When we talk about the most beautiful bars in Washington, D.C., what we’re talking about is the bar in the bar, the place behind which the bartenders work. What you’re looking at when you’re seated on your stool. Atmosphere matters. Lighting is extremely important. Some of these places are bright, some are dark. All are appropriate for the space.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has eliminated some of the bars that would have landed on this list. Goodbye, Columbia Room (closed February 2022). Goodbye, second floor of The Line (currently closed since the pandemic, there are plans to reopen soon-ish). Despite those losses, there’s no shortage of bars so good-looking you don’t need to imbibe to enjoy their presentation.
D.C.’s most beautiful bars specialize in forward-thinking cocktails, natural wines, the largest collection of whiskey on the Eastern Seaboard and more. Whether you’re looking for a beautiful photo or a beautiful drink, you’ll be served both. Just make sure you have a seat at the actual bar.
This nominee for the 2022 Beard Foundation Outstanding Bar Program has a bar that looks almost as good as their cocktails. It bucks tradition, embracing light and space rather than dark wood and shelves packed with bottles. It’s kind of a late-’60’s sci-fi vibe (think Barbarella) meets modern art museum gift shop. The bartenders’ tools of the trade are kept below waist level, giving the bar more of a theater set feel than your run-of-the-mill shot-and-a-beer bar.
The drinks at Barmini are the kind you’re never going to make at your home bar. Their molecular gastronomy cocktails are well suited in this setting.
You know how you can always tell when a restaurant used to be a Pizza Hut? I hope Flight Wine Bar never closes, but if it does, how could this place be anything other than a wine bar? Its design is perfect for the space and tipple of choice.
You’ll tend to find wraparound bars in places you don’t actually want to drink but may need a drink (specifically airports, you only need a drink in airports). Flight’s wraparound bar is presented in a way that’s comfortable and warm. It’s like being in a wine cocoon. Who doesn’t want to sit in a wine cocoon?
This Adams Morgan bar is a whiskey lover’s paradise — an assessment shared by the experts, as it was just awarded World’s Best Spirits Selection in Tales of the Cocktail’s 16th Annual Spirit Awards. And they showcase those spirits quite proudly.
The first floor of the three-level establishment looks more like a whiskey library than a typical bar. Beautiful bottles of bourbon are showcased from floor to ceiling on multiple walls. The basement looks and feels like a private clubhouse inside your favorite distillery. Part of the roof is airy, part of it is an enclosed space with a fireplace, and when it’s warm outside, the back is a seasonally appropriate tiki bar. Each floor has a unique and welcoming atmosphere, but it’s the first floor that lands it on this list.
The action is what keeps me interested. The space is small, the menu is limited (not small, just limited) and the staff never seem to stop moving.
The back of the bar is a simple chalkboard featuring what’s currently available. It’s not stocked with gorgeous bottles backlit with dramatic lighting. It’s more of a food truck approach than a standard bar. And it works.
Go for the drinks, stay for the food, sit at the bar for the action.
Downtown D.C. has no shortage of seriously beautiful bars. Denson gets the final pick because it has the classic look and the “right” size: it’s smaller than any hotel bar and slightly smaller than any nearby excellent restaurant bar. The look and feel transports you into a pre-Code-era film, when cocktails were enjoyed at every meal and hangovers didn’t exist.
It’s good for dates, after-work drinks and post-games and concerts at the extremely close Capital One Arena. Denson’s location makes it an easy pick for most occasions, and the old-school aesthetic — I do believe — makes the drinks taste better.
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