As I mentioned here, I have had a couple of recent requests for blog posts on my old stomping ground in DC, and I’m happy to oblige. I love Washington, miss my home of eight years dearly, and revel in any opportunity to rehash the glory days of my young-adult life.
When approaching the DC social scene, it’s key to consider that the city essentially functions as a cluster of neighborhoods linked together. So, if you were to go out for dinner and then drinks, or drinks and a show, or dinner and a show, or just bar hopping in general (or any combination you can think of), you need to think about what part of town you’d like to focus on.
Keeping in mind that these suggestions are completely subjective (but I consider myself to be a pretty good judge of a good time), I’ll break it down by neighborhoods (areas of the city) and do my best to be comprehensive and accommodating to all types of social styles. I’ll include links to the establishments’ websites, where you can find addresses, menus, photos, and any other pertinent info you may need or want.
U Street Corridor and Logan Circle
Starting with the best (this is my former neighborhood, after all), U Street was once (in the not to distant past) a very shady, dangerous part of town. It’s exploded on the social scene, in the last ten years or so, with exciting restaurants and fun bars constantly opening, and has long been a favorite of the locals. I remember the good ole days when “U Street” was a novelty; the ultra-hip place to be that only locals knew about.
Great Dining Options include: Birch & Barley (modern American), Cork Wine Bar (small, great food and wine) Estadio (Spanish), Pearl Dive Oyster Palace (seafood), Ulah Bistro (simple and good modern-America), Rice (tasty Asian fusion, elegantly modern bistro), Tabaq Bistro (Mediterranean tapas, awesome views of downtown at night when roof is retracted), Bar Pilar (tapas), Cafe St. Ex (best for brunch or just drinks), Ben’s Chilly Bowl (good chili dogs, best for late night, not terribly amazing, but it’s famous), Zentan (went here for NYE once- try the Singapore slaw), Logan Tavern (great for brunch).
Bars, Clubs and Music Venues: The 9:30 Club (the best bands visiting DC come through here, 3 blocks from my former house), Bar Pilar (small, can be chill or rowdy), Cafe St. Ex (bar in basement is fun- good for dancing, always packed), The Gibson (speak easy, handmade drinks with fresh ingredients, very chill, very cool), Dickson Wine Bar (great wine selection and small plates, urban lounge atmosphere), HR 57 (great place for live jazz, byob allowed with corking fee), New Vegas Lounge (get your dance on to funky live music- think wedding band tunes), Churchkey (above Birch & Barley, great beer selection, could be a more casual dining option as well), Nellie’s (super-fun gay sports bar), Blackcat (another great music venue, focus on smaller indie bands), The Saloon (amazing beer selection, befriended owner and staff and became a regular, no standing), Marvin (one of my favorites when the weather is nice, great outdoor area but can get pretty crowded, good restaurant downstairs too- it’s next to Gibson so great for biding time while waiting for a “spot” to open in the speak easy), Vinoteca (good wine bar & good food, a favorite of my friends, also has nice outdoor patios), Solly’s Tavern (dive, love this place!), Local 16 (one of the first places I ever went out in DC, great townhouse feel and outdoor deck/bar upstairs, good restaurant downstairs), Dodge City (biker bar-dive feel), Chi-Cha Lounge (chill, latin food, hookah bar type). DC9 (another indie-music venue but also a chill bar, good burgers, etc.).
Getting there: Take a cab to U and 14th Streets or hop on the metro, yellow and green line run to the U Street/African American Memorial stop. Easy peasy.
Just North of U Street is Columbia Heights, with an even more “local” feel. Here are some of my favorite haunts:
Food, Bars, Clubs and Music Venues The Wonderland Ballroom (fun, favorite of locals, live music), Room 11 (quaint wine bar, you feel like you’re in someone’s home), Lou’s, Pho Viet (some of best pho in the city), Pete’s New Haven Style Apizza (my personal favorite pizza in the city), Redrocks Firebrick Pizzeria (great beer selection, love all the brick), The Raven (total dive bar, came here for a group project once during grad-school. What? Beer can be brain fuel).
Getting there: Take the yellow or green line (metro), one more stop past U St to Columbia Heights.
