The area around 14th Street and U Street Corridor is home to some of our favorite places to drink in DC. But if you go in blindly, you could end up at an overpriced bar full of people looking for 2am falafel and an Uber they swear went to the wrong pick-up spot. This is your guide to a far more successful night. It includes bars with great Happy Hours, potential locations for that first date you’re planning, and even one place with live jazz most nights of the week.
Bar Pilar is a classic DC establishment and the kind of place where you decide to have a fourth cocktail on a Tuesday night. The all-wood, two-story space was inspired by Ernest Hemingway’s boat, so if you’re here on a date, you have at least one talking point to fall back on. The Happy Hour deal ($6 cocktails and $5 beers) is one of the best in the area, and the farm-to-table American menu is great for a full dinner, too.
Unlike the line your cousin made you stand in at the Hirshhorn Infinity Mirrors exhibit, the wait to get into The Brixton actually goes by pretty quickly. And once you do get inside, you can choose between the casual bar downstairs, the dance floor on the next level, and the open air rooftop that looks over U Street. The crowd here leans younger, so just know that some people out there dancing to “Filthy” won’t know that Justin Timberlake used to have frosted tips.
The dining room at Jack Rose looks like one of those libraries where you need a sliding ladder to find a copy of Moby Dick - except instead of great American novels, it’s filled with 2,000 whiskey bottles. That being said, if you’re the type of person who can’t tell the difference between bottle #1 and bottle #1,658, you can head upstairs to the rooftop bar for a more casual group hang. Get some Southern small plates to go with the whiskey drink you’re trying to make your signature order.
This Cuban spot is more of a cafe, but the best reason to come here is actually for the drinks - particularly the piña colada and Cuba libre. The colorful space is bright and breezy (they open the garage-style windows when it’s nice out), so it’s a good option when you want to day drink, but aren’t quite ready for a crowded beer garden or sports bar crawl. There are a few tables and couches inside, but they tend to be occupied by people who inconsiderately like to do work on the weekends. Grab a seat on the patio, and if you get hungry, empanadas have never not improved a situation.
For a slightly lesser-known date spot around 14th, we like Sotto. It’s a jazz lounge down a set of stairs next to Pearl Oyster Dive on 14th Street, and it has live music most nights, great cocktails, and some small food options. There are a few booths and tables around the stage, and if Ryan Gosling single-handedly killed your appreciation of jazz, post up at the bar - it isn’t front and center with the music.
Right above Peal Oyster Dive is Black Jack. It’s a great in-between bar where you can mix it up with a date on one of the red velvet couches, or grab some duck nachos with a small group. Plan to spend a full night here, or just stop by before or after a meal nearby.
The best way to do Churchkey is to come with only one or two other people and get a table in the back. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t come with a larger group, too - just be prepared to stand. The beer list is one of the longest around, which means it definitely has options for your friend who brings up “saison” in casual conversation. There’s also a food menu with flatbreads, pasta, and other things you’ll probably want after a few drinks.
Left Door is a small-ish room in an unmarked house on S Street, and it’s our favorite cocktail bar in the city. Like the outside, the indoor space isn’t anything fancy. There’s a nice marble bar and some exposed brick - but more importantly, the drinks here are really good. There’s a long cocktail menu, but the bartenders will also make you a personalized drink if you tell them about your likes, dislikes, hopes, and dreams. Be warned, though, there’s a decent chance they’ll also successfully convince you to take a shot(s) of some unpronounceable spirit you’ve never heard of.
There are two important things to know about El Rey. The first is that it’s home to the best nachos in the city, and the second is that, after 10pm, it turns into a very sweaty gathering of post-grads and pre-lobbyists. Before then, this is a great place for after-work margaritas, some Mexican food, and any situation that calls for a retractable roof (so, most situations).
Another good patio situation, another overcrowded bar. As long as you don’t want to have deep, intimate conversations with your crew, American Ice Co. is a a fun spot for a big group, provided you can all get in. For food, you have a choice of barbecue, sausages, and nachos that are a close second to El Rey’s.
Yes, on a nice day, Garden District can get crowded to the point that you’re hovering over tables for 20 minutes trying to guilt people into getting up. But you keep going back because it’s truly the best place for day drinking around. Between the patio, the decent BBQ (that’s more than decent after a few beers), and the fact that no one seems upset they’ve been standing for an hour, an afternoon here always ends up being a good time. Just don’t come between December and March - they close it up in the winter.
When we want to spend $14 on a cocktail made with seven ingredients, we do it at 2 Birds 1 Stone. And we don’t feel bad about it, because drinking in this mostly-white basement spot makes us feel a little bit swanky. This is also a good place to impress your cool out of town friends.
When your group is unsure whether they want a casual few beers or a long night in a club, go to Cafe Saint-Ex. The basement has a dance floor that will make you feel a phantom bass drop in your chest days later, and the main floor is a basic bar with a tin ceiling and some vintage movie posters. While the combination of these two things might sound weird, it winds up coming in handy more often than you might think. Just know you will lose whichever members of your crew opt for the dance floor.
One of our go-to Italian restaurants, Ghibellina is also a great place for a low-key drink. If a couple of the window bar seats are up for grabs, snag them with a friend or a date and watch the 14th Street madness go down. And while you’re at it, order a pizza, too.
The low lighting, brick walls, and high-top tables have made Fainting Goat the unofficial bar of all first dates in DC. So if you go here with Rachel from your co-worker’s birthday party, she might think you’re unoriginal. But you also won’t have to worry about sitting under unflattering fluorescent lights or balancing on an awkwardly small bar seat. If you get hungry (and the date is going well), order some small plates to extend the night.
Don’t let the “nightclub” part of DC9 scare you off. There isn’t a $20 cover or heels-only rule you have to follow to get in here. What you can expect is live music on the second floor (most nights), a low-key bar for Happy Hour on the first, and a roof with a good view of U Street.
Attached to the 9:30 Club, this is a good pre-concert option. The partially-covered patio is a useful spot for a group, and if there are just two of you, you can grab seats at the bar. The food is fine but not great, so stick to anything in liquid form (including the boozy shakes) and you’ll be in good shape.
When you want a few beers and don’t care whether you’re drinking a local draught, go to Solly’s. It’s low-key but not too divey, and there’s a nice patio to go with your $3.50 PBR during Happy Hour (from 3-8pm). Start your night here, try it for a casual afternoon hang, and always get the Sloppy Mama’s BBQ they serve.
Takoda is yet another place with a roof you’ll want to spend a few hours getting a sunburn on. But since they limit the number of people allowed out there, there’s a good chance you’ll have to wait around inside for a bit. The bright space and big skylight will make you feel better about that. If you get food, keep it simple. The chicken and waffles are good, the PB&J wings are not.