Nice beer/cocktail bar in DC?
February 10, 2019 8:43 AM   Subscribe

Can you recommend a nice bar in DC where I can get a seat on Friday around 10:30 PM? I am a cocktail/beer snob and would like to find somewhere relatively near Union Station where I can drink something fancy after my train gets in.

(If this sounds like your jam, let me know and I can coordinate a meetup! But I know it's sort of late.)
posted by ferret branca to Food & Drink (13 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
My info is a few years out of date but the immediate area around Union Station isn't great for fancy cocktails. You could take the tram down H Street and I'm a fan of Copycat Co for cocktails.

The DC speakeasy scene is where it's at. The Gibson or Left Door are speakeasies in the 14th Street area, a quick taxi ride or Metro ride away. Be sure to check the websites for speakeasies to find the unmarked doors. They also tend to have minor dress codes.

If you really need to stay close to Union Station, Thunder Grill is forgettable but meets your criteria. The Dubliner or Kelly's Irish Times are also near by. The Alibi is also good as far as a pub atmosphere.

All that said, it's totally hit or miss whether anywhere will be insufferably packed on a Friday. BUT the DC MeFites are awesome and I miss them dearly, so go post in IRL and I bet someone will be willing to help co-host. Enjoy!

Oh, should be loads of craft beer spots in the H Street area so someone more knowledgeable than me can help there.
posted by Skwirl at 9:13 AM on February 10, 2019

Response by poster: I should say, I don't need to stay super near to Union Station, just not like an hour away. Thanks, Skwirl!
posted by ferret branca at 9:21 AM on February 10, 2019

At The Riggsby I had the best Gibson ever. Ask the bartender what they are working on, and it will not disappoint.
posted by nickggully at 9:51 AM on February 10, 2019

Check out The Morris. A great cocktail spot near the convention center (not too far from Union Station). Its pretty chill and you can usually find a seat or two on Friday evenings.
posted by mhaw at 9:53 AM on February 10, 2019

Harold Black takes reservations.

I recently had a quite nice gin & tonic at Joselito's. The bar should have space at 10:30.
posted by schwinggg! at 9:55 AM on February 10, 2019

Churchkey is probably a better beer bar than almost anything in Bk.
Don't eat the food.
posted by JPD at 10:10 AM on February 10, 2019

Seconding Churchkey. Great taplist, but will be busy at that time on Friday. My favorite beer place in DC is Bier Baron, much more low key and an outstanding tap and bottle list, but farther away (it's in Dupont Circle). Don't eat the food at either place though.
posted by Lutoslawski at 11:03 AM on February 10, 2019

The Wunder Garten is very close to Union. You’re also just a hop to 7th St where there’s tons of bars. The Partisan, Denson, and Daikaya upstairs have great cocktails.
posted by inevitability at 11:10 AM on February 10, 2019

The Gibson is great, but on a Friday night at 10:30 I wouldn't count on getting in. Likewise Churchkey will be packed (and it's actually quite a ways from Union Station, with no great transportation options, and I actually can't stand that place or Logan's Circle in general on a Friday night. YMMV).

Given your time/day constraints you could take the Red Line down to Chinatown and hit barmini, which is one of the Jose Andres joints (local but slightly corporate). Chinatown is also obnoxious on a Friday night but in a sort of hilarious way, and I can second the Partisan, which is nearby.

For the less commercial and less pretentious but likely crowded, the Passenger and All Soul's are both great, no frills but solid bars in Shaw.
posted by aspersioncast at 11:19 AM on February 10, 2019

The Alibi is a great place to grab a drink and a bite in a great atmosphere. The serve delicious American and British bar food and their drinks collection is also excellent. Highly recommend.
posted by sewbee at 11:35 AM on February 10, 2019

Chinatown is also obnoxious on a Friday night but in a sort of hilarious way

Agree with this! It's also a little less trendy than other areas, which would make me, personally, more comfortable out for a cocktail by myself. Jaleo is another Jose Andres place near Chinatown, and specializes in fancy gin and tonics. You can also delve into sherries at Jaleo for something different.
posted by schwinggg! at 12:42 PM on February 10, 2019

Best answer: If you had to pick only one of beer or cocktails, which one would you pick?

