D.C. has no shortage of luxe watering holes for the well-heeled crowd to see-and-be-seen, especially at some of the city’s top hotels. Power players, playboys and everyone in between have come to expect expertly crafted drinks, stellar service, and a posh environment at these spots:
The 12-seat low-lit bar in Michael Mina’s steakhouse in the Georgetown Four Seasons mashes up old school with modern lounge, says head bartender Torrence Swain. “Our experience is hip, calming, relaxing and inviting all at once,” he notes. “It's the kind of place that may seem formal, but once you're inside, you have a sense of warmth that invites you to sit down and relax.” Luxe details like ice cube shape light fixtures, plush seating, and chartreuse club chairs up the swank factor. And the drinks? This is no stale peanuts, sad ice-filled Gin & Tonic kind of hotel bar. Swain and team are constantly updating the 25-page cocktail tome, which boasts everything for rare Bourbons to small-batch cocktails with house-made elixirs, and cigars. Because you need something to wash down those irresistible duck fat fries, the latest libations added to the robust drinks program including a Matcha Mule, with Civic Vodka, fresh lime, Pennywort, Matcha syrup and soda, garnished with a lime wheel and candied ginger, and the Birdseye View, with Absolut Elyx Vodka, lychee, limoncello, passionfruit, sesame oil and lemon juice, served in a copper owl with tableside liquid nitrogen. The overall experience, notes Torrence, is chic, not stuffy, not matter the occasion.
The recently reopened Watergate Hotel has shed its shady political past, and the spacious 125-seat rooftop bar is prime real estate for sweeping views of the Kennedy Center and the Washington Monument (get there at sunset for a real treat). “We are a one of a kind place in D.C. that you won’t find anywhere else in the city,” declares Top of the Gate and beverage manager Gabrielle Clark. Soak in the last days of mild weather while imbibing the Gin-n-Thyme, with Gin Mare, iced chamomile tea, thyme and violet honey, or the Blow Me Away, with Prosecco, elderflower liqueur, lychee and citrus, while noshing on Wagyu beef prepared on the Robata grill, or Saba sashimi with crispy rice and espelette mayo. Relax with friends, or bring a date and cook up your own scandal.
Leather armchairs, parquet flooring, a back-lit onyx bar and dark wood paneling on the walls lend a classic, sumptuous feel to the 23-seat bar in Georgetown’s Rosewood Hotel, an homage to Founding Fathers George Washington (who produced whiskey) and Thomas Jefferson (who traded in it). “‘Swanky’ for me means luxury and stylish,” says bartender Cecilio Silva. “The Rye Bar has the cozy feel of the Old World bars.” Not surprisingly, dark brown booze-based cocktails get their fair shake on the menu. The Alvarez is a Mexican twist on the Martinez; named for D.C. bartender Horus Alvarez, it eschews Old Tom Gin for mezcal, stirred with red vermouth, Luxardo Maraschino and bitters. The Bittersweet mingles Redemption Rye Whiskey with Amaro Lucano, house made ginger syrup, lemon juice and simple syrup, topped with soda water and served on the rocks in a Collins glass. Watch the bar staff stir, shake and hand carve the ice (or catch a view of the canal) while snacking on The Grill Room Burger (with secret sauce mayo) or artisan pasta with Bolognese meat ragout and shaved Reggiano cheese.
The 37-seat bar at The Jefferson Hotel pays tribute to our third President with touches including Monticello-inspired parquet flooring and eighteenth-century maps recounting Jefferson’s jaunts to the wine regions of Italy, Germany and France. And the actual bar top’s appeal? Well, that’s clear. “Our bar is made entirely of glass, which is something you rarely see, if ever,” says bar manager Inue Damrongchai. “The lighting gives it a warm, inviting glow, which definitely contributes to our overall look and feel.” Adding to the warm, welcoming atmosphere is live piano music wafting through the cozy space. Cocktails change seasonally, and may include Paddington’s Shoes, a play on the classic Sherry Cobbler with Lustau Sherry, marmalade syrup, lemon and black mission fig bitters, and the Mulled-Berry Street, a riff on the Boulevardier with Bulleit Bourbon, dried cherry- and peach-infused Campari and mulled wine syrup. Bar snacks and appetizers abound; most ordered are the seared ahi tuna flatbread with mozzarella, capers, herb pesto, spiced dried tomatoes and pepper and spicy aioli, and the bison sliders, with blueberry barbecue sauce and caramelized onions. Sure, The Jefferson is a destination for tourists and business visitors, but Quill appeals to the homegrown crowd too.
Mirrored back bar shelves, a semi-circle bar, and eight leather swivel stools are just a few of the tony details at the 34-seat lounge at the luxury hotel downtown. “The St. Regis bar is stylish and welcoming, we think lighting is very important to the look and feel of the room,” says Salim El Khayati, director of food and beverage. The drinks menu focuses on seasonal ingredients and a return to the classics--with contemporary twists. The Charles Grey shakes Absolut Elyx Vodka with bergamot-scented black tea, Cognac and orange liqueur; After five stirs Maker’s Mark Bourbon with “an aromatic apothecary’s blend fashioned to help relieve the weight of a challenging work week.” Come for a drink, linger for the duck sliders with foie gras, parmesan arugula and fresh herbs, or the tempura-crusted marinated calamari with black truffle aioli. El Khayati says what separates a good from a great hotel bar are a feeling of wanting to return, bartenders who anticipate your liquid penchant before you even sit down, and a variety of comfortable spots that are conducive to either boisterous conversation or a quiet rendez-vous.