In Washington the only thing that Democrats, Republicans and even independents can agree on is drinking. Since the founding of this country it’s been hard to separate politics and alcohol. President George Washington was known to give out rum and punch to court voters and owned a distillery after leaving office.
Over the last few years, a new group of drink enthusiasts, the DC Craft Bartenders Guild, has helped raise the quality and profile of the Capital’s cocktail scene. (The guild hosted its second annual Repeal Day Ball in December with special guest bartenders, including Liquor.com advisor Dale DeGroff and Jeffrey Morgenthaler.) Their work can be seen across the town. Here are a few establishments to visit the next time you’re inside the Beltway.
Bourbon is a neighborhood bar, which serves simple food, cocktails and, of course, whiskey—lots of whiskey. The establishment stocks almost 200 American whiskies plus another 30 from around the world. Choose a brown spirit from the list and head bartender Owen Thompson will pair it with the perfect vermouth to make you a bespoke Manhattan. He also makes a mean Sazerac.
Michael Mina’s lavish restaurant in the Four Seasons Hotel has an impressive spirits collection and an extensive cocktail menu filled with classics and house originals. One reason why the drinks taste so good is that the establishment grows and hand-picks its own herbs—not to mention making a host of tinctures, bitters and syrups.
True to its name, just about everything served at Founding Farmers is made from scratch and has recently arrived from a local farm. That also goes for its menu of pre-Prohibition cocktails. The drinks are made with an array of fresh juices and homemade syrups. Try the savory La Feria, which calls for a spicy chipotle infused syrup, fresh lemon juice, yellow chartreuse and mezcal.
The Gibson, 2009 14th Street Northwest, 202 232 2156:
DC’s own ode to the speakeasy, The Gibson offers a fantastic list of cocktails broken down into creative categories like Smitten (Light & Refreshing), Courting (Succulent & Savory) and Betrothed (Boozy on the Sweet Side). This is a great bar for relaxing with a good drink in hand.
The Passenger, named for the Iggy Pop tune, is where rock ’n’ roll and the classic cocktail collide. Drink geeks sit peacefully next to beer chuggers at this place, which is quickly becoming a hangout for off-duty bartenders. Not a surprise since it was co-founded by Derek Brown, a stalwart of the DC cocktail scene.
Not only does POV offer classic cocktails and food, it also has one of the best views of the White House in the city. Drink impresario Sasha Petraske trained the bartenders and like at his other bars, including New York’s Milk & Honey, offers a short list of tasty classics made from fresh fruit juice, homemade sodas and five different types of hand-cracked ice.
Proof is a modern American restaurant with a well-stocked wine cellar, a talented chef and the perfect cocktail list. Bar manager Adam Bernbach focuses on aperitif and digestive cocktails as well as sherry-based drinks.
Chef Peter Smith and head bartender Gina Chersevani make a great team when it comes to pairing cocktails with food. Many traditional food ingredients also find their way into the drinks, including saffron, soy and Sriracha. No need to order wine at this restaurant.
Todd Thrasher (pictured above) is considered by many to be the savior of the DC bartending scene even if he is located just across the border in Old Town Alexandria. At his clandestine bar PX (his talent can also be enjoyed at Restaurant Eve), Thrasher combines molecular mixology with classic cocktail methodology. A drink here is worth the $25 cab ride from DC.
For the true DC power player experience, complete with cigars and cognac, head to Shelly’s Back Room. Select a stogie—there are nearly 100 cigars to choose from—and an appropriate tipple from the bar’s extensive spirits list and settle into an overstuffed club chair.
Stefan Trummer disappeared from New York City a few years ago to open a restaurant in the historic town of Clifton, Virgina (about 25 miles from DC). Trummer hasn’t lost any of his bartending skills in the move and is still serving his famous Titanic Cocktail.
Looking for more great watering holes? Check out our bar guide for the best bars in the world.