I Needs Me a Unicorn Bar (or three)
July 18, 2012 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Tell me about your DC Unicorn Bar. Or finding the Unicorns in a city in general.

I know that you have one, and I also know that you will share it with me because this is metafilter and we are all friends. All of us, all the time (!).

It is a magical place; one that is:
-An easy, breezy walk from the metro, preferably blue and/or yellow line.
-Rarely demanding a cover, and if it does it is for a mind blowingly awesome event that makes you a better person for having attended.
-Is full of a diverse assortment of interesting, beautiful hip people, but not so full as to be inaccessible on a Saturday evening. We don't want to be elbow to elbow up in the gin joint.

I find myself in the position to be hosting pre-event events a lot, and would like to have a few back pocket places to suggest as the event event locations. I'd also accept some schooling on finding these places from the wizened among you urbanites.

If the place allows reservations, I will maybe be in your debt forever.
posted by emilynoa to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Just to be very clear, are you calling it a unicorn bar because it's so hard to find one that meets your criteria, or because you want to pick up unicorns there?
posted by telegraph at 8:55 AM on July 18, 2012 [14 favorites]

In DC, any place remotely hip or trendy is going to be packed to the gills on a Saturday, unless you go early. You may have to compromise on the hip factor.
posted by yarly at 8:57 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yarly's right, your unicorn bar does not exist. On the weekends, bars in the Farragut and McPherson Square areas are more or less deserted but in my experience keep normal hours - you might have to compromise for one of those.
posted by downing street memo at 9:03 AM on July 18, 2012

@ telegraph: bar that meets my criteria. thanks for introducing me to that piece of slang!
posted by emilynoa at 9:07 AM on July 18, 2012

If you are adventurous, you could try Stan's on Vermont & L. The cocktails are not for the faint of heart. Diverse, but defintely not hipster.
posted by yarly at 9:15 AM on July 18, 2012

Cafe Asia could work. It's a restaurant, so they definitely take reservations.
posted by sandmanwv at 9:44 AM on July 18, 2012

There are some great places in DC, but they're really only guaranteed to be approachable on weeknights (and in some cases, such as the Passenger, only up to maybe Wednesday, really). You're going to have to pick between hip and accessible, I'm afraid. Unless you have an idiosyncratic definition of "hip."

Places that maybe would work: Dickson (small, but very nice ambiance, good food), Saloon (probably only for smaller groups on weekends, though, as they don't allow standing at the bar), Bier Baron (red line, not blue or yellow). I haven't been there on a weekend, but Looking Glass Lounge in Petworth might be far enough off the beaten path not to be an epic mess.

Your best bet might be to filter for "accepts reservations" on Yelp. I would think that would sufficiently narrow down your options that you wouldn't have to do too much sifting to find a few places to screen.
posted by EvaDestruction at 10:01 AM on July 18, 2012

Generally speaking, if it's close to a metro and it's a decent place, it's going to be packed on a Saturday.

2nd Passenger but also 2nd that it's crowded fairly often.

Other thoughts: Science Club, Red Derby, Raven (verrry divey, but fun), 18th Amendment basement. I feel like there have to be some options near Eastern Market/Barracks Row, but it's been a while since I've been down there.
posted by Flamingo at 10:47 AM on July 18, 2012

I like the Red Derby and the Raven. (My best friend lives in DC and there is nary a bar she hasn't been to.) There was one over near her Columbia Heights n'hood whose name escapes me but it was a place where if you ordered a bourbon & ginger, they give a small bottle of ginger ale. I liked it.
posted by Kitteh at 11:06 AM on July 18, 2012

Boundary Stone (Bloomingdale), Room 11 (Columbia Heights) and DC Reynolds (Park View) are all excellent.

Churchkey/Birch & Barley (I always forget which one is downstairs) accepts reservations.

Evening Star in Del Ray is a nice walk from the Braddock Road stop.
posted by troika at 11:31 AM on July 18, 2012

I'm giving you my list of favorites, because this is Metafilter, so we are friends, and that means you are most likely pretty cool and won't douche up any of my regular haunts.

For birthdays: The Columbia Room at The Passenger - small, reservations absolutely necessary, expensive, but so hip it will make your head spin and is super memorable and private club-ish. Never packed as the room only holds 12 people.

For Trivia: The Reef in Adams Morgan on Wednesday nights. Perfect trivia difficulty level, no cover, food is pretty dang good, first place team wins $100 off their bar tab, second place team wins $50. I once won 2nd place with a 3 person team after being in last place the entire time. It was the best moment of my life.

