NFT Washington DC Nightlife

Washington DC / Nightlife

DC's nightlife scene includes swank nightclubs, reliable neighborhood bars, and venues with great rooftop decks for some real summer fun. After a long day of Robert's Rules of Order for Hill staffers, exams and study sessions for the college kids, and office frustrations for the working stiffs, there is great need to release some energy. Happy hour starts in the District around 5 pm with bars and restaurants offering drinks specials, outdoor dining, and tasty eats. On weekends, the late-night fun usually begins to pick up around midnight and cruises towards the wee hours of 3 a.m. and beyond. And don't let the surplus of stiff business suits, button downs, and ballet flats fool you -- this city knows how to unwind. It's a good thing they don't give out tickets for riding drunk on the Metro -- expect to see your fair share of people passed out in the seat next to you. Fair warning: the Metro closes at midnight Sunday through Thursday and at 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, but there are always cabbies waiting on bar streets for that tipsy (but not slobbering drunk) fare. If you keep timing in mind, DC is a prime city for partying.  If you have $10-$1,000 to spend every night, there is a place for you.

Nightlife revolves around the bustling K Street Corridor, Georgetown, Dupont, Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Cleveland Park, U Street, H-Street NE, and some of the livelier suburbs, depending on your age, music preference, and mood. Most places in DC are within walking distance of each other (or at least a short cab or Metro ride apart), providing partygoers with several options for party-hopping, and it is guaranteed that hitting up six spots in one night will become an art-form for you and yours.

Throw on your white loafers, pop your polo collar, and grab your designer bag for a weekend out in Georgetown. This is a hodge-podge of college students, upper-crust shop-a-holics, wayward tourists, and local residents who have managed to find nooks and crannies along bustling M Street that the out-of-towners have yet to conquer. Nothing beats watching million-dollar yachts pulling up to the pier at Seqouia (Map 8) while you sip outdoor drinks. Need cheap drinks and some Journey in your life? Stroll over to Rhino Bar & Pumphouse (Map 8). If you're one of DC's lone Republicans (or if you're progressive when it comes to dating someone of the opposite political affiliation), head to Smith Point (Map 8). Dress the part and party with Euro-trash at Maté (Map 8) or try to impress your date and walk into the members only L2 (Map 8). Go low-key at the renowned jazz bar Blues Alley (Map 8) and blow your trust fund at Mr. Smith's (Map 8) with the other private school kids.

Dupont, a.k.a. the gay-bor-hood, is really a mix of all types of party goers in a neighborhood that is classy, expensive, but also full of dives. Watch out as you cross the circle, not just for rats, but also for oncoming cabs. The rooftop party is at the Eighteenth Street Lounge and the underground beer heaven is at the Bier Baron (formerly the Brickskeller) (Map 9). For a night of pool, check out Buffalo Billiards (Map 9); for people-watching with some margarita madness, check out the deck at Lauriol Plaza (Map 9). For a sports bar on crack, visit the three story tall Public Bar (Map 9), which is three floors and has far too many flatscreen TVs. Shake your bum at Café Citron (Map 9) or grab the best mojitos in town at Gazuza (Map 9). Sophisticated types abound at Circa at Dupont (Map 9) and the gays are grindin' at Cobalt (Map 9) and downing pints at JR's (Map 9).

Adams Morgan
In Adams Morgan, you'll find the monetarily-challenged and the über-rich roughing it for the night. 18th Street attracts a rambunctious crowd of young kids searching for live music, local improv, and a plethora of bars with neon signs, concrete steps, and quaint awnings. The block also offers conveniently placed parking machines to cling onto when you need to vomit the last few beers before crossing the street to go dancing. Sway to reggae and Caribbean rhythms at Bukom Café (Map 16), and take in blues, jazz, rock, or bluegrass at Madam's Organ (Map 16). Roll up your sleeves at Pharmacy Bar (Map 16), DC's best dive, which caters more to locals than visitors and has a great jukebox. And before the evening is done, soothe your late night hunger pangs at Amsterdam Falafel (Map 16).

