A Cocktail-Lover's Guide to DC

Advisor - Stephanie Dissette
Curated By

Stephanie Dissette

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a yellow and pink cocktail on a table at a bar with tropical potted plants
Curator’s statement

Most coming to visit the nation’s capital are drawn here for its history and government, but what many do not realize is DC also has a flourishing food and beverage industry that continues to win awards and draw new crowds. One notable example being the first cocktail competition reality show, Drink Masters, hosting two of DC’s finest cocktail bartenders, Kapri Robinson and the winner, Ultimate Drink Master, LP O’Brien! With international influences, a rich history in hospitality, and many happy hour networking events and business meetings, DC has cultivated a unique and thriving cocktail culture. What I offer here is an essential guide to exploring DC’s thriving cocktail scene, organized by a few of the most bar-rich neighborhoods to explore. It is by no means all-inclusive, but exemplifies the dedication and creativity that DC offers through its drinks!

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Where to stay in Washington DC

Eaton DC

A welcoming and inclusive cultural hub for kindred spirits, locals and travelers alike, to convene, collaborate and create within a contemporary space.

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  • $25 food / beverage credit.

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The LINE DC

DC residence-style accommodation designed to conjure the comforts of home, with wood floors, micro libraries and original art from local female artists.

Riggs Washington DC

A hotspot bar and colorful, creative interiors attract a cool crowd to this Penn Quarter addition.



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  • $100 food / beverage credit.

  • Breakfast daily.

  • Upgrade & extended check-in/out whenever possible.

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Things to do in Washington DC

A menu at a bar reads, "Jane Jane" with a pink cocktail, a whiskey on ice, and olives and other snacks beside it

While this list only begins to scratch the surface of all the great cocktail spots in DC, it definitely touches on the essentials. I’ve broken it down into three main neighborhoods, including the closest hotel(s) I would recommend to stay nearby. Many of the hotels offer top tier bar programs themselves!

Neighborhood: Downtown/Shaw/U-Street/Central DC

Staying in central DC would likely give you the best access to cocktails all over the city. If you like walking, you can get around this area with ten to twenty minute walks at most between locations. There are also always scooters and bikes around, and DC in general is a small town that is very easy to get around. And if you prefer not to walk or ride public transit, it is fairly affordable to get around via rideshare apps too. My recommended stays for this part of the city would either be Eaton DC or Riggs Washington DC. Eaton DC will feel a bit younger, and feature more artist spaces and community events, and the Riggs offers a modern but more traditional, upscale hotel stay. And even better, both feature highly celebrated and essential stops on your cocktail tour of the city!

Allegory

Eaton DC, 1201 K St NW #1, Washington, DC 20005

Hidden behind the library in the Eaton DC’s lobby, Allegory is a must for any cocktail-lover visiting DC. They are currently listed as a James Beard Semifinalist 2023 for Best Bar, and noted on Discovery’s 50 Best for a highlight in the city. A highly imaginative bar program, also inspired by the reimagined Ruby Bridges as Alice in Wonderland murals, this bar is a place to play and explore.

✔Food (Snacks/Apps)

✔Low & Zero Proof

✖Reservations

✔Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Monday-Thursday 5PM - 12AM; Friday-Saturday 5PM - 2AM.

Pro Tip: Look out for special classes and guest appearances. This bar brings some of the biggest names in bartending from all over the world! And don’t forget to check out the upstairs bar, Wild Days, better known for the views and guest DJs, but never a bad stop for a drink at the end of your night.

Silver Lyan

Riggs Washington DC, 900 F St NW, Washington, DC 20004

Found in the basement of Riggs Washington DC, Silver Lyan is the brainchild of the world-famous Mr Lyan. Definitely a unique and modern approach to cocktails, this bar is famous for its playful and lighthearted attitude, while still maintaining a top shelf quality.

✔Food (Snacks/Apps)

✔Low & Zero Proof

✔Reservations

✖Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Monday, Closed; Tuesday - Wednesday 5PM - 12AM; Thursday - Saturday 5PM - 1AM; Sunday 5PM - 11PM.

Pro Tip: Many of the bartenders/servers here are industry veterans and will always have great recommendations on hand for more bars/restaurants to hit! And Cafe Riggs is also not to be overlooked, maintaining the same quality in their drinks and service. If you need a place to wait to get in, this will be worth your while.

