Hill Prince: The Best Bar in DC Right Now.

Hill Prince

Hill Prince, website, Facebook, Instagram, 1337 H St. NE, opens at 5p (weekdays), noon (weekends), HH until 7p everyday, closed Mondays, est. March 2017 [Washington Post, Washington City Paper, Washingtonian, Eater DC]

Hill Prince is the best bar in DC right now. I’ve been to the newish H Street spot (opened back in March) at least 10 times since it opened (I’m not a regular anywhere-gotta perform research, ya know?). Although it exudes cool and charm, Hill Prince also feels like a neighborhood bar thanks in part to the much-ballyhooed budget-friendly (and excellent) $10 classic cocktails but also largely due to friendly service from folks like Tony Lawson (ever-present beverage director), Eve (who hosts recurring “Friday Eve” parties on select Thursdays)-even the door person/bouncer greets you warmly. The crowd, unlike many of the other spots on the 1300 block of H Street, skews a little bit older, and it often feels like an oasis of chill when it gets “lit” (as the kids say) on the Atlas Corridor weekend nights. Crowds do come at times on weekends, but there’s more an ebb and flow that adds positively to the vibe.

The cocktail menu varies a bit, but expect around six classic cocktails (awesome Daiquiri, French 75, Sidecar, Old Fashioned, Sazerac, Negroni, and New York Sour have been on the menu) and a few more specials ($12 or $14). Around 4 rotating beers are on tap (beers from local breweries like RAR are often available, Narragansett Lager was on tap for much of the summer), along with around 10-12 bottles/cans (you’ll see $4 High Life or Natty Boh often being drunk). There’s a choice of wines as well.  Whistle Pig seems to be often highlighted as the fancy whiskey of choice. Recently, Hill Prince just kicked off a great happy hour, going everyday until 7p – many drinks are roughly $3 off.

Space-wise, it’s bigger than you think , and there’s a lot of pine flooring, exposed brick/wooden ceiling, and even a floor-to-ceiling wooden beam or two. The front section of Hill Prince is occupied by the long main bar as well as a table with a few chairs. Stairs, off-limits to patrons, are kind of mysterious (I’ve heard that some dude lives up there, unaffiliated with the bar). The next room has a long-ass drink rail, which is a nice perch if you can’t catch a spot on the nearby couch or at the bar. Currently, a DJ sets up shop there starting at 10p on Fridays and Saturdays (don’t worry, it doesn’t turn into a dance club). Back further is a small covered patio that overlooks a super-chill hipstery courtyard (strung lights, sandy surface, tables); in warm times, a mini-bar with separate menu (think a couple canned beers an $9 G&T and Dark & Stormy) has been open weekend nights. In the carriage house on the other side of the courtyard is an under-construction bar (possibly 30 seats and a more permanent DJ set-up); owner Nick Wiseman tells me that it’s on track to open in early 2018.

Hill Prince comes from Nick and his cousin David Wiseman, the folks behind the upscale Jewish deli DGS Delicatessen in Dupont and Whaley’s in Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront (in fact, I’ve hung out with staff from both spots on multiple occasions at Hill Prince). The bar has a fairly subtle equestrian theme (other than the fake stuffed horse head), as Hill Prince is the name of the horse that won the 1950 Preakness and the building used to house horse stables. Not surprisingly, the bar hosted watch parties for the horse racing Triple Crown series in May-June (I met DC bar extraordinaire Derek Brown there watching the Belmont). During the summer, crab boils were held on select weekends, and recently the bar started serving waffle brunches on weekends (noon-4p).

In full disclosure, one reason I extoll the virtues of Hill Prince to all who I encounter is that it’s less than a twenty-minute walk from my house, but I legit would love this bar even if it was in Park View. Go.

Bar at Hill Prince
Back Room at Hill Prince
View of Bar from back room
Bar at Hill Prince
Hill Prince is named after the 1950 winner of the Preakness
Hipstery Courtyard
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Bar Charley

The bar at Bar Charley
The bar at Bar Charley

Bar CharleyFacebookTwitter,  1825 18th St. NW (at Swann/T), opens at 4p on weekdays, 10a on weekends, closes at 11p Sun-Thu, midnight Fri-Sat, HH 4-6:30p M-F, est. 2013 [Post (Sietsma), Post (Hahn), InTheCapital, PoPville, Forking DC, EaterYelp]

A welcome respite from the circus that is the nearby Lauriol Plaza, Bar Charley is one of my favorite places to grab a cocktail in DC. This new spot in the north part of Dupont, from the folks behind the popular Silver Spring establishment Jackie’s and El Chucho in Colombia Heights, is well worth a visit, whether you’re a neighbor or come from afar.

