Penny Whisky Bar [Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 618 H St. NW, open at 3p everyday] quietly opened in late May (with grand opening June 1st) in the heart of Chinatown, just steps from the Gallery Place Metro station. The bar/eatery is located on the 2nd floor above the longtime mainstay, Chinatown Garden, which shares ownership but is otherwise quite different. The “penny” theme is apparent upfront as the ground floor entry way’s floor is embedded with hundreds of pennies (I was told that the penny is a reference to some Chinese luck proverb).
The focus is on whiskey (duh) is shown on the menu, numbering 175 varieties (though nothing incredibly rare including multiple Pappy Van Winkle’s); using Basil Hayden as the “rail” whiskey is a great touch ($5 during happy hour, which runs 4-7p). Happy hour also includes $4 drafts (hard to get a pint of Guinness that cheap elsewhere in DC) as well as $5 rails; all night specials for now include $5 Ciroc vodka and $3 Budweiser/Bud Light/Michelob Ultra/Shock Top cans. Food comes from Chef E Marshall, a previous contestant on MasterChef and a cook for celebrities.
I foresee this spot doing well with the diverse crowds that already frequent the spot as well as folks looking for cheap drinks before or after Verizon Center events but not in a divey atmosphere. The Hilton Brothers’ soon-to-open spots, the Crimson Diner + Whiskey Bar, is directly across the street in the Pod DC Hotel, however, so the competition will be fierce.
Overlooking the Verizon Center, Redline satisfies those looking for both a sports bar and a loungey atmosphere. Dubbed a “Gastrolounge/Bar,” this is a solid spot to grab very good food and drinks before or after a game or concert, or if you’re just in the neighborhood. Unlike most of the neighboring establishments, Redline’s second-floor location and large windows provide good views of the throngs below and let in lots of light during the day. The antithesis of Rocket Bar, let us count the ways…
Three main areas make up this second-floor establishment that features much-coveted exposed brick walls: a dining area of tabletops and booths (with table taps-more details below); a cozy bar area to the right of the steps at the entrance (quite popular for Caps fans before games); and another larger bar area beyond the dining room.
Around 50 TVs are posted throughout Redline, allowing people to watch their favorite games from any angle. A huge 11-foot projection screen and a sports news/scores ticker are prominent and can be checked from a number of tabletops and booths throughout the bar.
Most unique are the aforementioned built-in beer taps installed at several booths in the dining area allowing patrons to self-serve their brew of choice. Redline is only one of two spots in town to feature such table taps (Meridian Pint is the other). But, amateur bartenders, Beware! It’s not as easy as it looks and the electronic meter on the tap tracks how many ounces you pour, so charges can rack up quickly. Also, if multiple booths are open, peruse the beer selections at each station as some tables have more adventurous beers than others. So, match your mood from Bud Light to Sam Adams.
Barred in DC was recently invited by Redline to enjoy drinks and the great, inventive food (gator and a kobe beef hot dog are on the menu) and also previewed its new buffet brunch, which offers an immensely impressive spread from 10a-4p on Sundays ($25 + $10 for bottomless mimosas). As for the drinks, a solid 20+ $6-7 bottle beer list and a serviceable draft list are accompanied by a host of wines, shooters, and cocktails.
Unlike most sports bars, bottle service is available here and a DJ spins tunes weekend nights. In other words, those looking for a traditional sports bar with tons of sports paraphernalia and game broadcast sound routinely on and audible would probably prefer another place. Folks who want a nicer atmosphere or want to enjoy exceptional, not your average, “bar food” and drinks with others non-fanatics should check out Redline.
Although Penn Quarter/Chinatown has a ton of bars, a handful of which are solid, and I live a mile away and work 5 blocks away, I rarely make it over to this neighborhood, for a lot of different reasons that I won’t get into here. When I do come to the area, it’s to catch a movie or attend a Wizards or Caps game (or some other event or concert) at the venue which made the neighborhood a destination after it opened in 1997, the Verizon Center (formerly MCI Center).
One of the bars I might check out before or after a game or movie, up on 7th St. just north of H, is R.F.D. Washington. This bar, which stands for “Regional Food and Drink” (I know, terrible), opened in January 2003 and is owned by the family that brought you the legendary Brickskeller, one of the first and biggest beer bars in the U.S., which was operated in Dupont Circle until 2010 (now the Bier Baron, under different ownership). R.F.D. itself is a beer-lovers haven-you’ll find a huge beer menu, a ton of beers on tap, and a host of beer events (though usually off the radar compared to others spots like Churchkey, Meridian Pint, or even the nearby Penn Social).
I recently stopped by before a Capitals playoff game; happy hour until 7p includes four different $4 craft draft beers-all solid, unique, and new to me-along with a skip-it $5 “Rockin’ Red” shot (Finlandia cranberry flavored vodka, Triple sec, and a splash of cranberry juice) (see above for HH menu and below the Caps shots). Beers normally are the standard craft-beer price, $6-8. The bar, probably because it is so huge, is full of folks in red jerseys but not too crowded even before a sold-out playoff game.
R.F.D.’s atmosphere is not really divey or hip, it’s evokes more of a T.G.I. Friday’s vibe (unless you’re in a basement or crappy hotel-it’s hard to be divey in Chinatown). You’re not going here to rage or have a romantic classy cocktail. Walking in, there are two small seating areas on opposite sides of the entrance which flank 7th Street-they are isolated from the rest of the bar but are exposed to natural light. A few steps up take you to the main part of R.F.D. A long u-shaped bar is to your left-the bartenders are pretty responsive and there’s usually enough space to stand near the bar, while ordering and drinking. The bulk of the room is devoted to lots of regular tables like a restaurant with waiter service which kind of contributes to the chain restaurant atmosphere; a few more hightops and communal tables would help.
After you wind your way through the tables, glass doors lead you to the outdoor patio area. Although covered with absolutely no view (more like a greenhouse courtyard than anything), the patio has its own bar (not always open) and waiter service and lets you drink outside-this is surprisingly hard to do in the neighborhood. Beyond, there is a whole another large back room (in a different building) with its own bar, tables and more open space than the front bar-if you’re looking for a relatively more party-vibe in R.F.D., this is where you’ll find it.
Although not really a destination of itself, R.F.D. is a solid spot to meet friends and grab great beers before or after a game.