Washington DC | June 23, 2020 12:34 pm

Your Pandemic Guide to Outdoor Drinking and Dining in DC

The time is nigh to get out there and support your local restaurants

nin may logan square
Nina May in Logan Square
Rey Lopez/Nina May

For the past three months we’ve been confined to our home kitchens and bars, attempting to rustle up from-scratch loaves of bread and palatable old fashioneds. So while the coronavirus pandemic is still far from over, it’s a relief to hear that restaurants and bars across the DMV are beginning to reopen their outdoor seating for on-premise customers, allowing us the opportunity for much-needed social interaction and a dish washing-free evening. 

Let’s not get too ahead of ourselves though, and remember that the outdoor-dining scene of today is not going to be comparable to what it was last summer. Seating capacity is limited, tables are spaced as widely apart as possible, reservations are absolutely necessary and please don’t throw away that mask or XL bottle of hand sanitizer — you’re gonna need them.

Guidelines from local governments state that face masks will need to be worn at all times when you’re not seated at your table, so that means while you’re waiting in line, walking through the restaurant or going to the bathroom. Another big change you can expect, and may even welcome, are more sanitary menu options. Gone are the days of sticky, laminated menus, replaced by phone-only alternatives. In some cases, like at the Southern Mexican spot Espita in Shaw, there will be no servers at all. Instead, customers use QR codes from their table (remember those?) to pull up the menu, order, pay and finally pick up their food.

Also pretty much out the window is the casual walk-up with no reservation. Washingtonians already know how hard it is to get a coveted patio or rooftop brunch table during a Sunday rush; you can pretty much expect that at all times now, as beer gardens like Dacha are only seating customers at every other table. Our recommendation is to make a reservation in advance and wear comfortable shoes you won’t mind taking a stroll in while you wait for your table, as restaurants and bars probably won’t want you floating around outside the entrance in order to comply with ABRA regulations.

That’s a lot to take in, but these new regulations are put in place to keep patrons safe while they put down their first professionally made margarita in months. So, call your friends, pull open your Resy or Open Table app and get ready for a long-awaited al fresco experience.

Newcomers …

Mercy Me
This brand new “sorta South American” cafe from the same team that brought you Call Your Mother and Timber Pizza is finally open in West End with pastries, breakfast tacos, Call Your Mother bagels and pizza by the slice available for pick up. This past weekend, the counter-service operation expanded to patio seating.

Lulu’s Wine Garden
This indoor/outdoor wine garden looking out onto U Street had just opened its doors before the pandemic hit. Now, it’s back with two garden patios, a wallet-friendly wine list and Southwest-inspired sharables. Guests can reserve seats for Wednesday through Sunday through Resy, and place contact-free orders during their meal. 

Picnic at The Lane Social Club
You may not have gotten the chance to check out Ivy City’s massive “family social club” yet, which was only open for one month before closing due to the pandemic. Now is your opportunity to check out their rooftop, which has reopened as a family-friendly beer garden with local brews, other booze and picnic-style eats. Picnic also has an upcoming lineup of socially safe events tailored both to adults and kids.

Albi and Maxwell Park
This long-awaited Levantine restaurant by chef Michael Rafidi had also barely opened in Navy Yard before it had to close its doors back up again because of COVID-19. Now, guests can snag a spot for dinner on their summer patio and choose from an a la carte menu of warm pitas and homemade dips, as well as wood-grilled proteins. An extensive wine list comes courtesy of adjoining wine bar Maxwell Park.

Former Maydan co-chefs Chris Morgan and Gerald Addison, who have also been working on heading up Save DC Eats during the pandemic, have now opened their brand new Caribbean restaurant in the former Whaley’s space. Their waterfront patio is your new go-to spot for cold piña coladas and Island-inspired eats like jerk chicken and Jamaican goat curry.

Al fresco dining …

Ambar DC
This Barracks Row Balkan restaurant has actually been closed since January, when it took a hiatus from service to undergo a major $3 million renovation. The newly revamped space is finally open as of Wednesday, with reservations now available to take advantage of unlimited lunch, dinner and drink specials on their outdoor patio and terrace.

Tyber Creek
This aesthetically pleasing neighborhood wine bar in Bloomingdale has reopened their spacious patio, and seating is, surprisingly, first-come, first-serve — making it the perfect place to hit up for a bottle of rosé and some wood fire-grilled goodies if you forgot to make that date-night reservation. 

Florida Avenue Grill
Washingtonians have been counting on Florida Avenue Grill for quality soul food since 1944, and it luckily just reopened for weekend breakfast service. Convenient and comforting eats like egg sandwiches and hot cakes are available to order from its carryout window, and seating is available on the patio. 

We recently spoke with the chef of this Afro-Caribbean restaurant, Kwame Onwuachi, about the anticipation of his first meal back. Now, after closing in mid-March, Kith/Kin is reopened for patio dining Friday through Sunday. His new menu is full of Caribbean-influenced flavor, with dishes like Trinidadian curry, coconut rice and island-style rum drinks to enjoy alongside waterfront views of the Wharf.

Napoli Pasta Bar
Antonio Ferraro, the owner of Michelin-rated Napoli, has transformed the patio space of his Columbia Heights restaurant into a charming outdoor dining experience with “the Italian ambience of its Neapolitan roots,” he says, where patrons can enjoy handmade pasta, fresh burrata and Italian spritz cocktails. 

Rooftop digs…

Nina May
This locally sourced farm-to-table spot in Logan Circle is now taking reservations for both its rooftop and sidewalk patio, serving up Mid-Atlantic inspired dishes for brunch and dinner. Cornmeal biscuits with Strawberry Rhubarb jam entice at brunch, while a Maryland soft shell crab is our choice for dinner.

Roofer’s Union
Head to AdMo for dinner with a view, but not before placing a reservation, as Roofer’s Union has reopened their doors with limited capacity. The popular spot has always served as a welcome anchor on 18th Street, where they serve up contemporary American fare and some quality cocktails.

If you’re planning on heading to dinner at Officina’s newly reopened rooftop expect to notice a bit of a change, as Chef Nick Stefanelli has introduced an “Alice in Wonderland” floral theme, complete with new tables for sipping drinks and dining on Italian pastas and roasts. 

El Techo
Those who had to cancel their annual Cabo trip can find the next best thing at Shaw’s “adult treehouse” rooftop, which is reopened and full of tropical plants and frozen cocktails that will cure your beach-missing woes. 

Our favorite kind of garden …

While Dacha is known for typically being packed by rowdy das boot-drinking patrons, those planning a visit to either the reopened Shaw or waterfront Navy Yard locations can expect a bit of a different scene. Only every other table will be seated, walk-ins only, meaning a much sparser crowd. You can still count on the ice-cold beer and casual plates such as pretzels, sliders and weekend brunch, though.

Wunder Garten
This huge outdoor beer garden in NoMa is first-come, first-serve, so expect a wait on a nice day after work or on the weekend. That is, unless you reserve one of their cabanas — restricted to six people maximum. Either way, those seeking a good time and German or craft brews can find them at Wunder Garten.

Denizens Brewing Company
Those in Silver Spring and Riverdale Park will be delighted to hear that both locations are now open for business. Reservations are encouraged if you plan on visiting this popular Maryland brewer, where they’re serving up seasonal beers and a casual menu of seasonal, sharable plates.