Classic Cocktails in Washington, D.C.

There's nothing as glamorous as a well-made cocktail in D.C. Hand-chiseled ice, fresh garnishes, and the right combination of sugar, spirits and bitters draw the line between serious libation and booze for amateurs. Add the right view or historical setting, and you've got a classic in more ways than one. Leave it to the pros to do drinks such as the Manhattan and sazerac just right, and check out our picks for the best places to imbibe a classic cocktail in D.C. (Pictured: The Gibson)

Updated: September 15, 2010

Best Cocktail Clubs and Drinking Lounges in D.C.


The Passenger

1021 7th St NW, Washington, DC 20001

Because sometimes you're too cool to mingle with the drunken masses, join owner Derek Brown and sommelier Kat Bangs in the Columbia Room, the inner cocktail club at this Mt. Vernon bar. Spots are available by reservation on select nights in this private room, which features drink mixing classes according to specific cocktail types.


The Gibson

2009 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

One of the city's most revered cocktail spots, this 14th Street lounge lends a speakeasy quality to its finely crafted drinks. Old-school combinations are a throwback to the Prohibition era, as is the unmarked door. Where quality drinks appear, so does a crowd--make reservations or leave your number with the host to get a text when a table becomes available.


Black Fox Lounge

1723 Connecticut Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20009

Live jazz music, dim lighting and rich leather banquettes make this Dupont lounge fit for real life "Mad Men." Music is kept to a low volume and the wait staff's attention to service--no clanking bottles here--means you can focus on conversation and downing that Sidecar.


PX Lounge

728 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314

"If you want a classic cocktail with that authentic speakeasy vibe, check out Todd Thrasher's handiwork at PX," says Citysearch Dictator Sal M. "When you beat in egg whites and crush ice cubes by hand, the drink is going to take a few minutes to prepare, and it certainly tastes that way."


Wisdom

1432 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003

This Capitol Hill cocktail parlor stands apart not only for its handcrafted drinks but also for its impressive absinthe selection. The vintage-grunge vibe makes it feel a bit more casual than the other spots, but it's great for drinking all the same. Get on the mailing list for information on tastings and events.


The Fruit Bat

1236 H St NE, Washington, DC 20002

H Street NE is more known for its beer bars, but The Fruit Bat (from the owners of Wisdom) has made it a destination for cocktails, too. Baskets of fruit hanging above the bar, and boxes nurturing live, growing herbs provide fresh ingredients to be whipped into classic Latin American drinks.


Best Cocktails with a View in D.C.


New Town Kitchen & Bar

1336 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009

With nearly 360 degrees of uninterrupted skyline atop U Street's Tabaq Bistro, view the Capitol dome and the Washington monument while sipping that Manhattan. The bar also offers a selection of aromatic, flower-inspired martinis, but don't be fooled--they may sound sweet, but they're as stiff as they come.


W Washington D.C

515 15th St NW, Washington, DC 20004

The cocktails at this W Hotel rooftop bar are as classic as its views of the White House. Garnished with hand-chiseled ice and infused with fresh fruit juice and other seasonal ingredients, it's clear that owner Sasha Petraske (of New York's Milk & Honey) has cornered the secret to great drinks.


Best Cocktails with a Side of Politics in D.C.


Off The Record

800 16th St NW, Washington, DC 20006

Take a drink in the hotel the Obamas once called home. Just across from the White House in the Hay-Adams, this dark, quiet and richly decorated basement bar--where vodka martinis reign supreme--feels as historic and presidential as any drinking establishment could.


Policy

1904 14th St NW, Washington, DC 20009

It's all about our nation's politics at this 14th Street night spot, where the access is democratic (no covers or velvet ropes, and seats are available without paying for table service), and the drinks, too, have a political bent. Cocktails such as the Policy 75, Black Manhattan and Cosmo-Policy add a D.C. spin to the classics.


The Best Local Cocktail Standby in D.C.


Bourbon

2321 18TH St NW, Washington, DC 20009

Says Citysearch Dictator Matt D. of this Adams Morgan haunt beloved by locals: "I'm a fan of Bourbon's cocktails--they even make a mean sazerac (absinthe and rye whiskey), which is about as old-school as you can get." Indeed, the cocktail dates back to 19th century New Orleans.