The Top 16 Places To Get A Cocktail in DC According to my friend James Kvaal

cocktails
Photo by PoPville flickr user John Boggan

I am a boring drinker. I mostly like the classics and beer. Props as always to The Pug and Solly’s who pour my John Powers Whiskey deep every single time. God help me. I’ll also take this opportunity to laud all Suntory Japanese Whiskey in general. It is delicious. Now, my friend James Kvaal is a prodigious cocktail drinker because he’s fancy like that. I also was desperate for something to post at 12:45pm today so without further ado, I give you THE definitive list of best places to get a cocktail in the District of Columbia (and one in VA) according to James Kvaal:

Ed. Note: Obvious omissions include Barmini, Wisdom, Dram & Grain, Macon Bisro, Copycat Co., Bar Pillar, Jos. A. Magnus & Co. tasting room. What else am I/James missing?

“1. Columbia Room. Killing it right now. Tasting menu is world class.

2. Gibson. Grand-daddy of DC cocktail places.

3. Quarter + Glory. First rate drinks. So-so ambiance though.

4. The Partisan. I love walking through the deli into the grand bar area. Awesome meat snacks of course.

5. Petworth Citizen/Reading Room. First rate cocktails in the back room. Solid and good value cocktails at the main bar.

6. PX. I’m assuming. Who goes to Virginia?
Ed. Note: I love Old Town Alexandria and those who refuse to visit are truly missing out.

7. The Denson. Great Art Deco ambiance.

8. The Royal. This place is a jack of all trades, but the cocktails deserve more attention. House-made vermouth.

9. 2 Birds 1 Stone. Great creative drinks. I have a bartender crush on Adam Bernbach. But can be loud.

10. Harold Black. I think. Haven’t been in forever.

11. Mockingbird Hill/Southern Efficiency/Eat the Rich. Great cocktails. These places aren’t lovable for some reason.

12. Estadio. I know it’s a restaurant but – really creative and tasty gin and tonics and slushes.

13. Room 11. Nice informal feel, great cocktails but not pretentious. Tasty food. Great patio.

14. McClellan’s Retreat. It’s a cocktail place.

15. Left Door. My cocktails lacked precision. The super expensive French 75 gimmick is kinda offensive.

16. Passenger. Good attention to cocktails in a neighborhood bar.”

52 Comment

  • The blaring miss on this is Copy Cat’s Cocktail room. I read over the list 3 times to see if for some reason my eyes weren’t picking it up. Other than that a pretty solid list.

    • Dan mentioned that above, but I whole-heartedly agree – that’s the one place that needs to be mentioned. (I don’t really think it’s fair to mention Minibar in this list as that’s a whole other experience. You’re not really popping in for a casual cocktail. )

  • Most Underrated: Buffalo and Bergen in Union Market…. who doesn’t love an awesome bagel and a great cocktail.

  • Twisted Horn! Cmon, now Dan. Forgetting your old hood already?

    • Prince Of Petworth

      Believe it or not I haven’t been yet (I didn’t get an invite to the opening.) I always go to Petworth Citizen when back in the hood. And you should be yelling at James not me this is his list!

    • Definite +1 for Twisted Horn. Great dark / cozy atmosphere and excellent craft cocktails.

    • This is Awkward

      Wow has everyone been to a different Twisted Horn than I have? Went about a month ago and had by far the worst cocktail of my life. Tasted like medicine, looked ridiculous, all the ingredients clashed. Reading the cocktail list (at the time I went), the names were fun, but most of the ingredients sounded like they’d taste odd to disgusting together. Bartenders got into an awkward argument in front of us as well, which left a lingering tension the entire time we were there. Tried to escape to the patio, which I agree looked pretty, but it had just closed.

      Also, the interior confuses me to no end. It’s like they wanted to go medieval, but then got really cheap about it and it ended up looking like an 80s dungeon club. Maybe it’s gotten better, but I have no reason to go back based on our initial experience.

      • I think the conclusion to draw here is that either a) you were there on a bad night (it happens) or b) you just don’t care for this particular bar (it happens) or c) all of the above. I’ve been there twice and like it just fine, but I’m not exactly a cocktail connoisseur either.

      • To answer your first question, it’s quite possible you were at the wrong bar. That said, I can understand why a place totally devoid of pretentiousness might not be the best fit for everyone.

        • This is Awkward

          Right, because if you don’t like a place that a bunch of other people like, you’re pretentious? I went to a bar that I thought had bad decor, bad drinks, and bad service. I didn’t dislike it because I didn’t have enough pink umbrellas in my drink or wasn’t pampered, I disliked it because they failed on every basic level. And honestly, the Twisted Horn is not a laid back dive bar, they’re trying pretty hard, so not sure how your comment makes sense on that level either.

  • Twisted Horn!

  • In what universe is Copycat Co not on this list?

  • Church and State has great cocktails as well as great atmosphere for enjoying cocktails! H Street is very underrepresented on this list.