The dining area at Bar Charley
The dining area

The space, previously home to the short-lived Cajun Experience, is a few steps down from street-level but feels comfortable and neighorhoody without being divey. Although there are no TVs, a rarity for DC bars that I like to frequent, the absence contributes positively to the pleasant and casual, yet upscale vibe. To the left of the entrance is the establishment’s cozy bar area where folks can grab a stool or stand up while ordering from one of two bartenders, who often come out from behind the 10-seat bar to take orders and serve drinks. You can usually find me posting up on one of the 5 stools next to the bay window opposite the bar; this is a good spot to have a group consisting of both people who like to stand (me) and those who prefer sitting (most people). The rest of Bar Charley is made up of the main dining area to the right of the entrance: comfortable seating along one of the exposed brick walls; a communal table in the center of the room; and a large, semi-secluded booth in front of another bay window. In warmer months, visitors can enjoy food and drinks out on the back patio.

Back patio at Bar Charley
Back patio

The stars of the show are the cocktails created by co-owner Gordon Banks. The menu includes the quite economical (for DC standards) classic cocktails ($8 for a Sazerac, Jack Rose, Monk Buck, and fantastic Old Fashioned), on-tap Tiki drinks ($7 for a Mai Tai and Suffering Bastard served in tiki-themed ceramic cups), and more standard-priced creative concoctions (such as the Quack-Quack-erac, made with a duck fat wash and the Stepdad which involves a blowtorch). While the pretty solid wine list, both by the bottle and glass, serves as an ample co-star, the beer list, despite nary a macrobrew, is at best a fledgling starlet. Three drafts don’t rotate as often as I would like and many of the bottles on list are $15-25 large format bottles.

Tiki drinks at Bar Charley
Tiki drinks

Although it has only been open since September, Bar Charley has quickly generated a tremendous amount of buzz (both positive and negative). The spot has already appeared in the Post FOUR times (including critiques by bar guru Fritz Hahn and dining expert Tom Sietsma), and Bar Charley’s request to be open normal DC bar hours (2a weekdays, 3a weekends), has quickly become a source of controversy in its hood, as previously documented by this blog here. Many neighbors vehemently oppose the hours extension, though I personally know several proponents of it.

One of the fancier cocktails
One of the fancier cocktails

Since later hours of operation have not yet been approved, when you stop by for a drink (which you must do), make sure you go on the early side, as Bar Charley closes at 11p sharp weekdays and midnight Friday and Saturday nights.

Barred in DC Rating: 4.5/5

View of the bar with dining room in background
View of the bar with dining room in background
The dining room at Bar Charley
another view of Bar Charley dining area
Bartender making an excellent cocktail at Bar Charley
Bartender making an excellent cocktail at Bar Charley
Bar Charley from 18th Street
Bar Charley from 18th Street

Jack Rose Dining Saloon

Jack Rose

Jack Rose Dining Saloon, website, Facebook, Twitter, 2007 18th St. NW, opens at 5p everyday, HH 5-7:30p M-F, est. 2011 [Yelp, WaPo, Washington City Paper, Washingtonian]

Jack Rose, located at the far southern end of Adams Morgan at its border with Dupont and U Street, is my favorite non-dive bar in DC. With frequent events at any of its 5 bars spread over 3 floors, the whiskey-and-beer-centric bar from Bill Thomas (owner of both locations of Bourbon) is a great place to drink all week long.

2nd Floor Open-Air Terrace With Roof Closed
2nd Floor Open-Air Terrace With Roof Closed

My visits to Jack Rose are usually spent at its second-floor Open-Air Terrace bar, reached by the stairwell that greets visitors at the front entrance (the folks who make up the fast-moving line that often forms on weekends are typically waiting to go up here). This expansive rooftop space, carved out of the second floor of a former boxing gym, can be enjoyed all year long; the long bar that occupies one side of the space is covered by a permanent roof, while the other half, with high-top tables, can be covered by removable glass panels when it rains or the temperature goes down.  The wall to the north provides a great view of 18th Street and the rest of the Adams Morgan neighborhood (sometimes clear plastic panels are hung to protect folks from wind and cold) .  A host of craft beers (mostly $7-8) and cocktails can be ordered from the friendly and knowledgeable bartenders, who do a great job of taking orders even when the place gets crowded, as it often does on weekend nights from 10p-1a. The crowd upstairs skews slightly younger than the rest of Jack Rose; but the lack of cheap beer (often only 1 light beer available) and other typical 18th Street specialties (I overheard a bro and his young lady friend lamenting the lack of Red Bull on a recent visit) means that this bar isn’t overrun with 22 year olds like the rest of the hood further north. Tasty bites cooked on the wood-fired grill upstairs can be ordered earlier in the evening if hungry.