Morris American Bar

1020 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

This beautifully designed space feels almost like walking into a Wes Anderson movie. A solid place for classics and always offering their own twists, Morris American Bar is a lovely stop on your cocktail tour. And if the weather is nice, you can always ask for a seat on their patio instead!

✔Food (Snacks/Apps)

✔Low & Zero Proof

✔Reservations

✔Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Monday, Closed; Tuesday-Thursday 5PM - 1AM; Friday-Saturday 5PM-2AM, Sunday 5PM - 12AM

Pro Tip: Look out especially for themed Sundays - not every week, but often special music/cocktail/food specials.

Bar Amazonia

Causa, 2nd Floor, 920 Blagden Alley NW, Washington, DC 20001

One of the newest additions to the cocktail scene, Bar Amazonia opened up in Blagden Alley in the summer of 2022 as an indoor/outdoor rooftop paradise, right above one of the hottest new restaurants of the same owner/operators, Causa. Featuring rare Peruvian (and particularly amazonian) ingredients and the largest collection of pisco in North America, this bar is a must for any cocktail enthusiast coming through DC. Of the features on this list, Bar Amazonia is the ideal spot to come hungry to!

✔Food (Full Meal)

✔Low & Zero Proof

✔Reservations

✔Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Monday, Closed; Tuesday 5PM - 10PM, Wednesday-Thursday 5PM - 11PM, Friday 5PM - 12AM, Saturday 4PM-12AM, Sunday 4PM - 10PM

Pro Tip: If you need a digestive to follow the meal you are sure to have here, ask your bartender or server what unique option they might recommend. And Causa on the main floor is also a truly world-class restaurant by Chef Carlos Delgado. If you want to have a tasting menu experience, as well as cocktails embracing more of the coastal region of Peru, add a reservation here to your trip too!

Never Looked Better

130 Blagden Alley NW, Washington, DC 20001

More of an 80s-90s throwback, this cocktail bar is all about the party. With neon lights, similarly vibrant drinks, and music pumping, this bar doesn’t take itself too seriously while still pumping out solid cocktails.

✖Food

✖Low & Zero Proof (only a few beer and wine options)

✖Reservations

✔Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Monday-Thursday & Sunday 5PM - 1AM, Friday-Saturday 5PM-2AM
Walk-Ins Only, No Reservations (save event bookings)

Pro Tip: If you like this spot, you will likely also enjoy the first bar opened by the same ownership downtown, The Mirror, 1413 K St NW, Washington, DC 20005 - a basement speakeasy-style bar with hip hop, dim lighting, and classic cocktails.

Jane Jane

1705 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

Another picturesque space, Jane Jane, named after one of the owner’s mothers, is a classic cocktail bar influenced by tastes of the American South. For a bar located on 14th ST NW, in one of the busier shopping, bar and restaurant districts, they maintain a more boutique vibe and a true reprieve from the more commercial surroundings.

✔Food (Snacks/Apps)

✔Low & Zero Proof

✖Reservations

✔Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Monday-Wednesday 5PM-12AM, Thursday 5PM - 1AM, Friday 5PM-2AM, Saturday 2PM-2AM, Sunday 2PM - 12AM

Pro Tip: This bar is especially known as a queer space - also queer owned and operated. DC is an incredible town for queer community, and If that is something you want to pursue more while you are visiting, these folks would be great resources!

Service Bar

926-928 U St NW, Washington, DC 20001

A staple in DC since 2016, nominated for countless awards, and currently number 18th on North America’s 50 Best Bar list, Service Bar is an absolute must for any cocktail lover visiting DC. Named for the love of the industry and the work, the atmosphere celebrates embracing the party. And for a bar that has been so consistent over the years, it has also never stopped innovating with its cocktails. For those who have been to DC before, and perhaps even visited this bar, know that it always has something new and exciting to offer.

✔Food (Full Dinner, Only Snacks after 10PM)

✔Low & Zero Proof

✔Reservations

✔Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Monday, Closed; Tuesday-Thursday 5PM-2AM, Friday 5PM-3AM, Saturday 2PM-3AM, Sunday 4PM-2AM

Pro tip: Ask about the hidden back booth - especially ideal if you come with a group or make friends along the way. Always ask what the staff’s favorite shooter or shot is that day. If you are up for it, they usually have something fun to offer! And if you are a hospitality worker, or just up for late Sunday nights, the Sunday supper is always a great time - typically sponsored by a specific brand, offering a special drinks menu and a late night family meal of sorts.

