“Oh, you hate your job? Why didn’t you say so? There’s a support group for that. It’s called EVERYBODY, and they meet at the bar.” —Drew Carey
Go to almost any bar in D.C., and it seems like no one is happy with their jobs. Capitol Hill staffers are getting post-graduate degrees to find better-paying jobs; government employees are working as food, drink, and travel writers on the side; lawyers seem to prefer investing in new restaurants than chasing down legal precedents. So where are they going to find the liquid courage to follow their dreams? The U Street Corridor. Every bar is standing room only, with lines out the door. Here’s Culture Trip’s guide to 10 of the best.
You know Barcelona Wine Bar is the real deal when people are willing to sit outside in the cold around a fire pit with heaters. Millennials go for the high-energy atmosphere, gourmands go for elegant tapas, but wine geeks know there’s gold in the Latin-themed wine list. Wine and spirits director Gretchen Thomas has hand-selected excellent wines from Spain and Central and South America with a mind to showcase lesser-known, praise-worthy wines that beautifully reflect their terroir and Spanish heritage. Her labor of love has created a nationally acclaimed wine menu you will want to explore.
What do you get when you combine mid-century design from the Japanese Metabolist movement with American Brutalism, Sapporo ramen, and a craft cocktail bar? Haikan, one of the newer projects from Daikaya Group. Deeply fluted concrete block walls line the bar, pale yellow tiles cover the bar front, and Japanese-inspired cocktails flow. Like their other restaurants, Haikan is super fresh and has a playful sense of humor; the San-gu-ria would be corny if the drink weren’t so darn good. Ready on tap, it’s made with wine, shiro shochu, and yuzu and is just one of many signature drinks made with Japanese ingredients and more than a dash of tongue-in-cheek.
Secrets are currency in Washington, so Quarter + Glory is exactly the kind of bar you expect to find along the U Street Corridor. The name is borrowed from the pledge that members of playwright Eugene O’Neill’s secret society made each time they ended their secret meetings. The toast was “Quarter and Glory,” and maybe O’Neill and his writer friends would have felt at home among the dark, dramatic, patina wood surfaces and the bar’s 25 specialty cocktails. Cocktail-conscious patrons will be happy to learn that the drinks are as intriguing as their creation stories.
What can you say about a real dive bar that’s subterranean? It’s below street level, puts all its resources into good, cheap drinks made with premium brands, and serves the best fish and chips in the city for just $7 bucks. Here’s what the owners say, “Some people think we are the sh****est bar in DC, we couldn’t agree more.” If you appreciate a good dive bar, you’ll love it. Darkly lit and barely more than exposed brick walls, concrete floors, and the bar, The Codmother has the best playlist of any bar on U Street, avoiding Top 40 hits, prompting people to dance the night away.
Did you know The Gibson was part of the speakeasy vanguard in Washington back in 2008? Just like speakeasies in the 1920s, The Gibson hides in plain site behind an ugly black door with an almost invisible address, 2009, hammered onto the surface. The bar, which has a reservation-only policy, attracts the “in” crowd who are free to relax and sit at the bar, in comfortable booths, or in Scandinavian designs, but there is no crowding at the bar; there is also a strict no standing policy. Guests order seasonal drinks from a chalkboard menu that includes close to 20 Prohibition-era cocktails with names like “… da Pain Away” and “Midwestern Erotica.” If they don’t suit your palate, one of the obliging bartenders will whip up a bespoke drink for you on the spot.
They say the formula at Service Bar is pretty simple: Make quality cocktails. Make them affordable. Repeat. Service Bar offers a hyper-rotating craft cocktail program that can accommodate just 100 standing guests, and veteran bartenders Glendon Hartley and Chad Spangler make incredible drinks that go with the fried chicken-heavy menu. The bar also offers never-ending Happy Hours with $7 classic cocktails, $7 Pop & Ponies (beer and a shot), and buy-one-get-one shots. The kitsch décor is like a trip back in time without being too cute, and with a mantra to “never close early,” Service Bar’s winning formula has turned the young bar into a U Street staple almost overnight.
While D.C. is more about swanky bars where the rich and powerful meet to decide the nation’s destiny, Archipelago is all about fun, enthusiastically embracing the tiki genre with their slogan, “Drinks, Food, Tiki.” Tropical island murals, tiki idols, topless hula girl fringed lamps, and a corny but fun island theme are just the prelude to the rum-based Happy Hour cocktails and Pacific Rim-inspired snacks that are Archipelago’s draw. At Happy Hour, 1990s prices take over, and you can buy piña coladas for $7, classic selections and Ti Punch drinks for $8, and Pineapples of Hospitality (serves two) for $16. Happy Hour also includes cheap eats with sliders for $4, shrimp toast for $5, and double burgers for $8.
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