Asylum in Adams Morgan existed at one point in time, and it was wonderful...WONDERFUL, and probably as close to a unicorn as you could possibly get: never all that crowded - even on weekends, ragingly awesome dance on the bar and spray champagne everywhere/play in a ball pit/witness some nudity events every so often (SHORTS anyone?), clientele that would intimidate you with their utter hip/grunge/I don't give a fuck-ness, and a basement that looked like a dungeon. I still miss you dearly Asylum...RIP. Now it's a bbq joint called Smoke & Barrel. They're just aiight. *sigh*

My friend recommends El Centro. I've never been so I can't vouch, but the chick is totally particular and picky so I trust her. It's right next to Black Cat.

DC Reynolds has an awesome happy hour and is owned by the people who used to own the sorely missed TT Reynolds in Fairfax. I've never been there on a weekend. Don't know if gets packed. They have a back patio. I dig it, but nothing terribly memorable about this place.

If you dig beer, Meridian Pint has a good vibe. Good food upstairs, beer taps in the tables downstairs. Gets busy, but not terribly so.

OH...Haydee's in Mt. Pleasant. Check their event calendar and plan to go on one of the nights that TNT is going on (they usually play on Saturday nights, they'll be there next on July 28th) - think retro music DJ dance party. So much fun and never that crowded. People get all wild doing the twist among other things and it ends up looking like the staff party scene from Dirty Dancing. Did I mention there's no cover?? The decor is totally kitsch. Do it. Seriously. Just do it.

OH OH OH...Last Exit in Mt. Pleasant. It's attached to Tonic. It's below street level, and you can find it by the reddish/pinkish light they turn on when it's open. It's a speakeasy-esque type joint with lots of fancy cocktails at a much more reasonable price than Gibson. Bartenders are super chill. It's never busy. Lots of victorian looking couches and chairs to lounge on. My boyfriend recommends their version of the "horse's neck". I'll bet you could make reservations. Good for nights when you absolutely do not want to deal with a crowd in any way, shape, or form.

Finally, I spend a lot of time at Velvet Lounge. Crowds will vary based on what's going on. It's kinda hit or miss music-wise but I really dig the back patio. Nice place to hang out.

I'll pop back in if I think of anything else!
posted by Gonestarfishing at 11:45 AM on July 18, 2012 [6 favorites]

Trusty's and/or Wisdom near Potomac Avenue metro probably come close to meeting your criteria. Although maybe not the beautiful people part... This is DC the beautiful people are in high demand. A lot of bars on H st would also come close, but not near a metro.

I enjoy Poste in Chinatown, but not cheap and often crowded.

The Passenger at one time would have been your ideal bar, but those days are long gone and it's unbearable crowded.

Sixth Engine is pretty decent and hasn't been totally overrun yet.

Wonderland is an oldey, but goody. Although crowded at times and a little too divey for the beautiful people.

Gibson's on U Street meets a lot of your criteria, except often crowded.

Honestly very few bars that would meet any of criteria arent crowded on a Saturday night. The further you go afield the less crowded it gets generally.
posted by whoaali at 12:05 PM on July 18, 2012

Gonestarfishing's a great list, but only the Passenger and El Centro is within a 20 minute walk of a metro.
posted by sandmanwv at 12:13 PM on July 18, 2012

Gonestarfishing's a great list, but only the Passenger and El Centro is within a 20 minute walk of a metro.
posted by sandmanwv at 12:13 PM

Meridian Pint is like two blocks from the Columbia Heights stop. Velvet Lounge is a half-block from the U St stop, DC Reynolds is a pinch south of the Petworth stop.
posted by troika at 12:16 PM on July 18, 2012

Gonestarfishing is on the right track. Mt. Pleasant has some great contenders like Last Exit.

This doesn't fit all of your criteria, but I gotta list some of the most magical unicorny "wha-huh-howwww-wh-uh...? Did I just leave all of DC?!?" places I've seen.

Recessions, specifically on Spellbound night. (Farragut)
PX never fails to impress. (Alexandria)
Piratz (Silver Spring) Could be a back up if Quarry House or Jackies are crowded, too.
Artomatic (Crystal City) is up each year in late Spring and has beer.

In other news...
The Getaway (columbia heights) often seems chill but is kind of forgettable.
Acadiana hasn't been bad when I've been there on Fridays.
Sushi Aoi on NY Ave is good for smallish groups, good hh gimmicky cocktails.