Archipelago

1201 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009

Also a longstanding symbol in DC since 2016, Archipelago was the city’s first tropical themed bar program. It follows in the tradition of tiki cocktails, and always offers a festive “Sippin’ Santa” event in the holiday season. If you love the old-school tropical escape bars, this is exactly your spot. They also have one of the best rum collections in the city - making it a great place to learn more about rums from around the world.

✔Food (Full Dinner)

✖Low & Zero Proof

✖Reservations

✖Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Sunday-Tuesday, Closed, Wednesday-Thursday 4PM-10PM, Friday-Saturday 4PM-12AM

Pro tip: Ask about their special menu, featuring more classic, traditional tropical drink options. They will offer that and a full rum list, but only on request.

Neighborhood: Adams Morgan/Columbia Heights/Mount Pleasant

If you want to be deeper into a DC neighborhood, but still walkable to a lot, this area could be ideal for you. Especially once you get into Mount Pleasant, you can really feel like more of a local and less of a tourist. My recommended stay for this part of the city would be the LINE Hotel. Once a larger church, it has been converted into a bespoke, modern, and clean high end stay. Its main floor also features an all-day cafe/bar space called No Goodbyes with a solid cocktail program of its own.

The Green Zone

2226 18th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

Truly one of the most unique bars in the world, the Green Zone was a pop up bar for about four years before settling in its current location in 2018. They have also been nominated for many awards, been featured as a best in DC multiple times, and traveled as a pop up to multiple bars all over the world to share their special program. The Green Zone celebrates the Middle East, in food, flavors, specialty products, and with Middle Eastern influence on all the old school classics. Finding a lot of crossover with tropical drinks, you will also find a unique rum collection and a lot of tiki cocktail influence on its cocktail menu. This is another great option to come hungry to!

✔Food (Full Meal)

✔Low & Zero Proof

✔Reservations

✔Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Monday, Closed. Tuesday-Thursday 5PM - 2AM; Friday 5PM-3AM, Saturday 12PM - 3AM, Sunday 12PM-2AM

Pro Tip: Ask if there are any special events upstairs - sometimes pop ups, djs, etc., and come check them out for brunch Saturdays and Sundays.

Le Mont Royal

1815 Adams Mill Rd NW, Washington, DC 20009

Opened just this year, Le Mont Royal is quickly becoming a DC favorite. With a French-Canadian vibe, this place is always a party, but definitely a late-night hit. And if you need a palate-cleanser of some wine, this is a great spot for you! Can’t miss on the food either.

✔Food (Full Meal)

✔Low & Zero Proof (Beer mainly)

✖Reservations

✔Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Sunday-Monday 4PM-12AM, Tuesday, Closed, Wednesday-Thursday 4PM - 12AM, Friday-Saturday 4PM - 2AM

Pro Tip: As such a popular new place, this would be ideal for a non-weekend night, or for your first or last stop. Peak cocktail hours will likely lead to a wait.

Suns Cinema

3107 Mt Pleasant St NW, Washington, DC 20010

A bit of an odd choice for this particular guide, I couldn’t resist Suns Cinema’s bar program as a personal favorite in the area. While they mainly focus on prebatched drinks - a fair choice for the rush around movie showings - they are some of the best I have tried in this category, and the identity is clear: film influences and lots of amari. The space is small, but has a fun and playful aesthetic. In good weather, their outdoor patio is also really special.

✖Food (Save Popcorn)

✔Low & Zero Proof

✖Reservations

✔Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Monday, Closed, Sunday, Tuesday-Thursday 7PM - 12AM, Friday-Saturday 7PM - 2AM
Walk-Ins Only, No Reservations (save advanced movie sales)

Pro Tip: Include seeing a film as part of your night! Pre-purchase tickets, or hang out before a film you are interested in is due to start - sometimes they have no-shows and offer the seats to whomever is there and interested, ask at the bar).

