by Lauren Sloat - 260 Reviews - 86 List
The U Street Corridor is one of D.C.'s most popular nightlife neighborhoods. With the range of U Street bars, from divey saloons to sophisticated speakeasies, it's no wonder. The area's rich music history--both jazz and go-go flourished here--have made it a hot spot for decades, and now the bar scene is dominated by Ian and Eric Hilton, brothers who have built one of D.C.'s most successful nightlife empires. They have been involved in many of the corridor's best spots, from the Jamaican-themed Patty Boom Boom to the eco-conscious Dickson Wine Bar, and that's just the beginning. (Pictured: Dickson Wine Bar)
Updated: July 19, 2010
This casual Tex-Mex saloon is said to have been a famous speakeasy during prohibition (and prior to that, a saloon called McCarthy's). Stetson's has existed in its current incarnation since 1980, when it was founded by a retired police officer. Now, a young crowd piles in to play pool upstairs or to hang out on the back patio over pitchers of beer.
By far one of U Street's hottest nightlife destinations, Local 16 was originally founded by Eric Hilton. Though he's no longer involved, it remains a packed, popular spot for neighborhood locals, visiting Virginians and even celebrities--Sean Penn has been known to stop by when in town.
Marvin (as in Mr. Gaye, D.C.'s "resident son") is popular both for dining and drinking. The rooftop beer garden features more than 30 Belgian ales, while the adjoined lounge--with its grand chandelier and antique feel--is a great spot for a glass of wine while DJs spin classic soul.
This chic bar and lounge practices a policy of the most democratic sort. The vibe is upscale and trendy (numerous eye-catching chandeliers are juxtaposed against graffiti-covered walls and murals, including a painting of Obama himself) but it's also very welcoming; you won't find cover charges or velvet ropes, and you can actually sit at some of the tables without paying for bottle service. Consistently great DJs churn out danceable tunes, too.
One of U Street's hidden gems, this speakeasy-style bar is for cocktail connoisseurs. Make a reservation or take your chances at the door, where the host will take your number and text you if a spot becomes available. The flickering candles, private booths and air of exclusivity allow you to savor the finely crafted cocktails, which are made-to-order according to your taste in liquor.
Another of the Hilton Brothers' hit night spots, this Caribbean-themed bar pairs the boom boom (find it on the upstairs dance floor) with patties and Jamaican pastries that are sold at a street-level counter. You'll know it when you get close--the rich sound system produces a deep bump you can feel. Grab a rum punch from the bar and get ready to dance.
It doesn't look like much from the street, but descend the staircase and you'll emerge in a cavernous, basement-style space that attracts some of the best local and touring DJs. Two bars on either side provide plenty of room to order a draft beer or shot of whiskey, but the polished, cork-cushioned dance floor is the main attraction.
Named after the 1988 Chuck Brown song, "D.C. Don't Stand for Dodge City," this bar pays homage to U Street's former go-go scene and music tradition. Today, that tradition is mostly about DJs, and you'll find good ones here--some of the partners have ties to The Black Cat, another of D.C.'s prime music venues. Grab a beer (there are 12 on tap) and head upstairs to see who is spinning.
Dickson is one of U Street's undiscovered gems. Many wine bars in the area are tiny and frequently overflowing, but Dickson's three-level space means you can usually find a place to sit, even if it's at a long communal table. Choose from an array of organic and biodynamic wines and if you get hungry, check out the banh mi sandwiches--the menu is overseen by Marvin's chef.