H Street Corridor/ Atlas District
What can I say, DC likes it’s “corridors.” H Street is another up-and-coming area. The restaurant and bar scene is eclectic and coveted by locals, much like the U Street area. There are plans to build a tram here, so it’s got nowhere to go but up in popularity as it becomes even more accessible.
Great Dining Options: Toki Underground (no reservations, super-tiny, amazing Taiwanese ramen style noodles), Sticky Rice (Japanese- love their hand rolls), Granville Moore’s (Belgian- fun atmosphere).
Bars, Clubs and Music Venues: Biergarten Haus (feel like your in Germany in this indoor/outdoor biergarten- love this place), H Street Country Club (indoor mini-golf anyone?), Little Miss Whiskey’s Golden Dollar (New Orleans flair, this eclectic and ornate bar has a great little outdoor patio in the back), Church and State (home-made cocktails a’la speak easy, apparently they serve food now, too), Star & Shamrock (Jewish deli meets Irish pub, and it’s a great combo), Rock and Roll Hotel (music venue downstairs, “hotel” set-up bar upstairs- so fun to walk through the different hotel rooms, almost like role playing), The Pug (chill, divey pub), Granville Moore’s (great beer selection, wonderful cozy atmosphere, like being in a European pub).
Getting there: The nearest metro stop would be Union Station (red line), and then it’s a bit of a walk from there. I would take a cab.
Dupont is such a beautiful part of the city. Embassies line the perfectly manicured streets where families walk their dogs and stroll their babies. It’s my favorite place to go for a jog (U Street to Dupont) and window shop for houses. The area is also home to some of DC’s most renowned restaurants, including the #1 rated Komi.
Great Dining Options: Komi (rated #1 restaurant in DC by Washingtonian Magazine- see my review), Obelisk (another fancy foodie restaurant, Italian), Tabbard Inn (best brunch in DC), Bistro Du Coin (very popular Franco-Belgian joint), Vidalia (fancy foodie, Southern), Zorba’s (Greek, casual & cheap), Circa (decent food, best for drinks), Firefly (in a Kimpton Hotel, there is a faux tree growing inside), Agora (Mediterranean, casual), Ezme (delectable Turkish tapas, beautiful and cozy space), Mourayo (Greek deliciousness, excellent fish options), Floriana (inexpensive yet tasty Italian), Sushi Taro, Hank’s Oyster Bar (lots of oyster variety, nice outdoor patio), Heritage India (a classic Indian favorite), Grillfish (excellent seafood), Malaysia Kopitiam (good and cheap Malaysian food, try the stingray-like skate), Rosemary’s Thyme Bistro (good casual dining), Sette Osteria (good Italian, not too pricey, I think this is the 1st place I tried gnocchi!), Raku (Asian-fusian and small plates).
Bars, Clubs and Music Venues: Russia House (feel like you’re in the mother land in this Ruski townhouse. It’s a restaurant as well. Maybe watch an episode of The Americans then head on over. You’ll feel instantly transported), Eighteenth Street Lounge (another one of the first bars I visited in DC, always fun, in an old row house with loungy living room feel and nice big outdoor deck), Circa (for a while, this was our favorite local spot, knew the chef and main bartender), Science Club (popular with DC hipsters), The Front Page (great for HH, good cross section of young professionals) The Big Hunt (massive subterranean pool hall), Dirty Martini (sophisticated yet casual), Cafe Japone (karaoke anyone?), Lucky Bar (always packed), Cafe Citron (so fun for dancing).
Getting there: Easy- Dupont Metro station plops you right in the middle of all the action (red line).
Adams Morgan is known for having a “strip” of eclectic bars and restaurants and caters more to a younger and international crowd. When I first moved to the city eons ago, “AdMo” was known as the fun, hip place to hang out. I was enthralled that each bar was a multi-level townhouse, with two to five levels of variety, each floor having a different theme or feel. In essence, you can visit four different bars in one building. For example, one floor might be more sports-bar-esque, one might have live music, one might have a DJ spinning- more of a dance hall atmosphere, and a roof deck might be a little more sophisticated. I think that DCers tend to outgrow AdMo (although it’s fun to revisit your old favorites now and again). It can be a bit debaucherous and is great for pub crawls or bachelor/ette parties…
Great Dining Options: Cashion’s Eat Place (seasonal American, menu changes daily, award winning chef Ann Cashion), Lauriol Plaza (Mexican- in between Dupont and AdMo, but great for starting a night off with a big group of friends if you’re hitting 18th St. Best margaritas), The Grille from Ipanema (take a trip to Brazil), Amsterdam Falafelshop (best falafel ever, great for late night), Meze (Turkish meze or small plates), Rumba Cafe (Latin-American, fun flavors, lively), Casa Oaxaca (great authentic Mexican), L’Enfant Cafe (Belgian, casual, fun and good beer selection with outdoor seating), Pasta Mia (hand made pasta, huge portions, no reservations, line is often out the door, excellent prices), Little Fountain Cafe (quaint, romantic, unpretentious, quality food), Jumbo Slice (I had to- it was featured on the food network. Everyone goes here late night. It’s a “right of passage”).
