DCist by Staff
D.C. seems to have an unquenchable thirst for drinking out of doors. Despite an influx of new roof decks, beer gardens, and sidewalk cafes, you'll be hard pressed to find an open table when the temperatures rise. Some bars have eschewed indoor seating completely, successfully operating for only part of the year—an arrangement that would be financial suicide elsewhere. And any new restaurant or bar on the scene would be a fool not to build outdoor seating into their design plans. With the arrival of spring, here are DCist's picks for the best places to imbibe outside.
1905: The dark wood paneling and chandeliers in the main dining room don't exactly scream "laid-back rooftop scene," but that's what you'll find when you head up the stairs at this cozy neighborhood mainstay just south of U St. The roof deck opens at 2 p.m. on Saturdays while the warm weather lasts and stays open late every day (except Mondays, when the restaurant is closed). The food menu, all of which is available to rooftop diners, is a whimsical mash-up of Carolina Low Country and eastern Mediterranean, like shrimp and grits with squid-ink blackened bread crumbs and black-eyed pea hummus with smoked olive oil. There's no beer on tap, but they have plenty of canned and bottled craft options, as well as a solid cocktail list.—Jenny Holm
1905 is located at 1905 9th St. NW.
BARDO: If you're looking for a classy roof deck overlooking the city, complete with hand-crafted cocktails, this isn't the spot for you. Bardo is no frills and a little bit eclectic. Trust me, you won't find a martini anywhere near by. Bardo boasts one of the biggest outdoor spaces you'll find in this part of the city, complete with long picnic tables and setups for playing bags (or cornhole, depending on what part of the country you're from). The space has a relaxed yet industrial feel, complete with a massive skull made out of crushed aluminum cans. Bardo is also dog friendly, so don't be surprised to see more than a couple roaming around, including the appropriately named Bardog.—Juana Summers
Bardo is located at 1200 Bladensburg Road NE.
BIG BEAR: There's the concrete patio deck, the rooftop bar, the beer garden, and then there's the patio at Big Bear. This coffee shop/restaurant and bar/neighborhood gathering place first opened in 2007. Since then, the patio—now enclosed in fruit trees, herbs, and grape vines—has expanded into a uniquely welcoming outdoor space. In early May, that space will continue to expand to accommodate 70 diners. —Josh Kramer
Big Bear is located at 1700 First Street NW.
CHEZ BILLY PETWORTH: The hidden back patio at Chez Billy Petworth is perfect for people who want to drink outside without the hassle of drinking outside. A skylight-covered roof keeps things relatively shady, while ceiling fans circulate the city's trademark humid summer air. Cheap beer, half priced burgers, and dollar oysters at happy hour help make for a budget-friendly spring or summer evening.—Alicia Mazzara
Chez Billy Petworth is located at 3815 Georgia Ave NW.
DACHA: Any bar that manages to be a hit without a bathroom or four walls must be doing something right. Dacha beer garden sprouted out of an empty parking lot in Shaw, serving German brews under the sultry gaze of an enormous Elizabeth Taylor mural. Sure, you'll have to use a port-o-potty, but there are far worse ways to spend a warm afternoon than drinking a boot of beer in the sunshine.—Alicia Mazzara
Dacha is located at 1600 7th Street NW.
DC REYNOLDS: Sure, sometimes you want to sip creative cocktails in a lovely, twinkling garden space. But most of the time, you really just need a decently priced neighborhood bar. Park View's D.C. Reynolds has you covered with a patio out back filled with picnic tables and other locals in need of a drink. Or two. Go during happy hour, and it is buy one, get the second one free. —Rachel Sadon
DC Reynolds is located at 3628 Georgia Avenue NW.