Cleveland Park
Cleveland Park's nightlife is crammed into the 3400 block of Connecticut Avenue, where Belgian mussels, basement billiards, and dimly lit enclaves serving sophisticated wines stand next to each other in a melting pot of venues. For great beer, hit up St. Arnold's Cleveland Park location (Map 17). For something a little more low-brow, check out Nanny O'Brien's (Map 17). Atomic Billiards (Map 17) is a good spot for guzzling beer, throwing darts, and shooting pool. Or grab a relaxing glass of wine after a long day at Bardeo (Map 17), a favorite of local young urban professionals.

U Street
U Street on weekend nights is where you'll find people boozing, dancing, and taking in live music. The bars, clubs, venues have attracted everyone from sparingly-dressed college coeds to their probably-too-old-to-be-clubbing admirers who all bring cold hard cash to this formerly up-and-coming neighborhood. The revitalization has been aided by Marvin (Map 10) and Local 16 (Map 9), with their bustling rooftop decks, the Black Cat (Map 10), the 9:30 Club (Map 10), and Velvet Lounge (Map 10), and the dance club DC9 (Map 10). Get your Caribbean groove on at Patty Patty Boom Boom (Map 10). Bars such as Stetson's Famous Bar & Restaurant (Map 9) and Solly's U Street Tavern (Map 10) respect the neighborhood's humble roots, while also providing a place to mingle and perhaps meet that special someone.

Columbia Heights
One of the city's first hispster enclaves, Columbia Heights is home to many down-to-earth bars, including the appropriately named Wonderland Ballroom (Map 15), where PBR and Jim Beam flows like water. Meridian Pint (Map 15) and The Looking Glass Lounge (Map 15) also possess a great neighborhood vibe, while the more upscale Room 11 (Map 15) features a lengthy wine list and elegant meals for less elegant prices.

Capitol Hill
One of the city's biggest nightlife booms in the last five years has been the growth of H Street NE just north of Capitol Hill in the Atlas District. Here, you'll find a strip of bars and restaurants to suit any taste. There's the culturally harmonious Star and Shamrock (Map 3), a great selection of German beers at Biergartenhaus (Map 3), and the adorably divey The Pug. Hipster hangout Rock n' Roll Hotel (Map 3) has indie live music, you can get your Belgian fix at Granville Moore's (Map 3), and for the visitors from Georgetown, there's the H Street Country Club (Map 3), replete with its own indoor mini-golf course. For those in the bottom half of Capitol Hill, there's The Dubliner (Map 2) and Kelly's Irish Times (Map 2). For some upscale wine talk, hit the upstairs lounge at Sonoma (Map 3) or meet up with the rest of the trendy Hill staff at The 201 Bar (Map 3).

Old Town Alexandria
Alexandria's Old Town may not be a regular haunt for the DC-centric, but it offers a pleasant variety of places to drink and dance, especially for the 30-plus crowd. The proximity to the water, along with the collection of art galleries, upscale boutiques, and historical sites, make Old Town a great day-to-night destination. Crank out some karaoke at Rock It Grill (Map 46). You can always rub elbows with the über snotty locals (and a fair share of tourists) at Vermilion (Map 46), Murphy's (Map 46), or Union Street Public House (Map 46). And if you're feeling really elitist, you can likely get into PX (Map 46), a not-so-hidden speakeasy with no sign -- just a blue light over the front door.

Everything Else
The K Street Corridor has blossomed with seven swank lounges and clubs in a two-block radius all competing for your hard-earned paycheck. Europeans and diplomat kids hop over to Josephine Lounge (Map 10) and Lima (Map 10), while DC's power elite trek to Proof (Map 1), Tattoo Bar (Map 9), and The Park at Fourteenth (Map 10). Turn heads at the swank Poste Moderne Brasserie (Map 1) in Chinatown where you can sip wine in their gorgeous monument-like courtyard space. For lower-key establishments there's also the nearby Irish Channel (Map 2) for a pint of Guinness, the highly-underrated RFD (Map 1), and Capitol City Brewing Company (Map 1, 39) for the free soft pretzels provided to every table. Venture out of Northwest DC and you'll find girls from the Midwest at Clarendon Ballroom (Map 35) and the deepest basement bar at Quarry House Tavern (Map 25) in downtown Silver Spring. Drown yourself in Indie music at Galaxy Hut (Map 35) or Iota (Map 35). Love (Map 12), formerly known as Dream, a massive four-floor complex on Okie Street, is also a popular place where VIP membership will cost you just $500 a year and save you the embarrassment of being a regular person in a line that often wraps around the block.