OKPB

3165 Mt Pleasant St NW, Washington, DC 20010

This is admittedly my personal favorite, and for full disclosure, I also work here. That said, if you were to ask any cocktail bartender or aficionado in the city, they would also put OKPB on their list of best cocktail bars. Owned and operated by a small team of hospitality veterans, and carrying on the legacy of cocktail legend, Sasha Petraske, this is simply the ideal spot for your favorite classic cocktails. And while you might wait to get in, you will never be rushed out.

✖Food (Save Quality Bar Nuts)

✔Low & Zero Proof

✖Reservations

✔Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Sunday-Thursday 5PM - 12AM, Friday-Saturday 5PM - 2AM

Pro Tip: The bar is seated only and has only 25 seats total, so the room fills up fast. This is a great spot to either anticipate a wait - put your name on the list and plan to hang out in the neighborhood until you get the text offering you seats - or to plan on a quieter night. The Happy Hour from Monday-Friday is also one of the best deals in the city, so starting here any given night is always a great choice too. And ask about stickers and matchbooks if that is your thing!

Neighborhood: Union Market/H Street

For a totally different feel of the city, I recommend staying out nearer Union Market. It is a little more industrial, and a bit removed from the center of the city, but it definitely has its own identity and special elements to offer. My hotel recommendations for this area are Selina Union Market and The Morrow Washington DC, with Selina being a little more artsy and lower key and The Morrow definitely more high end and traditional. The Selina also has an up and coming cocktail bar found on its top floor. With gorgeous views, happy hour, and a new bar manager, I plan on making it a more regular cocktail stop on my own touring too. Stay tuned.

Cotton & Reed

1330 5th St NE, Washington, DC 20002

While most of DC’s distilleries feature cocktail programs, there has just always been something special about Cotton & Reed’s. One of the most awarded young rum distilleries in the US, this is a great example of incorporating local made products in your cocktail repertoire. With great tropical vibes in the summer - including some famous frozen drinks (thank you, AOC!) - they also have some of the best draft cocktails in the city, hot toddies in the cold weather, and still shake a good daiquiri! They have a standard menu but also offer special menus often, whether around a special event or just because their bar manager wants to! A large indoor/outdoor space, it’s also ideal for larger groups (including kids except for after 7PM weekend nights), bringing your dogs, and hosting a party.

✖Food (Outside Food allowed!)

✔Low & Zero Proof

✖Reservations

✔Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Monday-Thursday 4PM - 12AM, Friday 4PM-2AM, Saturday 12PM - 2AM, Sunday, 12PM-10PM

Pro Tip: To make the most of your visit, sign up for a distillery tour - only available on Saturdays - https://www.cottonandreed.com/tours - price includes the tour, a rum flight, and draft cocktail. The vibe here is also dramatically different depending on time of day and day of the week. If you want to avoid the party, come for a quieter visit in their earlier hours or on a weeknight.

Serenata

La Cosecha, 1280 4th St NE, Washington, DC 20002

Found inside La Cosecha Market, Serenata celebrates Latin American heritage through the stories and flavor journeys told through its cocktails. Run by another celebrated DC industry veteran, this program is essential to DC’s current cocktail footprint. Serenata often hosts special events/pop ups to support and show solidarity with the greater hospitality community. Ideally located in a larger open space, you can either sit at the bar and order a larger variety of their specialty drinks, or you can order ‘to go’ within the market and sit with your drink and enjoy any of the incredible food offerings nearby! When the weather allows, Serenata also has featured smaller concepts outside the market, including a Latin-influenced spritz bar last summer.

✖Food (but definitely in the market nearby)

✔Low & Zero Proof

✔Reservations

✖Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Monday-Wednesday 4PM - 10PM, Thursday-Friday 4PM-12AM, Saturday 11AM - 12AM, Sunday 11AM-10PM (based partially on market opening hours)

Pro Tip: Check their instagram and the events page for the market - for upcoming events to add to your visit. Turn part of your day into exploring both La Cosecha and Union Market area for great shops and food, knowing you have a great cocktail stop when you are ready for a break!

Copycat Co.

1110 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002

Another staple bar in DC, and one that truly embraces the speakeasy style, you will find Copycat Co. above a potsticker spot. It used to be that was the only food you could get too, but after opening a second location and working through the shutdowns of the pandemic, now they offer a full Northern Chinese influenced dinner menu. Still, they are the most intentional cocktail program on H Street, and have brought great cocktails to the masses there since 2014.