DNV AT THE DONOVAN HOUSE: The view of Thomas Circle from the roof of the Donovan House hotel is one of the best in the country, according to USA Today. But the experience is amplified by DNV’s mind-blowing poolside cocktail menu. The alcoholic beverages and delights are designed to be reminiscent of childhood summers with names like the Front Porch—a cooler made with Herradura Blanco, watermelon squares, lemongrass, yuzu and falernum—and Bent Training Wheels, a spicy tropical drink made with Banks rum, passion fruit and white peach puree, and a hint of ghost pepper tincture. They also have caipirinhas on draft, an alcoholic mocha and tonic ice pop called the Chou Chou, and daily punches and slushies—you remember slushies? There’s also the Lushington’s Breakfast, a twist on the Bloody Mary made with Tanqueray 10 and carrot juice, and Handlebars, a Boulevardier with Wild Turkey rye, Carpano Antica and Campari that sports a citrus peel mustache. So go ahead; play with your food. You haven’t had this much fun since you were a kid; and the drinks are served in an impressive array of plasticware in case you have a spill.—Nathan Wilkinson
DNV is located at 1155 14th Street NW.
IRON GATE: Dreamy, ethereal, romantic—these are the soppy sort of words I'd use to describe the candlelit garden patio at Iron Gate. Canopied by a tangle of tree branches and twinkle lights, the setting is straight out of a Pinterest wedding board. The lovely millieu is reason enough to grab a drink or bite at Iron Gate, but an extensive wine and beer list and expertly crafted cocktails make it ideal for toasting a special occasion. —Alicia Mazzara
Iron Gate is located at 1734 N St NW.
EL CENTRO DF GEORGETOWN: There’s something about the combination of sun, guacamole, and margaritas that just works. The second location of Richard Sandoval’s El Centro DF has a stunning and expansive rooftop that’s more laid back than the 14th Street spot. There’s a large bar and plenty of tables for grabbing a meal. Stop in for happy hour daily from 4 to 7 p.m., when the tasty, and strong, house and frozen margaritas are just $5. There are other weekly food and drink specials too.—Travis Mitchell
El Centro DF is located at 1218 Wisconsin Ave NW
GARDEN DISTRICT: Sitting down at Garden District really feels like discovering a refuge—a shady, precious oasis (of beer). The outdoor seating area consists of long picnic tables that encourage socializing while being protected by umbrellas—perfect for escaping the nasty D.C. summer hear (I know... we don't have to talk about it yet). Beer is the specialty here, with a dozen tasty draft selections—but don't come here if you want Budweiser or anything that can be sold with a "Lite" on the end. It's one of the only places in town where you can drink a liter of beer, and that comes at a relatively high price. The snacks are great too: BBQ sandwiches, fried pickles, hush puppies—all the stuff you'd want after your buzz develops and you're only halfway through the liter. Come prepared to spend a pretty penny but eat and drink like a king. —Tori Kerr
Garden District is located at 1801 14th Street NW.
PERRY'S: Heading north on Columbia Road toward Adams Morgan, you'll likely be drawn to Perry's roof like a moth to an...enchanting, twinkling light display. It's true, the string lights add a certain ambiance to the D.C. staple, but the quality food and city views don't hurt either. The restaurant offers acclaimed sushi, brunch, and Japanese drinks and cocktails, and the rooftop bar is a great place to start or end up on a warm night. The well-designed seating and botanical setup make it feel like a comfortable sanctuary on top of the drunken debauchery going on below. —Nicole Dubowitz
Perry's is located at 1811 Columbia Road NW.
POSTE: Ninety-eight percent of the time, I would describe Chinatown as a horror during the warm months as 7th Street clogs with bumbling tourists, sports freaks, and bored teenagers. The other two percent belong to Poste, whose courtyard is a literal oasis amid the neighborhood's chaos. Walk up the tall carriageway and you'll be transported to a more civilized place—a place filled with chilled glasses of white wine, tasteful patio furniture, and truffled fries. If you find yourself in Chinatown during the summer, there's no better place to grab happy hour.—Alicia Mazzara
Poste is located at 700 F Street NW.
