One Night in... Washington DC


Address: "Find the blue light" Around the corner from 728 King Street, Alexandria, Virginia
Tel: No Phone
Type: Speakeasy Bar

Opened in 2006 and pre-dating many of the more famous speakeasy-style bars in America, PX's success is largely the work of "spirit savant" and DC's resident mad scientist Todd Thrasher. Thrasher is a partner and mixologist for PX, Restaurant Eve, Virtue Fee & Grain, and Society Fair, all in Old Town Alexandria, a $20 or so cab ride from DC. He is renowned both for his creativity in putting drinks together and his DIY-aesthetic: nearly every ingredient that can be made from scratch is, including bitters, tonic water, and roasted pineapple juice. Some of the wilder drinks on offer include ingredients like duck sauce soda (in a drink paired with a large shrimp cracker), tobacco tea, and lime and French thyme-infused sauvignon blanc. Cocktails lean toward the sweet side of the spectrum, but naturally requests for drier drinks are honoured.

Rather than the now-expected tin ceilings and barrel stave walls of most speakeasy bars, PX more resembles a typical brownstone railroad apartment with lots of heavy wood beams, inlaid glass cabinets, and steam radiators for heat. The heart of PX is the centre room holding a small bar with about ten tall chairs around it. Servers bring drinks to people seated at the many couches, tables, and chairs in the other few rooms of PX, while those seated at the bar are treated to the show of the bartender making the drinks. PX is conducive to both quiet conversation with dates, and to outbursts of laughter chatting with old and new friends around the bar. 4/5

Tabard Inn

Address: 1739 N Street NW. Washington D.C.
Tel 1+ 202.331.8528
Type: Hotel Bar

Ninety-year-old hotel Tabard Inn is an unusual space to find a quality cocktail programme - or a fine dining restaurant. The small hotel is decorated in DC's idea of quirky: a combination of political and food art filling the wall space, and mismatched vintage furniture covering the floors. Many of the guest rooms open up to hallways and convert into event rooms, revealing the property's heavy focus on entertaining.

The bar is a few steps down from the entry level, located between a series of living room-styled lounges and the black-and-white checker-floored dining room with an outdoor patio. The view from a barstool, however, resembles that of a tiny British country inn, with its low wooden ceiling and crammed shelves. If you entered the hotel on this level, you might expect to step around the bar to get to the rooms upstairs.

While our visit was during the end of the lunch rush, with well-dressed Washington power players filling every table and several of the private dining rooms, later at night many drinkers migrate to those living room-style lounges where a cigar by the fireplace would feel in order if that were permitted.

Cocktails here are subtle in flavour and quite dry (all the better for pairing with food), but with interesting ingredients like buckwheat honey and tea in several selections. The menu is also divided around the meal, into "pre-prandial," "anytime," and "post-prandial" sections, with a mix of classics and originals. While our early visit makes it difficult to predict the vibe of the bar as a nightlife destination, it is certainly a worthwhile place to find a good drink. 3.5/5

The Passenger and The Columbia Room

Address: 1021 7th Street, NW, Washington, D.C.
Tel: 1+ 202.393.0220
Type: Neighborhood Bar and Speakeasy

It may take a few minutes for The Passenger's charm to set in, but it soon becomes clear that this bar achieves the balance of casual atmosphere and quality drinks that has proven elusive to many venues making the same effort. The front room is nothing much to look at, with its mostly bare grey walls, a few small booths, and seating at the bar. A second area in the back is heavily and incongruously themed as a train car with a curved ceiling and comfy two-top tables and chairs on either side of the narrow room.

The bar offers no cocktail menu - just a specials board - yet the bartenders here are familiar with the classics and create fantastic drinks to order without a fuss. Newcomers might not realize this and stick with a shot-and-a-beer, until they investigate the back bar, full of specialty cocktail ingredients and Fernet-Branca on tap. Customers are a mix of neighborhood residents, service industry workers from nearby restaurants that close early, a liquor industry crowd, and colorful (read: crazy) regulars. The atmosphere is social and unserious, and one gets the impression that it would take all of a week hanging out at the bar to meet the most fun crowd in town.

The Columbia Room is a quieter and more refined ten-seat bar inside The Passenger, accessible via a hidden door. Inside, customers (who've made reservations in advance) sit at the bar and are treated to a three-course cocktail tasting menu. This includes a welcome drink, a seasonal drink paired with a food item, and a third drink created to the customer's specifications. Again there is no cocktail menu and customers can go a la carte during or after the pairing. In this tiny closet of a bar, they offer hand-cut ice, homemade tinctures and bitters, and all the other accoutrements of a top mixology bar, and with just ten customers to serve, bartenders have the time to make use of it all. The Columbia Room also hosts cocktail classes on such diverse topics as honey and wine-based cocktails, along with a bar basics series. The Passenger and the Columbia Room serve different drinks, vibes, and customers, and in combination play host to both cocktail nerds and cocktail bartenders looking to escape the grind. 4.5/5

Jack Rose Dining Saloon

Address: 2007 18th St NW, Washington, DC
Tel 1+ 202- 588-7388
Type: Modern Whisky Bar

The massive Jack Rose in the Adams Morgan neighborhood contains a stylish whiskey bar and restaurant downstairs, and a deck-like roof-top level party bar upstairs. The rectangular street-level restaurant is a bourbon and Scotch lover's dream, with over 1,400 bottles spanning most of three sides of the room behind the bar up to the ceiling. The bar seating and standing section spans one side of the long room, while booths and two-top tables for diners make up the rest of the space. There is a list of ten each classic and original cocktails, though whiskey (and the 20 beers on tap) are the main emphasis in this room. As is becoming de rigueur in better cocktail bars, there is a cocktail on tap (along with a tap of Willett bourbon), and a stave-aged (rather than barrel-aged) Manhattan that proved to be delicious.

Upstairs, beneath a retractable roof and surrounded with heat lamps, the atmosphere feels more casual and congenial with taller tables, food from a grill, and a five-cocktail menu. It is built for volume service so the amazing whiskey selection of downstairs is nowhere in sight. At either end of the room are balconies, both with views, often reserved for private events, parties, and tastings. Despite the lack of a dancefloor, the venue is known for being quite crowded and clubby at night, with doormen in place to maintain order among the masses. The two levels have separate entrances and maintain independent identities, though both are bustling venues at night. 4/5

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