✔Food (Full Dinner)

✖Low & Zero Proof

✖Reservations

✔Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Monday-Tuesday, Closed, Wednesday-Thursday 5PM - 2AM; Friday-Saturday 5PM - 23AM, Sunday 2PM-2AM.

Pro Tip: They opened a second location that feels more restaurant focused, so if you like the food, check out Astoria - https://astoriadc.com/! The menus - food and cocktails are similar. I chose this place of the two as it is more bar focused - Astoria does not have bar seating - and it has more history in the city.

Le Clou

The Morrow, 222 M St NE, Washington, DC 20002

Within the Morrow Hotel, Le Clou is an up and coming star in the restaurant world, but beyond that it also hosts a beautiful classic and signature cocktail menu. I could include so many more restaurant bars in this list of cocktail spots, but I particularly had to for this one as it is also within one of my hotel recommendations. As a newer spot, I also know for a fact they are training their bartenders to appreciate and practice the craft of great cocktail bartending. A French-themed restaurant, many of the drinks offer similarly classic examples in the cocktail world.

✔Food (Full Meal)

✔Low & Zero Proof

✔Reservations

✖Gender-Neutral Bathrooms

Every Day 11AM - 2:30PM (lunch/brunch); Sunday-Thursday 5:30PM - 9:30PM (dinner), Friday 5:30PM-10:30PM (dinner), Saturday 5PM-10:30PM

Pro Tip: Ask the bartenders what they are working on now. I got to try a lovely El Capitan variation recently because I went off-book. Also, come hungry, even just for a cheese plate or dessert. And while the drinks are less exciting, the rooftop bar of the Morrow has unparalleled views and is definitely worth a visit.

Places to eat & drink in Washington DC

a menu book reads, "LE CLOU" with a martini sitting beside it on a marble bar

I think my cocktail guide more than touches on great spots for drinks, and often great eats too. There are so many more, and I am always happy to elaborate for anyone reaching out about a DC trip!

A few more tips:

  • Having a Chef’s Tasting Menu at Causa around drinks at Bar Amazonia - or even just having a full dinner at Amazonia.

  • Adding a Suns Cinema Movie to your Mount Pleasant visit

  • Spending a day/afternoon wandering around Union Market, visiting the shops and many food stalls or restaurants in the area, and stopping for cocktails at Serenata and Cotton & Reed in between.

  • Learning what bars and cocktails you loved the most, and visiting some of their sister locations, like Astoria and the Mirror.

Tips for ordering cocktails:

  • In DC almost every cocktail spot requires ID. Make sure the one you carry around is up to date and handy!

  • I always recommend trying at least one signature and one classic at each bar as a way of getting to know the style and quality of the place. If you are interested in ranking or comparing more directly, try to order the same classic at each place! I have typically mentioned what I would look into at each spot - e.g. more experimental vs. more classic - but always talk to your bartender or server too. Most cannot wait to engage with someone excited to explore the best they have to offer.

  • If you are not ordering a specific drink, or at least to help you break down a menu, have an idea of the style of drink or base spirit that you prefer - e.g. citrusy or spirit-forward, clear spirits or dark spirits. If you have food-related allergies, always make sure to mention.

  • Don’t be afraid of low ABV or even zero proof cocktails. Knowing yourself and your limits is key, and the cocktail world today embraces lower alcohol exploration without compromising on quality. Especially if you are traveling with a friend or partner that has a different tolerance than you do, it helps to ask your bartender or server if they have a favorite low-proof drink on their menu.

  • Notice that I did not give a recommended timeline for this trip. I encourage you to pace yourself and decide how many stops in one day/night are right for you.
    Snacking while you drink and consuming lots of water along the way is also highly recommended!

  • And for my planners in the crowd - DC is generally a very casual city. I recommend dressing in a way you feel comfortable and put together, but know that you typically don't need to dress up for these spots. Most are very casual.

Need to Know

For more travel tips, check out Fora Advisor Ali Hamdany's guide, Washington DC's Top Historical Gems: A Guide to Exploring the City's Rich Heritage.

Advisor - Stephanie Dissette

Travel Advisor

Stephanie Dissette

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This guide is part of our ongoing series on travel to Washington DC.