Bars, Clubs and Music Venues: Bourbon, Madam’s Organ (quintessential multi-level AdMo establishment, always fun), Dan’s Cafe (total dive, bucket o’ whisky), Napoleon Bistro (love the basement bar), Perry’s (great outdoor deck, famous for their weekend drag queen brunch- pretty epic), Habana Village (3 levels of salsa dancing delinquency), Rendezvous Lounge (tiny hole in the wall, favorite with locals, “Do you do the Vous?”).
Getting there: No direct metro stop (the closest stop would probably be Dupont Circle or U Street). Your best bet is to cab it to 18th Street and U St or 18th and Columbia are good starting points.
Capital Hill- Eastern Market- Barracks Row
Barrack’s Row, on 8th Street SE, forms another strip of fun restaurants and bars, drawing a sophisticated, young professional crowd. Pennsylvania Ave. maintains many bars appealing to Hill staffers and interns. Eastern Market is more family-friendly and quaint.
Great Dining Options: Belga (excellent Belgian fare), Montmartre (unassuming, delicious French cuisine), Cava (Greek-inspired, fresh, good), Sonoma Wine Bar (for foodies and wine lovers alike), Matchbox (great pizza and salads), Good Stuff Eatery (Top Chef’s Spike serves up gourmet burgers), Johnny’s Half Shell, Charlie Palmer Steak House, Bistro Bis (fine dining- lunch is always a good deal), Acqua Al 2 (Authentic Italian, cozy atmosphere), Zest (great for brunch), Las Placitas (cheap, good Mexican food on Barrack’s Row), Tortilla Coast (another quintessential favorite among Hill staffers- good Mexican – great margaritas).
Bars, Clubs and Music Venues: Sonoma Wine Bar (for foodies and wine lovers alike), Johnny’s Half Shell (great for HH, good crowd of Hill professionals), Molly Malone’s (nice sized Irish pub), Cava (a local favorite, to be sure), The Ugly Mug (local sports bar), Lola’s (“Capital Hill’s favorite little hideaway”), Trusty’s (perhaps my most favorite of all of DC’s dive bars).
Getting there: Metro: Capital South and Eastern Market stops are both on the orange and blue lines. Union Station is on the red line.
Everyone loves Georgetown. It’s historic, quaint, picturesque, and offers lots of good shopping.
Great Dining Options: Bodega (my favorite Spanish tapas eatery), Filomena (Italian), Pizzeria Paradiso (great pizza, great beer, I’ve spent hours here), Cafe Milano (classic Italian Georgetown establishment. Clooney used to hang out here!), Clyde’s (a DC staple, we ate about 7 dozen oysters here once), Makoto (the most amazing Japanese experience you may ever have), 1789 (one of DC’s finest restaurants, amazing ambiance in an old brownstone, equally amazing food), La Chaumiere (charming and romantic French spot), Tackle Box (fresh, tasty seafood, casual), Booeymonger (best sandwiches ever. I crave them), Cafe Tu-O-Tu (Mediterranean, casual, good for lunch), Cafe Bonaparte (sweet and savory crepes), Blue Duck Tavern (President Obama recently had a date night here).
Bars, Clubs and Music Venues: Blues Alley (THE place to go for Blues and Jazz in DC), Daily Grill (also a restaurant but best for drinks), Smith Point (if you’re not “on the list” you can’t get it- as much as this place annoys me, it’s pretty infamous, was frequented by the likes of the Bush twins when I lived there), Bourbon (in Glover Park, my first DC residence neighborhood), Mr. Smith’s (I like the indoor hidden garden), Degrees Bar and Lounge (Ritz Carlton bar), The Tombs (always good for a Halloween party), Breadsoda (fun pool hall in Glover Park).