  • Copycat Copycat Copycat

  • You would think that, given the review, Left Door shouldn’t be on the list! This doesn’t sound very positive:
    .
    Left Door. My cocktails lacked precision. The super expensive French 75 gimmick is kinda offensive.

  • Bourbon in Adams Morgan has incredible cocktails and is always creating new ones! Cant forget our old school with all the new school rolling in! ( new school that doesn’t always last….)

  • Have to echo the Twisted Horn mentions. Great staff and menu.

  • I am a prodigious cocktail drinker in DC and love the idea of this list. My two cents:

    (1) Copycat Co. absolutely worth the rep it is getting in the comments. It would be number one on my list. Unbeatable variety, reasonable prices, consistent quality, great ambiance, and goldfish!

    (2) Twisted Horn not worth the shout outs. The drinks tend to be very weak and sugary. They do not taste like they were mixed by someone who knows how to make a properly balanced cocktail, and I have given the place enough visits to see if I came on a bad night. The lack of quality has been consistent. And with Petworth Citizen on the block (and Timber, too!), there’s no need for a visit in my opinion.

    (3) I would give Left Door a try. It is definitely pricier than most of its competitors, but the decor is unique compared to others on the list, they do offer cocktails you won’t find elsewhere in addition to the standards, and I have always left with a smile.

    (4) No mention of All Souls? A great neighborhood vibe, incredibly friendly bartenders, the drinks are unique, delicious, and much cheaper than the competition. They would be top 5 on my list, along with Copycat, Barmini, Columbia Room, and Mockingbird Hill/Southern Efficiency/Eat the Rich.

    (5) I love the shoutout for The Partisan. I think the love for their food causes people to overlook the quality of their cocktail options.

  • I stopped by Quarter Glory last night for the first time — thought it was new but maybe I’ve just not noticed it for a while? Anyway, they have a pretty good All Day $7 special going on for a few of their cocktails. It’s election related but I don’t think you need to show a sticker or anything — at least that’s how I udnerstood the flyer. All that to say, it’s a good time to check it out if you’ve been thinking about stopping in like I had.

    • I’m glad to hear it was good! It opened in January if I remember correctly? Right around the time of the snowstorm. I keep meaning to stop for happy hour some evening on the way home, but i haven’t gotten to it. Maybe in the next few weeks…

  • Tsar of Truxton

    You should check out Republic Restoratives Distillery on NY Ave. They make all their cocktails with fresh juice and they are affordable (I want to say $9 or $10). I don’t really want to get the word out because it is small, but the cocktails really were fantastic.

  • how is Wisdom not on this list? best gin drinks in town!

  • No one has mentioned Jack Rose/Dram and Grain; too exclusive? Been to the former but not the latter. I think it does solid whiskey cocktails in line with McClellan’s retreat.

  • PX comes with a huge caveat. The drinks are delicious; however, they are all syrup- and fruit based so you can’t taste the alcohol at all. I enjoy them in an “mmm, what a tasty concoction” sort of way, but if you prefer a classic cocktail or you don’t enjoy sweet things, it’s completely intolerable. I would much rather go to Columbia Room or Southern Efficiency and actually taste my liquor.

    Haven’t been to Wisdom in years. Is it still good?

    Love McClellan’s Retreat. Deserves way more love.

    Atlas Room had a great cocktail program and the ones we had at Haymaker were promising, but not so much when the bartender went off-menu.

    Still miss PS7s. Sigh.

  • I find the whole new cocktail scene just annoying. Sure – play with your drinks-experiment at home — but the whole “craft” bs (especially with fancy ice cubes!) for $12 -15.00 is just stupid. And Suntory whisky??? Seriously??? That is the cheapest possible liquor in the world – this is what oppressed Chinese sailors drink, then throw the bottles overboard. I’ve sailed all over the South Pacific and found thousands – yes, literally thousands – of Suntory bottles all over remote atolls.

  • I’d also include Convivial-one of the best cocktail lists I’ve seen in this city, and fun to sit at the bar to watch them make the drinks. Plus, as a former New Yorker, good to see Sasha Petraske’s legend live on via Convivial’s cocktail program down here.

  • remove: Left Door. the takes on Moscow Mules are good and all, but if I ask for a suggestion that isn’t on the menu and you point me to the menu a few times, this isn’t a cocktail bar I care about.

    add: Radiator, in the Mason & Rook Hotel. Sarah knows what’s going on, and there are cool and interesting drinks here. A Hawaiian spirit not really sold on the mainland (Sarah is Hawaiian) too!

  • Bar Mini? How could this be skipped?

  • Maketto
    Copycat
    All Souls
    Bar Charlie
    Silo

  • A few of my favorites not on the list
    – Archipelago: strong and creative tiki drinks
    – Hank’s Oyster Bar (Capital Hill)
    – Quill (Jefferson Hotel) : excellent cocktails within a 5 star hotel environment

  • Service bar has out of this world drinks

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