RED DERBY: This cash-only spot in Columbia Heights has long been a crowd favorite for the cheap drinks, laid back vibe, and an easy-on-the-wallet weekend brunch that won't leave you disappointed. But the addition of the roof several years back makes it a must-visit spot all season long. Sipping cheap cans of beer upstairs makes summer humidity in D.C. just a little more bearable. Come the colder months, space heaters make it the perfect place to set up at the bar and avoid the bitterness for a little bit longer. Because it's one of the few solid roofs in the immediate area, the Red Derby can get a bit crowded. So come early, stay 'till closing. —Juana Summers
The Red Derby is located at 3718 14th Street NW.
RED LIGHT:Red Light Cocktail and Dessert Bar has a capacious patio that more than doubles the seating of the restaurant. Enjoy a cocktail or glass of wine with Nutella s’mores or Indian rice fritters. There are plenty of savory dishes by executive chef Alina Bothen to try as well: The country rillette, a braised pork and duck confit spread served with pickled apples and apricot mustards, and the roasted beet tartare with cumin goat cheese and pickled fennel are two of my favorite baguette spread appetizers. Then there are the cocktails by beverage manager Jon Fellman. The Peep Show is a pyromaniac’s dream with Pimm’s, lemon and gin garnished with cucumber and a rosemary sprig that’s blasted by a brulee torch. I am also a big fan of the summery Magdalene, a floral dessert drink with gin, egg white, St. Germain, and lemon juice. —Nathan Wilkinson
Red Light is located at 1401 R Street NW.
ROOFERS UNION: Hey, remember The Reef? It was a douche-tastic bar that closed unceremoniously after a stabbing. Bummer, right? The good news is that Roofers Union took the place of the The Reef, including its rooftop bar. Now with an improved beer selection, the bar is even better. This is among the best people watching in D.C. since most anyone who wanders around Adams Morgan on a weekend is ridiculous. — Alan Zilberman, from our 2014 Best Roof Decks list
Roofers Union is located at 2446 18th Street NW.
VINOTECA: This wine bar offers two spots for outside drinking. Grab a seat along the sidewalk for some people watching or head to the backyard patio for a drink and a game of bocce. Vinoteca recently unveiled a new spring grill menu to complement al fresco meals, featuring a number of creative hot dogs and sandwiches. Adventurous eaters may like the grilled squid roll, served with ink mayo, fried lemon, and cilantro. Bar manager Horus Alvarez mixes some of the best cocktails in the city and has crafted a selection of seasonal drinks to go along with the bar’s long wine list. Options include the Amari Spritzer and the House of Rye, a blend of rye, bianco vermouth, fresh sour mix and grapefruit. —Travis Mitchell
Vinoteca is located at 1940 11th Street NW.
WONDERLAND BALLROOM: While Wonderland has grown in popularity from just a neighborhood watering hole to a sometime-destination for folks from the burbs (especially on weekends for dancing), the big outdoor patio is still a great spot on nice days. The big picnic tables mean you often make friends with your neighbors, and while it's not always the fastest service, it's always a good time (just get the bigger beers, they last longer!). They also added some tables on the sidewalk to accommodate the growing crowds. —Andrew Wiseman
Wonderland is located at 1101 Kenyon Street NW.
MERIDIAN HILL PARK DIY BONUS OPTION: Wander into Meridian Hill Park on any given warm weekend and you'll find the fraying grass dotted with huddles of picnickers. I can assure you that they are not all enjoying lemonade with their cheese plates and hummus. You're not supposed to drink in public parks, but it's doubtful that anyone will check the contents of that red solo cup or wine-filled water bottle. And while the drum circle and people watching are entertaining enough on their own, those showboating couples doing acro-yoga are enough to drive one to the bottle. As with most things in life, boozy picnicking is best done discreetly, respectfully, and in moderation. —Alicia Mazzara
Meridian Hill Park is located at 2400 15th Street NW.