I might plug Big Ideas Social Club as the Metafilterish group that explores many of these haunts.
posted by Skwirl at 12:17 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is kind of painful to share, but the Liasion hotel has a super cute rooftop/pool bar. Their pool is open to the public between 5 and 10 pm through Labor Day. No view, per se, it's in the businessy section near Union Station. The downstairs bar looks good, too.
posted by Skwirl at 1:05 PM on July 18, 2012

Gonestarfishing's a great list, but only the Passenger and El Centro is within a 20 minute walk of a metro.
posted by sandmanwv at 12:13 PM

Meridian Pint is like two blocks from the Columbia Heights stop. Velvet Lounge is a half-block from the U St stop, DC Reynolds is a pinch south of the Petworth stop.
posted by troika at 12:16 PM on July 18

Not to mention Haydee's/Last Exit are probably a 10 minute walk from the aforementioned Columbia Heights stop and anything in Adams Morgan is accessible by a 15 minute walk from the Woodley Park stop on the red line.

And let's be serious here. All bars mentioned are a 5 minute bus ride from a Metro stop, if walking from Metro is difficult/impractical.
posted by Gonestarfishing at 1:18 PM on July 18, 2012

seconding Looking Glass Lounge.

Also, love the Red Room at the Black Cat.

Dodge City on U St is good and I like American Ice Co. near there but it gets crowded.

shhhh don't tell anyone but Jimmy Valentine's Lonely Hearts Club on Bladensburg. The kind of place where people who work at other bars go. Usually a great sign.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:19 PM on July 18, 2012

Seconding Dodge City - boyfriend and I went on our first date there and made out on the porch in front of strangers. Whoops.

Jimmy Valentine's is really, really horrible. You should never go there. Ever. Seriously. I wouldn't lie to you. I found a dead bat in my drink once. It's true.


*kicks Ironmouth*
posted by Gonestarfishing at 1:35 PM on July 18, 2012

You might need to clarify what you're looking for (to drink) in your bar, too. Dickson and Room 11 are both good wine bars, but the latter is very small when the patio's not open; and I happen to like El Centro (especially the all-you-can brunch) but it calls itself a "tequileria" for a reason.

Also, how big a group are you organizing for? A lot of non-bar places with a bar are good choices too, but the bar at RedRocks Pizzeria (which has a great beer selection) has room for maybe 4 people, whereas the upstairs bar at Ulah Bistro (which is a weird case of a bar being nowhere near the entrance of a restaurant) is insanely long.

This is kind of painful to share, but the Liasion hotel has a super cute rooftop/pool bar.

DC has a small cadre of not-overcrowded hotel-rooftop bars, including at the Donovan House and Beacon Bar & Grill that are pretty nice, but the beer-on-tap to reasonable-price ratios are pretty low.
posted by psoas at 2:33 PM on July 18, 2012

Hi Psoas-- thanks for the question. We are probably looking at taking out 20-40 people, and this is mostly a low to medium priced wine and beer drinking crowd.
posted by emilynoa at 3:27 PM on July 18, 2012

I really don't think you're going to be able to find a hip, under the rader bar that has room for 20-40 people coming in from the suburbs on a Saturday night. However! Most of these places will probably be able to set aside room for a group of that size if you call a few weeks ahead. Call every one of these places mentioned here that catches your eye and ask about a private party. They'll probably throw in drink specials, too. If you're looking to mingle with people outside of your group...still call ahead. Speaking as former barstaff, that's a lot to contend with all at once!

Bar Pilar (14th & T) recently added a really nice upstairs area and they make fantastic Rickeys.
posted by troika at 3:52 PM on July 18, 2012

You will definitely need to call ahead to book the upstairs room or patio, but Local 16 should be able to do you a solid. It's about 10 minutes from the U Street metro stop.
posted by evoque at 6:38 PM on July 18, 2012

Try the Circle Bistro at Washington Circle Hotel, it's right up the block from the Foggy Bottom metro and has a decent wine selection and is usually not all that crowded plus they are used to dealing with groups.
posted by citron at 7:34 PM on July 18, 2012

40 people?!? Saturday night?!? This is a trap. 40 people riding a unicorn all at once are going to kill it. The bars you're looking for are in Virginia. Clarendon Ballroom could really use an infusion of young people at their bar, no joke.

You asked about the secret to finding a magical urban bar? The secret is the company you bring. Real estate is crazy expensive in the city. Size/atmosphere/affordability/menu: choose three.
posted by Skwirl at 8:31 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've hosted big groups (25-35 people) at Iron Horse in Chinatown twice on Saturday nights and it's been a great place for it. We couldn't make reservations, but just planned to meet downstairs in the basement. I got there with a couple friends around 10 and staked out a table or two, but the basement is big enough that unless there's some other event going on there that night, a group of 25-35 that are happy with a mix ofstanding, mingling, and sitting should be fine. They have a good, moderately priced (for DC) draft beer selection. They also have skeeball and shuffleboard, which are fun.
posted by hefeweizen at 8:25 AM on July 19, 2012

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