On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Kara Deniz
Photo:  Kara Deniz

One Lounge
Dim lighting, brick pillars, comfortable modern couches, and background beats provide the perfect chill-out atmosphere at One Lounge, a cocktail bar and restaurant located just steps from the Dupont Circle metro. The feel here is more New York cool than Dupont Circle watering hole. Service is quite accommodating; in fact, the chef came out to our table, bringing with him not one, but two free dessert samples--strawberry crepes drizzled with chocolate sauce and whipped cream, followed by fresh strawberries with cream. A glowing review was in order prior to the offering, but this act sealed the deal. When was the last time you went to a bar/restaurant in DC on a busy Friday night and the chef came to your table or the staff welcomed you back for a return visit, by name? Classy, not crowded, hip, yet casual, One Lounge is the place to be.

Posted By:  Kara Deniz
Photo:  Kara Deniz

Dupont Italian Kitchen
Located on a lively strip of 17th Street, Dupont Italian Kitchen provides a solid, if unimpressive dining experience. Serving Italian mainstays like chicken parm, veal marsala, and lasagna, the restaurant delivers on reliable and hearty traditional dishes at affordable prices. On a recent visit, a simple penne with sausage, arugula, and tomato was fresh and filling, yet lacked complexity. The sausage was chewy and not as lean as one would hope; there was no sauce to speak of, just a hint of olive oil, leaving much of the penne dry. Dupont Italian Kitchen features an outdoor patio, which is a good spot for summer dining. There is also an upstairs bar. Dupont Italian Kitchen leaves hungry diners feeling indifferent, though the potential for more is certainly there. That's why I plan to go back, give the menu another try, and keep you posted.

Posted By:  Magda Nakassis
Photo:  Magda Nakassis

Jay's Saloon & Grille
Many proclaim to love the dive bar--as a boozy institution in opposition to a lounge, club, wine bar, hotel bar, or generally upscale watering hole. But in a city as pricey and suit-filled as Washington, what exactly qualifies as a "dive" in these parts? I've often heard the term used for bars that I would simply call dark, or laid-back, or not for dancing. Well friends, I can assure you that Jay's Saloon and Grille is musty, leaky, dusty, and stained. The clientele is older and unpretentious, and the service is pleasant. They serve cheap pitchers of beers, are situated next to a used car dealership, and have a patio of plastic furniture and ashtrays. It all feels very distance to the main Clarendon strip--take that as you will.

Posted By:  Magda Nakassis
Photo:  Magda Nakassis

How responsible is Mad Men (and/or Jon Hamm's smoldering good looks) for the Old Fashioned renaissance? Whatever the reasons, there's no doubt that Angostura bitters, maraschino cherries, and tumblers are in. Plenty of cocktail-focused bars have cropped up in DC, but one recent addition--the Sidebar--finds itself on the Maryland side of the border, in downtown Silver Spring. Attached to Jackie's restaurant, Sidebar feels like a glamorous dive: dimly lit, with red vinyl seating, windows with cast iron grates, pool table, austere metal chairs, and a disproportionate number of chandeliers. Hip and welcoming, it's the perfect spot to sip your high-class rye, nibble on hand-sliced curry potato chips, and rack 'em up.

Posted By:  Magda Nakassis
Photo:  Magda Nakassis

Nellie's Sports Bar
Brunch, that laziest of meals, owes much of its popularity to bottomless mimosas and Bloody Marys. Hair of the dog (that bit you) promises to ease Saturday night's lingering headache and questionable decision-making. Well, why stop there, friends? Nellie's--DC's only gay sports bar--offers a Sunday afternoon beer blast with $2 brews from 3-8 pm. Factor in its rooftop patio, and Nellie's soars to the top of any daytime drinking list. And if your cumulative weekend blood alcohol content gets too high, a full menu of bar food (wings, burgers, quesadillas, and the like) is available and well recommended.

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