Despite its close proximity to New York City, the number of times I’ve been to Washington, D.C. is shockingly small. In fact, the last time I ventured out to our nation’s capital was back in 2014, when I barely knew the difference between dry and sweet vermouth.
Flash forward to July 2017: when an opportunity to visit D.C. for work presented itself, I jumped on it faster than Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt. OK, that’s hyperbole. But still, I couldn’t wait to explore D.C.’s food and drinks scene once again.
One undeniable truth you can hold to be self-evident? America’s capital has some terrific spots to imbibe. Here’s a round up of our favorite places to drink in Washington, D.C. right now.
OK, we’re pretty biased on this one: BarMini is, after all, the place where we originally fell in love with craft cocktails in 2014.
But what makes BarMini a cut above other cocktail bars is that it’s truly an immersive cocktail experience that stimulates all five senses. It’s only rivaled by the Aviary in Chicago in my mind in terms of innovative cocktail presentations and ingredients.
While cocktail flights are available (and I highly recommend doing that for your first time), we chose to go a la carte and let our spirit guide, Al, help us to divine what drinks we’d like best. (Shout out to Al: if you’re at BarMini, definitely ask for him; he’s at the top of his game.)
With Al’s help, we discovered cocktails like the Divine Wind ($18), featuring chrysanthemum shochu, orange liqueur, butterfly pea, lime, and citrus singani. Stay tuned for a future post entirely devoted to this magical cocktail lab. For now, suffice it to say that if you can only visit one spot for drinks in D.C., this should be it.
2. Espita Mezcaleria
I discovered Espita Mezcaleria through Instagram of all places (see, social media can be used for good). While perusing BarMini’s Instagram account, I was drawn to the photographs taken by Rey Lopez, the head photographer for Eater D.C. Through his account, I saw some stunning pictures of Espita Mezcaleria, so I thought, Hey, why not check out the joint for drinks and tacos?
Best. Decision. Ever.
My bartender, James, steered me toward drinks that fit my mood and spirit preferences. For example, I really enjoyed the “No Huevos Wey” ($13; pictured below). They use dried hibiscus leaves, a common ingredient in Mexican cuisine, to create the drink’s eye-catching reddish foam. The cocktail’s smoky and sweet flavors were complex, yet well balanced.
Espita’s “Conquistador” cocktail ($13) — James’s own creation — was pretty boozy, but it still blew me away. The spirit-foward drink contained El Buho mezcal, manzanilla sherry, salted honey and Italian vermouth. Drinking it was like witnessing a fiery flamenco dancer swirl her skirts by a roaring campfire.
One thing that can really make or break a bar is its ambiance. Espita Mezcaleria nails it with their incredible, vibrant murals by renowned Oaxacan street artist Yescka. Up front, you’ll see an active swarm of butterflies; in the back, you’ll find a punk version of Frida Kahlo.
From the cocktails to the art, from the mouthwatering tacos to the mezcal flights, you can’t go wrong with a stop at Espita.
3. Columbia Room
Columbia Room has a stellar reputation, and deservedly so. The craft cocktail bar, located in D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood, was named Best American Cocktail Bar at the 2017 Spirited Awards (the equivalent of the cocktail industry’s Oscars).
Columbia Room is comprised of three areas. The Spirits Library and Punch Garden are open seating, although there is limited seating available. If you’re a real fancypants, you should opt for the Tasting Room, where you can get cocktail and food pairings; tickets are available here.
Being outdoors, the Punch Garden was a relaxing, leafy venue for our summer evening drinks. Particular standouts here included the “Schooner Rather Than Later” cocktail ($15; Japanese whisky, lime, gunpowder tea, cane sugar, green chartreuse, and sea foam), and the “Parisian Sazerac No. 2” ($15; rye, hors d’age armagnac, green chartreuse, roasted star anise, Peychaud’s and angostura bitters).
4. Old Ebbitt Grill
History lovers, make sure to grab a drink or two at Old Ebbitt Grill. Open since 1856, it holds the distinction of being Washington’s oldest saloon.
Admittedly, the drinks here are basic classics; I had a Bourbon Rickey ($11.99; bourbon, brown sugar simple syrup, lime, and club soda). With the bar’s popularity and high volume of patrons, it’s more about getting the drink out to the consumer as opposed to creating a whimsical drink with eight ingredients. Even so, there’s something unquestionably cool about bellying up to a bar where Presidents Ulysses S. Grant and Theodore Roosevelt supposedly drank.
5. Round Robin Bar
If you’re history nerds like we are, the Round Robin Bar should be a required stop on your D.C. itinerary.
We learned about the Round Robin Bar, which is located at the Willard InterContinental D.C., from some locals at Old Ebbitt Grill. It’s been open since 1847 and has been a key meeting spot for presidents and the political elite since the time of Abraham Lincoln.
One foot inside and you’ll feel the place just oozing with elegance. With its circular bar, portraits of historical figures, and wooden panels, it’s no wonder that Kentucky senator Henry Clay chose to introduce D.C. denizens to the mint julep here. In fact, said mint julep has become the Round Robin’s signature drink, so of course we had to order it! It didn’t disappoint.
Round Robin also hosts History Happy Hours (!!) every third Thursday of the month. October 2017 will feature the “Spirits of Washington,” so you’ll get your fill of ghosts and cocktails. Sounds like the perfect blend of my interests!
6. POV Rooftop Bar at the W
When I asked locals and bartenders where the best spot in town was to grab drinks with a view, they all steered me toward POV Rooftop Bar at the W Hotel.
Based on the bartender’s recommendation, I ordered the “Sage Art” cocktail ($17), which featured Beefeater gin, pear juice, sage-infused honey, and lemon. The citrus and pear were refreshing flavors for summer.
But let’s be honest: you’re paying for the view here, really, not the drinks. And so, armed with my cocktail, I proceeded to attempt to take a picture of my drink with the White House in the background.
About .99 milliseconds after I snapped this picture, security rushed over and asked why I was taking photos. I had to convince them that yes, I’m just a travel blogger, not a secret Brooklyn spy out to take classified photos. No joke. So make sure to be conscious of photography rules here — I’ll certainly know the rules for my next visit!
In any event, I can see why this spot is a place to see and be seen. The panoramic rooftop view, smartly dressed ladies and gents, and sharp bartenders exuded trendiness. Although I stopped by during the afternoon, I can only imagine how packed this spot gets at night! Be sure to dress to impress here, and you’ll have a great time.
7. Barcelona Wine Bar
When a friend suggested that we meet at Barcelona Wine Bar in Logan Circle for drinks, I couldn’t shake the feeling of déjà vu.
Turns out that, while I hadn’t been to this wine bar before, I had been to one in Boston. Barcelona Wine Bars are in six different states, plus D.C., so I wasn’t losing my mind.
In addition to Barcelona’s extensive wine list (our summer visit practically demanded that we order rosé, so we did), you can order tapas, charcuterie and cheese plates, or dishes to share. While the spot is ideal for date night, we saw quite a few groups of friends noshing on blistered shishito peppers and bacon-wrapped dates on the patio too. Salud!
Did you like this post? Pin it! ↓↓
All costs were paid by me, and all opinions are my own. Not even a perfectly made cocktail can change that.
Also, some of the above are affiliate links and I will earn a tiny percentage of the sale if you purchase through them at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting It’s Five O’Clock Here!