Second Floor Open-Air Roof Terrace Bar
Second Floor Open-Air Roof Terrace Bar

Two more smaller bars also make up the second floor. To the front sits the enclosed Balcony Room, which contains a wood-burning fireplace, its own bar and outdoor veranda overlooking 18th Street, and often serves as the location for private events; while in the back, past the restrooms, is the cozier open-air seasonal Tiki Bar (at least during late summer/early fall 2013), with décor and drinks to match, along with an unique view to the east and south .

Seasonal 2nd Floor Back Tiki Bar
Seasonal 2nd Floor Back Tiki Bar

The more sedate Dining Room on the first floor is impressive for the shelves and shelves of booze (mostly bourbon and other types of whiskey) that line its walls, evoking the coolest library ever. Many of the reported 1,600 different kinds (“the largest publicly available collection of whiskey in North America” according to one report) of whiskey that Jack Rose possesses are on these shelves.  Because it’s more relaxed than upstairs, this is a better place to sample some of the amazing spirits on offer. A dining area makes up two-thirds of the room, separated by a railing/partition from the long bar makes up the rest; I could do without this partition, which forces patrons at the bar to squeeze into a smaller space when crowded.

First Floor Dining Room and Walls of Liquor
First Floor Dining Room and Walls of Liquor

Those looking for an even more intimate whiskey experience should check out the recently opened Whiskey Cellar, reached by going down the stairs at the back of the Dining Room. This cozy basement space is only open Thursday-Saturday evenings, but is quickly becoming a favorite spot to sample whiskey (bourbon on tap is offered) and spend time in an even more relaxed environment.

Basement Whiskey Cellar
Basement Whiskey Cellar
Whiskeys on Tap in Whiskey Cellar
Whiskeys on Tap in Whiskey Cellar

If you visit, you’ll frequently spot an older gentleman who looks like Father Christmas with a long hair and beard; this June 2011 Washingtonian profile on this man, Harvey Fry, who supplied around 1/3 of the whiskeys for the bar, is well worth the read. Also, Jack Rose makes great use of social media to advertise its many events; I’m an especially fan of the colorful, informative posters it produces to provide event details.

Although the place (especially upstairs) can get crowded, the lines that often form on weekends are an annoyance, and (most selfishly) it opened up right after I lived less than a football field away (you can spot my house’s old rooftop from the Balcony Room), Jack Rose is well worth a visit.

Barred in DC Rating: 4.5/5

Young lady doing push-ups randomly at Jack Rose's St. Patrick's Day Celebration
Young lady doing push-ups randomly at Jack Rose’s St. Patrick’s Day Celebration

DNV Rooftop Lounge

DNV Rooftop Lounge, website, Facebook, Twitter, 1155 14th St. NW (on Thomas Circle near M St. NW), opens at 5p (weekdays) 7p (weekends) closes at 1a, est. 2008 (renovated 2013) [Yelp, WaPo, Thrillist]

View overlooking DC
View overlooking DC

High atop the Donovan House, a Kimpton Hotels property located on Thomas Circle and 14th Street (in somewhat of a no-man’s land between downtown and the Logan Circle/14th Street neighborhood), is the DNV Rooftop Lounge.  This newly renovated and renamed spot (DNV evokes the name of the hotel, but also is said to stand for “Damn Nice View”) surrounds a pool (though you can’t swim while the bar is open) and is located 14 floors above the city with a sweeping 180-degree view of DC to the north.

The bar at the beginning of happy hour
The bar at the beginning of happy hour

Although you wonder where the $300,000 that reportedly cost the hotel to renovate the space went, DNV lives up to its billing as one of the best rooftops to get a drink in the city. Featured at the main bar (there is a smaller satellite bar near the pool) is a refreshing Pimm’s Cup on tap, pricey “towers” filled with cocktails for a group to share, and two frozen drink machines.

Seating between pool and main bar
Seating between pool and main bar

Go for the weekday happy hour, which runs from 5-7p. The draft Sapporo beer is $5, all the wines are $7, and select cocktails are around $6 (half-off the mostly $12 cocktails).  At a recent happy hour on a beautiful mid-80s summer day, the HH cocktails were the Pimm’s Cup, both sangrias (get the White Rabbit Sangria, with chardonnay, acai berry vodka, pineapple, orange), and a frozen drink made by the bartenders.  The latter-although the concoction wasn’t ready until half-way through the happy hour- it was well worth the wait and rivaled Estadio’s slushitos for the best frozen drink in the city.

