Who better to recommend the best bars in any given city than the people who spend more time in them than anyone else? Welcome to our Best Bars in the United States series, where we’ve asked our favorite bartenders in the nation to select their most beloved drinking establishments in their city.
Finding a place to sit back, relax and have a drink is a little difficult when a place like DC has such a dearth of options available. How do you figure out the best place to spend your time? It turns out that asking your local bartender is probably a good call. After all, they’re likely looking for a drink at the end of the day, and because game recognizes game, they’re bound to have a few favorites up their sleeves. So, InsideHook surveyed a few of our favorite bartenders around DC for what watering holes they love the most, and now we pass that knowledge along to you. These are the 12 best bars in DC to check out, co-signed by the minds behind some of your favorite places around town.
Nestled in an unassuming spot north of Dupont Circle, McClellan’s Retreat conveys cozily welcoming vibes that Doyle Bar & Lounge’s Andres Doncel loves after working a hard shift. “McClellan’s is the place where I wanna go after making hundreds — if not thousands — of cocktails,” he says. “I know I’m gonna go and enjoy a good Vieux Carre, Sazerac or any classic cocktail.”
José Andrés’s Barmini remains one of the high marks of cocktail making in the city (and the nation). Al Thompson, the bar manager at the newly opened Bronze, agrees. He calls the space an “avant garde cocktail lounge where science and innovation meet the classics.” With fun and transportive cocktail flights meant to take your tastebuds on a journey, a reservation at Barmini is still one of the best experiences in town.
This 17th Street bar from the wizards behind Copycat Co. opened in 2019, wherein The Green Zone bartender Chris Donovan was a regular. “I used to go every Monday when they first opened,” he says. In addition to their “great cocktails,” which feature plenty of spins on traditional tiki drinks like a Painkiller, he states the staff there “provide the type of service that I try to do in my own bar.”
Bar manager Brian Nixon of McClellan’s Retreat recommends The Imperial, partly because of its convenience. “It’s on my way home,” he says. “It’s a nice bright space, and they always put together a nice drink.” While the drinks, like the bottled Martini they offer, are the stars, Nixon also recommends the raw bar for seafood lovers.
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Award-winning bar director Will Patton of two Michelin-starred JÔNT and one Michelin-starred Bresca provides a hearty recommendation for Service Bar. “Years ago, I used to work at a bar down the block from Service Bar,” he says. “We didn’t make a lot of money, and they would always give me fried chicken for free. So that was a pretty good way to build a lifetime of loyalty. This is a pretty singular anecdote, but it demonstrates the hospitality of this neighborhood cocktail bar that provides a variety of experiences. Want to have some of the continent’s best cocktails? Done. They can do that. Want to have a beer and a shot? Easy. They can do that as well. Both are served with a level of commitment to service that has kept me coming back long after they started charging me for fried chicken.”
DC’s flagship Middle Eastern cocktail bar gets a nod from bar director Judy Elahi of 101 Hospitality. “This place is a staple,” she says. “Their food is also great.” As an Iranian-American, Elahi loves The Green Zone because she can “come into this bar and feel at home.”
Former Moon Rabbit bar director Thi Nguyen states that Sparrow Room feels “like coming home.” It offers comforts that many other places can’t quite capture — especially for a Vietnamese immigrant. “I get to enjoy and taste all the flavors that are so close to where I am from,” she says. Nguyen specifically shouts out “Lapsang Souchong tea, red bean paste, plum and duck sauce syrup” among the many flavors they offer. Oh, and best of all? The bar hosts monthly mahjong classes for those who want to learn the ropes before sitting down at their included tables.
St. Vincent Wine managing partner Peyton Sherwood recommends Belga Cafe. The staff is “always on point, friendly, professional and accommodating,” with a cozy bar that has an “extensive and well-curated beer and wine program” and “delicious” cocktails. The Eastern Market outfit also gets a special shoutout for its brunch and its overall atmosphere. “My wife and I love going alone or with friends because it’s always a great time,” he adds.
Chad Spangler of Causa Amazonia has a deep love affair with The Allegory at the Eaton Hotel. “The Allegory has one of the best-curated menus in the city in the middle of the hip Eaton hotel — and when I say hip, I mean actually a cool place and not a hotel just trying to be trendy,” he says. “The entrance is tucked away behind a library lounge and leads you to an appropriately dimly lit lounge with an enveloping mural of Alice in Wonderland done by Erik Thor Sandberg that is remarkable.” He also gives a nod to the “well-balanced, presentable and non-pretentious” cocktails, as well as the “very comfortable experience” that makes him want to stay for hours after he’s done slinging drinks in Blagdon Alley.
This famous wine garden gets a specific nod from Silver Lyan’s lead bartender, Drea Tateosian, although it’s not entirely altruistic. “I’ll admit, I’m biased — my pup’s loving dad is an owner — but for al fresco wine and live music, it can’t be beat,” she says. Outside of that, she notes how the wine garden is well-suited to beautiful weather and is wheelchair accessible so “everyone can enjoy!” Accessibility-minded and wonderful wine? Doesn’t get much better than that.
The bustling heart of Georgetown isn’t the first place you’d consider having a standout drink menu, but that’s part of the surprise of L’Annexe Cocktail Bar. Rachid Hdouche of ilili DC loves the outfit for how “accessible and cozy” the space is. Hdouche mentions the “innovative cocktails” and how L’Annexe’s beverage director, Hakim Hamid, has improved over time. “I have seen his craftsmanship blossom throughout the years,” he says. That craftsmanship extends to drinks like the Duchess Anna, which uses Earl grey-infused gin along with scone-like notes to create an incredibly striking drink.
Glendon Hartley, the partner and owner of Causa/Amazonia and Service Bar, recommends Shaw’s Maxwell Park. “The service style, the music, the menu and the unpretentious staff all create an inviting non-elitist atmosphere, which is so important when curating one of the best wine lists in the country,” he says. Hartley also loves Park’s “thought-out seasonal menus,” which pair striking designs alongside “menu theme-focused apparel.” He also recommends letting the staff walk you through a “wine journey” with different tasting pours.
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