Getting there: Unfortunately, there’s no direct metro access to Georgetown, however, you can take the blue or orange line to Foggy Bottom, exit at GW University and hospital, then walk over the bridge at M Street. There are also metro buses that hit the area, but a cab would probably be your best bet. Parking can be near impossible on the weekends.
Chinatown and Downtown
Home to many chains and tourists, the area also offers an amazing variety of gourmet food options and entertaining nightlife.
Great Dining Options: CoCo Sala (great food, amazing deserts), Brasserie Beck (love this Belgian eatery, contemporary “outside” indoor setting), Ping Pong Dim Sum (fun urban Asian flair, usually pretty packed- one also opened in Dupont, but this one’s the original), Zatinya (excellent Mediterranean tapas, prime location, urban-chic vibe), Poste (in Hotel Manaco), La Tasca (great Spanish tapas chain), Hooters (just kidding, wanted to see if you were paying attention), Rosa Mexicano, Matchbox (great pizza and salads), 701 (innovative menu), Bibiana-Osteria Enoteca (one of the best Italian restaurants in DC), Cafe Du Parc (dine al fresca like a Parisian), Capital Grille (classic DC steakhouse), Old Ebbit Grill (another timeless DC establishment), Graffiato (Top Chef’s Mike Isabella, portions aren’t huge so you might leave hungry if you’re a big man like my hubby), Occidental Grill (classic American, award winning wine list, near White House), Oyamel (great Mexican food), Rasika (Indian fusion, delicious and fun), SEI (sophisticated Japanese fusion), The Source (Wolfgang Puck’s ultra chic and modern eatery, downstairs bar is more casual but still classy), Acadiana (good Southern fare, fun for drinks and apps too).
Bars, Clubs and Music Venues: Rocket Bar (popular, fun, large basement bar with all sorts of games), RFD Washington (seemingly unending beer list), Fado (my favorite Irish pub- great live music), Poste (love this place for drinks w/ friends, delicious infused liquors), Iron Horse (motorcycles on the wall, shuffleboard, what more could you ask for?), Mackey’s (another fun Irish pub), Off the Record (beautiful “power bar” in the prestigious Hay Adams Hotel- think dark wood and rich red interiors- Angie Jolie has been spotted here. Just GO), Capital City Brewing Company (great brews crafted right there), Elephant and Castle (neighborhood fancy-pub).
Getting there: Any number of Metro stops, but your best bets are: Gallery Place/Chinatown (red, green and yellow lines) and Metro Center (red, orange and blue lines).
Woodley Park and Cleveland Park
Not for tourists: if you really want to feel like a local, hang out in the sleepy yet savvy neighborhoods of Woodley Park and Cleveland Park. Grab some dinner at nearby Lebanese Taverna or a drink at The Zoo Bar after spending a day at the National Zoo.
Great Dining Options: Palena and Palena Cafe (DC Top 10 restaurants, see my review here), Ardeo-Bardeo (sleek new American dining), New Heights, 2 Amy’s (consistently touted as the best pizza in DC), Ripple, Indique Heights, Medium Rare, Lebanese Taverna.
Bars, Clubs and Music Venues: The Zoo Bar (this is a bar… across from the zoo. It’s pretty fun- sometimes live music), Cleveland Park Bar and Grill (a laid-back locals favorite), Gin Joint (located in bottom of New Heights, great gin selection and delicious cocktails).
Getting there: Woodley Park and Cleveland Park both have metro stops (red line).
Too Many Options?
Although it may seem like I’ve just listed every single restaurant and bar in Washington, DC, quite the contrary, these are only a small fraction of the city’s eating and drinking establishments. It’s better to have too many options than too few, though, wouldn’t you agree? There are equally as many restaurants, bars, and music venues in the surrounding Maryland and Virginia cities and suburbs, where a majority of folks who work in Washingtonian actually live. We’ll save that for another post!
I hope this post has been helpful for anyone looking to explore DC’s restaurants and nightlife! Please leave feedback if anything I mentioned has closed down (or become terrible!), or if there are any new additions you think I should have included in the comments section below! A lot can change in a year!!
Thanks for reading!