The pool + satellite bar + more seating
The pool + satellite bar + more seating
One of DNV's terrific frozen drinks
One of DNV’s terrific frozen drinks

To get a seat at the bar or around the pool during happy hour, make sure you get there by 5:30; otherwise the place gets a bit crowded.  If you get there before the bar opens, the downstairs Zentan restaurant (which supplies the Asian-influenced food upstairs) has a happy hour with decent food specials from 3-7p.

Barred in DC Rating: 4/5

GBD

GBD, website, Facebook, Twitter, 1323 Connecticut Ave. NW (just southeast of Dupont Circle), opens at 8a (weekdays) 10a (weekends) closed 2-4:30p everyday, no dinner Mon., HH 4:30-7 Tue-Sat., 9p-close Sun., est. 2013 [Yelp, WaPo, Washington City Paper]

Fried chicken, doughnuts, and beer are three things that are stellar on their own. Still, one place dares to put them all together—GBD (Golden Brown Delicious).  This new Dupont Circle joint, from the same folks who brought you the uber-popular Churchkey and Birch & Barley, is located in sliver of a storefront previously (ironically) occupied by Yola, the yogurt parfait + coffee shop (operated by a young, idealistic fellow UVa alum, as chronicled in this illuminating Washington City Paper story in Oct 2012). GBD mostly lives up to its hype as a welcome change from the meat markets that make up Dupont/Midtown—though the anticipated throngs have not yet materialized.

GBD's cool sign
GBD’s cool sign

Open nearly all day and night (save for mid-afternoon and Monday nights), GBD offers great doughnuts all day, solid-but-not-great fried chicken (at its best, it is still underseasoned), the best biscuit (crème fraiche) in the city, a variety of beers (helpfully organized as fried chicken or doughnut beers), and tasty punches (a recent visit found bourbon, gin, and vodka punches) in a low-key environment that inspires one to just chill and let the Luther-induced food coma slowly take you over (in case you don’t know, the Luther is a sandwich made up of a donut sliced in half with a piece of fried chicken and bacon in between; it’s delicious and heart attack-y as it sounds).

Bar & Front area at GBD
Bar & Front area at GBD

GBD contains two rooms: the front area includes bar stools by the front bay window (good for people watching) and the only bar; the back contains tables and a few booths. Most crowded during the great happy hour ($3-5 beers & punches from 4:30-7p Tues-Sat., along with an industry happy hour after 9p on Sun.), GBD has sadly been relatively empty the times I’ve stopped by after midnight on the weekends (10-15 people in the entire place). No one likes a crowded bar, but more patrons would definitely add a needed jolt of energy late night and keep this place sustainable long-term. A well-advertised late night happy hour (drinks and/or food) may be a good idea. Still, GBD is a solid place to get good eats and beers in a more Metro-accessible location.

Barred in DC Rating: 4/5

Fried chicken and the awesome GBD biscuit
Fried chicken and the awesome GBD biscuit

The Big Hunt

The Big Hunt, website, FacebookTwitter, 1345 Connecticut Ave. NW (b/t Dupont Circle & N St, near 18th and N), opens at 4p (weekdays) 5p (weekends), HH 4-7p weekdays, est. 1992 [Yelp, WaPo, Beeradvocate, Tripadvisor]

The Big Hunt
The Big Hunt

Perhaps the most polarizing bar in all of the District, the Big Hunt (one of prolific-bar owner Joe Englert’s first bars, it opened in 1992) evokes strong reactions from everyone who have had the fortune (or misfortune) of frequenting this establishment.  To wit: this is probably my favorite bar in DC. My girlfriend, on the other hand, refuses to step foot in this establishment any more, despite being about a third a mile from our home (this opinion is shared by many of my friends).

Decor at Big Hunt
Decor at Big Hunt

I think it’s a great dive bar with one of the best beer lists in the city, friendly bartenders, a neighborhood feel on weekdays, 15-cent wing night on Tuesdays, and a somewhat-hidden-secret of a back patio deck.  Others feel that the décor is sketchy/weird as hell, too divey/dusty, too much wood-paneling and taxidermy and weird-safari themes, too meat markety-young on weekends, and even the name is problematic (the unfortunate obituary typo involving Larry David’s beloved aunt in Curb Your Enthusiasm comes to mind). I concede that some of these are true, but I think they are much  outweighed by the positives of the Hunt.

