As craft cocktail bars and speakeasy-style saloons become the norm in major cities across the U.S., the nation’s capital is pioneering a revolution in the spirits world. Washingtonians have further refined their quest for the perfect cocktail, focusing on bars and restaurants that specialize in a single spirit. From hipster hangouts to spots that sports stars love, Washington D.C. has a bar and a spirit for every personality.
Here are a few of our favorites:
Enjoying Vodka at Russia House
With lush tapestries, sleek tufted banquettes and dim lighting, the Russia House has long been a favorite of locals and expats alike. Sip a perfectly chilled shot or Pink Panther martini (Smirnoff Vodka, Triple Sec liqueur, club soda and cranberry juice) in more than 200 brands and flavors of vodka from Armenia to Ohio. Pair with chicken Kiev or Moscow borsch or a scoop of your favorite caviar. While enjoying your treat, you’ll likely spot a local celebrity or two as well — the lounge has been a favorite of the Washington Capitals hockey players since it opened more than a decade ago.
Sherry Sipping at Mockingbird Hill
Cocktail aficionados in D.C. know brothers Derek and Tom Brown — the masterminds behind bars like The Passenger and Columbia Room. Now, Derek has branched off on his newish passion project, a sherry and ham bar in Shaw with his wife Chantal Tseng. The tiny spot boasts 54 different sherries (from fino to oloroso) and four kinds of local ham (including a Spanish-style ham from Surry-based Edwards & Sons), along with an array of bar snacks (think: olives and walnuts), similar to what you would find in the types of Spanish cafés that inspired the bar. There’s also a small selection of sherry cocktails and gin and tonic (on tap!) made with local Green Hat Gin. Don’t know anything about sherry? Brown offers a class and tasting each Tuesday to help educate newbies.
Absinthe Admiring at Libertine
Once known as a neighborhood that specialized in nightlife for cheap-drink-seeking 20-somethings, Adams Morgan has matured in its offerings with the opening of Libertine. Decorated to resemble something out of the Moulin Rouge — down to the vintage signs — expect 30-plus kinds of Absinthe, a small selection of craft cocktails such as Sage Advice (vodka, sage spirit, St. Germain liqueur and fresh lime juice) and a few bar bites such as fried oyster sliders and garlic fries. Enjoy your taste of “the green fairy” on the bar’s small patio.
Tequila Tasting at El Centro D.F. and MXDC Cocina Mexicana
Buttoned-up D.C. has an unlikely love affair with a spirit best known for shooting with salt and a lime. Our go-to? El Centro D.F. – this three-level, 14th Street bar and restaurant draws crowds morning, noon and night, as much for its high-quality menu of Mexican street food favorites (see: grilled steak tacos and shrimp and crab enchiladas) and popular roof-deck as it does for its impressive selection of around 200 tequilas. Order a flight of blanco, reposado and añejo in the cool stone-walled basement or tempt your taste buds with freshly mixed margaritas on the roof. A second location of this Richard Sandoval-owned restaurant opened in Georgetown in late August.
Rum Revering at Hogo
Get ready to bring out the mini umbrellas. Not content to be outdone by his brother’s aforementioned ham-and-sherry concept, Tom Brown decided to open his own single-spirit bar last December. Shaw’s Hogo features an extensive selection of rum-based drinks dubbed “Tiki Nuevo.” What exactly does that mean? Think Caribbean-esque rum punches and South American-style mojitos, along with a small selection of complementing cocktails made with tequila and mescal. A rotating menu from guest chefs — gourmands representing places such as Hawaii and Scandinavia have cooked at Hogo — rounds out the offerings.
But we’d be remiss not to mention the new MXDC downtown. Forbes Travel Guide Tastemaker Todd English’s restaurant and bar concept that opened back in June features more than 100 tequilas, available by the glass or the carafe, served with traditional accompaniments such as lime, salt and Sangrita, perfect for splitting with friends at dinner or enjoying by yourself at lunch with an order of Mahi Mahi tacos.
Photos Courtesy of Olivia Boinet, Jen Munkvold and Taylor Peden-Richard Sandoval Restaurants