It was lunchtime on a recent Thursday and I was stumped. A friend visiting from out of town had texted me, asking: “What’s a good place to drink on a rooftop right now?” Completely out of ideas, I instead pointed him to solid patios that I knew were open like Duke’s Grocery and DC Reynolds.
Afterwards, using RockTheRoofDC’s near-comprehensive guide to DC rooftops as a starting point, I confirmed that museum/Mall-weary tourists, conventioneer truants, and local workers with more “flexible” summer schedules had few partake on roofs or similar elevated outdoor drinking areas: out of the 60-odd bars/restaurants in DC with such outdoor spaces, only FOUR are even open before 4p on weekdays, and only two of them, both in Georgetown, are open before 3p. Of course, if one wants to drink alfresco closer to the ground, there are a number of solid patios that are open during the day on weekdays, just not that many roof decks (although the majority are open during the day during the weekend). The short, but sweet, list of places to day drink on a roof during the week:
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.
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.
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 .
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.
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.
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.
Bocce is the group sport du jour in Washington, especially for forever-young adults graduating from kickball or those too unathletic to play softball. While other bars have dabbled in the Italian lawn bowling game (e.g., Vinoteca, Blackjack, and Penn Social),it was inevitable that a bar fully devoted to bocce would open in DC.
That place is Vendetta, the new Italian restaurant/bocce bar from bar impresario Joe Englert on H Street. Located in the old Red Palace space (which itself was a combination of two very different bars, The Red and the Black and Palace of Wonders, neither of which I visited), Vendetta is a nicely decorated spot, with red walls accompanying Vespas hanging or embedded in the wall. A nice 25 foot bocce court highlights each of the two floors; it’s free to play and easy to learn if you haven’t played before. There is small, bare bones deck (with chair umbrellas) off the 2nd floor.
Pasta and gnocchi make up the food menu, while the beer list is nothing special, moderately-priced (for DC) cocktails ($8-10) and prosecco on tap are the draws. For the straight guys out there, take note: the clientele was about 75% women on my visit, and friends have confirmed the favorable mix at other times. A nice addition to the H Street landscape.
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.
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.
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.
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.
From the Hilton Brothers, Local 16 sort of helped kickstart the transformation of the U Street Corridor to full-blown yuppie-dom when it opened in fall 2002 at 16th (hence the name, though it actually really borders New Hampshire Ave., not 16th Street) and U. Even a decade later, this dimly-lit (my photos are worse than the terrible quality they usually are) scarlet-hued spot still packs the crowds and you’ll often find a fast-moving line out front to get in on Saturday nights. The folks who frequent this spot skew a bit younger and certainly preppier than the other Hilton Brothers spots I’ve been to ((18th Street Lounge, Marvin, The Brixton).
Local 16, like 18th Street Lounge, has several rooms, spaces, and stairs and feels sort of like someone’s mansion. On the first floor-to the right of the entrance-are two rooms, the first of which contains a bar (beer selection is usually better here than the rest of the spot) and the other with ample loungey seating. These areas are usually the least crowded in the bar. Upstairs up a long double staircase is the rest of the bar. To the right upstairs is the dark, dance floor that gives Local 16 its meat market reputation. Usually you’ll find lots of folks dancing in here to the loud music. There’s a small bar in this space; you can choose from the standard boring Heineken/Amstel/Miller bottled fare but not much else.
To the left of the stairs is easily the best feature Local 16: the huge partially covered rooftop that overlooks U Street. Packed in nice weather, the roof is basically partitioned in two; the side closest to the bar is usually much more crowded. One nice touch is that there is bench seating along the fence on U Street which means you usually can grab a seat if you want (not that many folks do). Again, nothing special with drinks and beers (you’ll pay $7 for a beer and a rail drink here), but the roof is a nice place to catch up in a more relaxed and better lit atmosphere than the rest of the place. One large downside of the rooftop is that (likely owing to a settlement/voluntary agreement) it closes at 1 AM so you can stay out all night drinking al fresco. Aside from the roof, taking the back set of stairs that take you back to the 1st floor bar (Full House style) is always strangely cool.
7/27/13 Update: Local 16 has a great happy hour Monday-Friday. Not only are nearly all items $5 (including specialty cocktails and 8″ pizzas), it goes (from 5p) to 8p, which is a rarity in DC.
Although it definitely has a meat market loungey/sorta-clubby vibe and skews a bit younger than most spots on U Street, Local 16 is a fun place to stop by every once in a while that still feels grown-up compared to most bars in Dupont/Adams Morgan on a weekend night.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Despite its imperfections and antipathy held by many in DC, this remains one of my favorite DC bars.
Kind of a neighborhood landmark (look for the topless redhead mural and the other random mystifying murals along the block), this sprawling bar is known for its nightly live music, including regular blues. There’s a stage and a dance/listening floor right when you walk in, along with a couple other floors (one with pool tables) including a tiny fire escapeish front balcony (awesome for checking out the 18th street crowd) along with another roof deck wayyy at the top that feels like a crows nest on a ship that is usually enclosed (it might open up during the summer, never been there when it is has (3/7 Update: Reader says that it opens up in summer). Fun spot with a relatively older crowd in its current location since 1997, though beware that there usually is a cover on weekends due to the live music. One of my friends likes the soul food. Supposedly redheads drink beer for ½ off, but as I am not a redhead, I can’t confirm. The owner is not a fan of Adams Morgan Day.