For beer check out places from Neighborhood Restaurant Group and its beer director, Greg Engert. They're the people behind the Partisan and Churchkey, mentioned above, but also Bluejacket (near the Navy Yard, an easy Circulator ride from Union Station) and the Sovereign (Georgetown, a much longer ride on a different Circulator or probably a $16 Lyft or Uber). NRG as a broader organization doesn't seem to hold onto cocktail people as well as beer people. I used to go to the Partisan a lot when I knew everybody behind the bar, but that hasn't been true in a couple years. I wouldn't send people there for cocktails anymore, especially not on a Friday night when it will be packed with both post-work and pre-event crowds. Bier Baron is the resurrection of an older beer bar called the Brickskeller that once upon a time had the longest beer menu in the country. The unfortunate reality of that long menu was that they never had the first two things you tried to order, so one of the first things the new owners did was cut it down to the size they could actually keep in stock. I haven't been there in years, but the staff was always friendly, and lots of DC beer people still go, as evidenced by the recommendation above.

For cocktails, I guess it really depends on the vibe you want. I'm friends with the owner of the Passenger and Left Door so I always endorse them, but they're pretty different. The Passenger is pretty loud, low to no fuss, but the cocktails are usually excellent (although there's been a lot of staff change over the past year). Food is "bar food, elevated." Left Door, on the other hand, is quiet and can be fussy (but in an enjoyable way; low-key fussy is maybe the way to think of it). Food is limited to snacks. A couple blocks northeast of Left Door is Archipelago, an excellent tiki bar from a couple DC bar veterans. Food is Szechuan-influenced Americanized Chinese, basically. Archipelago is my usual pre-show bar when I'm seeing a concert at the 9:30 Club or the Black Cat. The previously mentioned Copycat has some great bartenders and, oddly, more dumplings, if you don't get your fill at Archipelago.

And no DC cocktail recommendation list would be complete without the Columbia Room (disclosure: I'm friends with basically everybody involved: Columbia Room founder Derek Brown is the brother of Passenger and Left Door owner Tom Brown, and I went to J.P. and Angie Fetherston's wedding). The Columbia Room has three distinct spaces, with an outdoor "punch garden" (it's semi-enclosed and heated, so it's not uncomfortable except in extreme cold), a "spirits library" with leather armchairs and cocktails a la carte, and an intimate "tasting room" where you book in advance for a seasonal menu. With the exception of the punch garden Columbia Room is fussy as hell, but the drinks are really creative and worth the fuss.

New and exciting: one of the DC area's early craft bartenders, Todd Thrasher (depending on how long you've been paying attention to cocktails you may have heard of PX) has a new tiki bar and rum distillery in the SW Waterfront area. I've heard good things so far, but I haven't been. Speaking of rum and closer to Union Station, you could also take the metro Red Line to NY Ave and walk from there to Cotton & Reed. It's a rum distillery with a tasting room where they serve cocktails. On a Friday it will be both very busy and very loud, but the drinks are always really good (more disclosure: the bearded bartender in the picture on their site is yet another friend of mine, but he's at like twelveteen bars now so I don't know if he'll be there on a Friday night or if it'll just be his menu).

You may also appreciate that in its original location the Passenger had Fernet-Branca on tap. When it reopened after losing its building to a construction project, Tom decided Fernet had been played out, so the new location has both green and yellow Chartreuse on tap instead. They usually have both varieties of VEP behind the bar.
posted by fedward at 12:55 PM on February 10, 2019 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I am at the bar at the Columbia Room, where they just managed to fit me in, and it is delightful! Thanks to all, especially fedward and his delightfully comprehensive answer (I absolutely love the Chartreuse detail).
posted by ferret branca at 7:58 PM on February 15, 2019 [1 favorite]

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