fare; however, those who abstain from animal products will not find much beyond pommes frites. Perhaps more appealing are the beer selection—which includes mostly European ales—and wine list—which draws heavily from France. Prices are fairly standard for the area and certainly more reasonable than Paris.
2. Fox and Hounds
1537 17th St NW; Red Line, Dupont Circle
This dive-y bar fills up quickly on weekday afternoons as DC’s federal workforce swarms to its doors. Get there early enough, though, and you’ll be able to take advantage of the unbeatable happy hour discounts: For four bucks, the bartender will fill a water glass with rail alcohol of your choosing and hand you a small, glass bottle of your mixer. You control the potency; you control your hangover. The grub is good, too, with next-door restaurant Trio supplying the food. Sit outside and watch the people, or stay inside to watch the game. Either way, just be sure to take it easy on those mixed drinks – they sneak up fast!
3. Russia House
1800 Connecticut Ave NW; Red Line, Dupont Circle
All manner of Russian stereotypes can be found within this elegant townhouse just down the block from the Dupont Hilton. There’s the moody lounge itself: lushly appointed with dark wood and red fabric, heavy drapes blocking out the sunlight. There’s the food: the menu boasting borsch, blinis, and $100+ caviar (vegans will be completely left in the dust). And then there’s the vodka. The vodka listing is its own booklet, including every possible type of the clear alcohol. Try potato vodka from Poland or wheat vodka from Ukraine. Feel better about yourself with an organic or gluten-free sample, or splurge on an unusual flavor like Rye Bread, Chipotle, or Salted Caramel. If straight vodka’s not your thing, you can also have any vodka made into a mixed drink. Regular prices are on the high side (shots averaging about $10 a pop), so shoot for happy hour to save yourself a few bucks.
1800 M St NW; Red Line, Farragut North
Vapiano is a German chain, and its M Street location is surrounded by office buildings and parking garages. Despite this, it is one of the best places to eat and drink in northwest DC. Upon entering, each customer is handed a meal card with which to ring up food and drinks during the evening. (At the end of the meal, simply hand back the card at the cash register and pay—as everyone will have his or her own card, there are no separate checks and no pesky tasks like splitting up the bill.) To the right, sleek counters and chalk menus tempt customers with soul food, Italian-style: antipasti, hearty pizzas, and fresh pasta. Everything is made to order, and the innumerous possible ingredient combinations mean everyone will find something to enjoy. The lounge offers a wide selection of wines and spirits and a few happy hour deals. There is ample seating inside and out; that said, it is a favorite among the suit-clad Washingtonians who work in this area and it is best to get there early.
5. Cleveland Park Bar and Grill
3421 Connecticut Ave NW; Red Line, Cleveland Park
At first blush, Cleveland Park Bar and Grill appears to be nothing more than a large sports bar, its walls lined with television screens broadcasting numerous games. That’s because the real action is on the roof: Head through the bar to the fairly hidden staircase at its back. Once you climb to the top, you’ll enjoy great views and a more-relaxed crowd while still partaking in a wide range of beers at reasonable prices. The menu isn’t terribly extensive, but the restricted eater should be able to find one or two options. And, like most DC places, there is a happy hour, although those looking for discounted imports will be disappointed. Get there as early as you can to secure a seat, and then sip on your drink as you watch night fall on the city.
What’s your favorite DC drinkery?