As a national capital, Washington DC is without peer—it’s full of manicured boulevards and parkland, monuments and museums, culture and gravitas. As a working city, DC is full of politicians and journalists, not to mention influence-peddlers, rich foreigners, bureaucrats, students and the service workers who cater to them all. Which is to say that this town has a wicked thirst. The best bars and restaurants to visit while slaking that thirst, as ranked by BeerAdvocate’s BeerFly members, follow.
We’ll start in the Northwest Quadrant of town, near Mount Vernon Square, the Convention Center, the Verizon Center and Chinatown. The neighborhood is home to Washington’s biggest-name brewers: Old Dominion, Gordon Biersch, Capitol City, and Dave Alexander’s cuisine à la bière joint, RFD. All are solid bets for lunch or game-time pints. If you’re heading upscale and feeling carnivorous, check the District ChopHouse or the impossibly fabulous Belgian bar, Brasserie Beck. The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are in the neighborhood; the White House is a few blocks to the west, and the National Mall an equally short walk or Metro ride south.
Head southeast, down Pennsylvania Avenue and behind the Capitol, and party like an entry-level Congressional staffer at the Capitol Lounge. Or live it up like a committee chair (pre-ethics reform) at Belga Café, chef Bart Vandaele’s Belgian hot spot.
Shoot back northwest, along Massachusetts Avenue and past Embassy Row, to Dupont Circle. Tucked along the neighborhood’s historic mansions and row houses are the Brickskeller beer hall, DC’s half-century-old beer drinking institution, and Kramer’s, a 24-hour bookstore that doubles as a café, performance space and full-service bar. You may never have to leave.
Finish up around Howard University, on the U Street corridor, near the African-American Civil War Memorial. Eat and dance all night with the hipsters at Café Saint-Ex, take in a meal, a drink and a show at the storied Bohemian Caverns jazz club, or bask in the glow of a bar that encourages conversation by banning TV (The Saloon).
District ChopHouse and Brewery
Rock Bottom’s upscale cousin serves creative renditions of expected urban steakhouse fare—strips, filets, chops and racks—alongside some formidable house beers. Their Bourbon Stout is the consensus champ.
Gordon Biersch’s downtown DC home is in a gorgeous, marbled old bank. Do your best to pry your eyes off the stately architecture and bustling crowds, and toward Gordon’s Schwarzbier and Czech Lager—both gold medalists at last year’s GABF.
Capitol City Brewing
Capitol City, DC’s first brewpub since Prohibition, now boasts locations downtown, on Capitol Hill, and in Arlington, Va. They serve quality pub fare and an impressive selection of German lagers and ales.
Pizzeria Paradiso heard their customers liked beer, so they opened up a basement bar and stocked it full of Rochefort 10, Delirium Tremens, and 16 rotating taps of great American craft brews. Now that’s customer service.
Way, way out of the way from every other destination of note (or even a Metro station), but it’s absolutely worth the cab fare. Granville Moore’s offers one of the capital’s best Belgian menus—several dozen top-tier bottles and happy hour beer specials—and makes one mean moulet frites.
This beery Belgian café calls its cuisine “Eurofusion.” Others call it breathtaking. Belga’s chef cut his teeth on the capital’s embassy circuit, and his new eating—and drinking—establishment is nothing if not world-class.
A Belgian brasserie with a massive, incomparably executed menu, and an 18-page beer list to match. You’ll find all the Trappist standbys alongside a number of rarities and a dozen-plus rotating taps.
Lots of rules at play here: No TVs, no standing at the bar, and the like. So, if you’re into German and Belgian beers and good conversation, or if you’re into domination, The Saloon is your place.
Washington’s most famous spot for jazz—an art form that has long since depended, heavily at times, on beer. Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and John Coltrane have all taken the stage here.
The Brickskeller [closed]
The Brickskeller has been a DC beer institution for over 50 years, its reputation growing alongside its mammoth, ever-expanding beer list. Problems with stock can occur, but we’re sure you’ll find something to wash down those burgers and wings with.
Old Dominion Brewhouse [closed]
A great place to grab lunch, recover from a conference at the Convention Center, or tip back a post-game pint. Old Dominion’s Oak Barrel Stout and Millennium Barleywine are rightly legendary.
The Reef [closed]
The Reef is an oasis of laidback hip in bustling Adams Morgan, with equal attention paid to rotating seasonal craft beer selections and an organic, free-range, socially responsible menu.
Regional Food and Drink (RFD)
With 30 American craft beers on tap and 300 more in the bottle, RFD easily has the best beer selection in downtown DC. It does get mobbed during game time—but then again, that’s also when it’s most fun.
Kramerbooks and Afterwords Café
Kramer’s is a bookstore that also serves beer. And there’s coffee, food and live music till late at night. Literature too.
A stylish bistro upstairs, an art deco-themed indie dance club downstairs and good beer all around: Perhaps useless hipsters aren’t so useless after all.
We wouldn’t send you to our nation’s capital without giving you the chance to rub up against some real live congressional staffers and interns, would we? Exacting beer geeks will find a few worthy selections; the rest will find cheap and dirty good times. ■