Main first floor bar at The Big Hunt

You first walk into this bar, which is located on the east side of Connecticut Ave. on the block just south of the actual Dupont Circle, using the right door under the circus-like entrance awning.  Although I’ve been to the Hunt countless times, I finally realized on a recent weekend visit how big this bar really is.  There are 4 different bars to order drinks from and about 8 different seating areas, though oftentimes on weekdays only one bar is open, and the rest of the establishment is off-limits.

Second room first floor bar at The Big Hunt
Second room first floor bar at The Big Hunt

After you enter, there is a table or two just off the front window and a fairly long bar on the left; low-slung red booths line the right side of the bar.  More tables are in a back area that feels somewhat separate.Just beyond the bar there is an entryway to the other side of the first floor of Big Hunt. Here, another bar basically mirrors the first bar, and more tables, a couple of booths, and a similar back seating area comprise the rest of the room.

Basement bar at Big Hunt
Basement bar at Big Hunt

Down the stairs leads to a basement bar that I seriously did not know was actually still open until recently as I hadn’t been down there in probably 5-6 years; lots of red, a vaguely devilish theme along with a stage for recent burlesque and comedy make up this space.

Upstairs at Big Hunt - Skee ball tables
Upstairs at Big Hunt – Skee ball tables

Head back to the first floor, where you can take two separate sets of stairs (one on each half of the bar) that lead you to the second floor.  One room contains a couple skee ball machines and seating, while the other room contains a very small bar along with barstools and railings to put your drink.

Upstairs bar at Big Hunt
Upstairs bar at Big Hunt

Behind the 2nd floor bar, a door and a few steps lead you to the hidden gem of the Big Hunt: a nice, secluded patio deck that fits maybe 25 people that is open during nice weather; even haters find it hard to dislike this aspect of Big Hunt.  The view isn’t spectacular but better than one would expect for a second floor patio deck surrounded by office buildings (feels like a courtyard).  Often there is a server who takes drink/food orders, and if not, the 2nd floor bar is just a few feet away.

Back patio deck at The Big Hunt
Back patio deck at The Big Hunt

As mentioned earlier, the drink du jour everyday here is beer, and be sure to try wide variety of beers and check out their frequent beer events.  This isn’t a sports bar, so the place isn’t crawling with TVs, but there are few nice HD flat screens on the first floor so you’ll be able to keep up with any big events. Pro tip: most bars that have “house” beers, are just macrobrews from A-B or MillerCoors (or maybe PBR or Natty Boh) with the bar’s brand name tacked on; the ones at Big Hunt, Light Ass and Bad Ass Amber Bock are actually Michelob Light & Michelob Amber Bock).

Decor at Big Hunt
Decor at Big Hunt

Despite its imperfections and antipathy held by many in DC, this remains one of my favorite DC bars.

Barred in DC Rating: 4.5/5

Garden District

Garden District (formerly Standard), website, Twitter, 1801 14th St. NW (14th & S), opens at 5p (weekdays) noon (weekends), closes at 2a (Fri-Sat), 1a (rest of week), closed Mondays except during summer months, est. 2011 [Yelp, WaPo, Tripadvisor]
Standard

Previously an open lot to pick up plants and little trees, the incredibly popular Garden District (formerly Standard) is, since spring 2011, an open lot to drink large $7 German beers and eat barbecue sandwiches and assorted sides.  Aside from a small building at the back of this lot, which includes the small bar, a couple bathrooms and a few bar stools, this spot is nearly entirely outside, so count on crowds anytime the weather is pleasant (and even if it’s not, as long as it’s not raining or snowing, when the place is closed).  There are a number of communal picnic tables (with a few outside the tall fence that surrounds the lot), but the space is spruced up with some hanging lights, heat lamps, shades from the sun, and the lively crowd.

View of Standard with back to small building
View of Standard with back to small building

Expect a crowd every day after 6pm and on weekend afternoons, though it tends to thin out a bit later in the evening and usually if you can’t find a spot on a picnic table, it’s fine to stand and drink while ordering from the bar in the back.  The pulled pork is great, and consider getting the grilled corn when it’s available; sometimes Garden District fries up some donuts, which are reportedly tremendous.  The prices on the menu seem bizarre ($6.36 for a beer), until you realize that adding the 10% DC tax makes everything a round number.

Small bar area inside
Small bar area inside

Aside from the wait/crowd, this bar also unfortunately (but understandably) is closed for the winter (from mid-November to end of February) and serves only 6-7 draft beers, somewhat bottled sodas, and water (so you cocktail or wine lovers are SOL), but all in all, a good spot to drink and eat outside on the 14th Street corridor.

Barred in DC Rating: 4/5