Morgan is a DC-based strategy consultant working in the healthcare industry by day, and champagne enthusiast by night. She’s spent the better part of 20 plus years in the DC Metro area scouting out the best brunch spots, riding horses competitively, and believing firmly that rosé season is year round, not just summer.
Washington DC Nightlife Guide – General Info
As our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C. rarely gets notoriety for much more than being a hub for politicos and tourists. When there are hard-working people and sightseers by the thousands, though, you can be sure that there are plenty of excellent places to grab a drink or two across the city!
As a DC-Metro native, I’ve had a number of years to explore the city and all it has to offer. I’ve explored every neighborhood in town (and on both sides of the river – Maryland and Virginia) throughout college break visits home and a four year stint as a District resident. D.C. sprawls across over 43,000 acres and is spread into four major “Quadrants:” Northwest, Northeast, Southwest, and Southeast. Once you know what quadrant you’re in, you can pretty much wander into any neighborhood and find a great cocktail.
There is something for everyone in DC, whether you’re looking for a nice refreshing brew outside, a crazy night out at an EDM show, or something in between.
DC Neighborhood Guide
As I mentioned, DC’s four main quadrants make it exceptionally easy to navigate. Each quadrant is made up of distinct neighborhoods that have their own vibe, and with that, have different local scenes that cater to various patrons. Below is a list of some of the best spots to put on your list if you find yourself in the District in the future:
Georgetown is well known as an affluent neighborhood right off the Potomac. Home to senators, dignitaries, and private-college coeds, the scene in Georgetown ranges from local college hangout to pricey waterfront spots frequented by the 1%-ers. By no means should this reputation cause to you avoid Georgetown, however: some of the oldest bars and pubs can be found in this part of the city, and the Georgetown Waterfront is home to some of the best outdoor happy hour spots in town. Stroll down M St to pop into some cute shops and great local bars.
Places to check out: The Tombs (Georgetown Campus area), Sequoia (posh waterfront spot), or Martin’s Tavern (Where JFK proposed to Jackie)
2) Capitol Hill:
As its name suggests, this neighborhood is home to the US Capitol Building and all of the Hill staffers and politics junkies that come with it. “The Hill,” as locals call it, is home to some awesome bars with history and some well-loved dives that some of us happened to frequent as college interns. History and nostalgia aside, The Hill has some great local haunts if you’re in the market for a cheap happy hour and equally cheap bar food.
Places to check out: Capitol Lounge (dive bar with Hill Staffers galore), Barrel (great whiskey cocktails), Harold Black (speakeasy)
3) Dupont/Adams Morgan:
These two neighborhoods blend together down the DC Metro Red Line. Dupont and Adams Morgan (called “AdMo” by many young 20-somethings) have great bars with a casual vibe, but are home to some great clubs at night too. Many DC locals consider Adam’s Morgan to be one of the most vibrant and diverse neighborhoods of DC! If you’re looking for great daydrinking and an awesome spot to bring a party or bar crawl, look no further: Dupont/AdMo is the place to go.
Places to check out: Sauf House (3 story beer garden), Johnny Pistola’s (more below), or Grand Central (late night partying)
Chinatown, the mecca of DC, falls between the MetroCenter and Union Station part of the downtown neighborhood and is home to many bars and nightlife spots, most notably the Verizon Center at 7th and F. Due to the large crowds that come this way for concerts, shows, and events, there are a TON of bars around the area. Jose Andres has many restaurants in the area that serve delicious craft cocktails, and you can find some well-loved chain spots like Clyde’s and Legal Seafoods right outside of the West entrances of the Verizon Center.
Places to check out: Hill Country Barbeque (live Karaoke and great brew menu), Denson (speakeasy style), Redline (upscale sportsbar with DJs every so often)
Unlike other major cities, DC’s “downtown” area isn’t really down town at all – it’s right in the middle of town and runs from the West End corridor down to Capitol Hill. Downtown is notorious as the working neighborhood – very few condos and homes can be found here, and the bars are mainly frequented by 9-to-5-ers and tourists. With that said, downtown is still home to some must-see spots, and if you’re lucky, you’ll catch sight of a Congressman or other high ranking official at a few of these places.
Places to check out: POV at the W for breathtaking views of the White House, Old Ebbitt Grille (one of the best oyster bars in town) or Sax (burlesque club with shows and bottle service)
6) Shaw/U-Street/14th St:
If you ask any Millennial living in DC, the most popular neighborhood for partying right now is the U Street Corridor. U St runs West to East across DC, and this neighborhood falls between 19th street on the West and 8th street on the East. Between these 11 or so blocks are some of the best brunch, day party, and going out spots. U St is known to draw all types – you’ll find the Yuppie type at The Brixton, the DC gay crowd at Nellie’s (DC’s most well known gay bar), and a little bit of both anywhere else. If you’re looking to have fun with a big group any time of day (or night), try U St first and see where the night takes you.
Places to check Out: Local 16 (cheap bottomless brunch!), Masa 14 (late night dancing and a great roof top), El Centro (basement is well known for dancing and techno music)
7) Southwest Waterfront:
Rounding out the top neighborhoods list is the Southwest Waterfront, the ‘youngest’ neighborhood going under a revival and rebuilding. While the SW quadrant has long been home to some of DC’s most lively neighborhoods, only recently have developers and restaurant groups begun to make SW home. The Washington Nationals Ballpark is right at the Ballpark-Navy Yard Metro stop, which is a great place to catch a game, a concert, or even a Food Truck or Beer Festival. Surrounding the Waterfront are a number of great bars and outdoor drinking spots that are perfect for summer happy hours.
Places to check out: Bluejacket Brewery, Cantina Marina (great Mexican food and drinks on the water!), Vida Penthouse (bottle service and a roof top pool).
TOP BARS AND CLUBS IN DC
1) Johnny Pistola’s
The Scoop: A cheap place with no-frills food and drink and a seriously good time at night. Johnny Pistola’s is the spot where you’ll run into everyone you know in DC while drinking a Red Bull and Vodka with all sorts of people.
Cost: Cheap. Never a cover, and typically you can make it out without breaking the bank after a night out here.
Location: 2333 18th St NW
Closest Metro: Red Line, Zoo/AdamsMorgan Stop
2) 9:30 Club
The Scoop: DC’s most well-known concert venue: it’s big, it’s loud, and it’s a whole lot of fun. The 9:30 Club hosts tons of great shows and DJs throughout the year, and has multiple bars inside.
Cost: Ticket prices range based on performer; drinks are an average cost for a concert or party venue
Location: 815 V St NW,
Closest Metro: Yellow Line/Shaw-Howard Stop
3) Dan’s Cafe
The Scoop: A staple in the AdMo neighborhood, this is the one dive bar that might be worth checking out if dive bars “aren’t your thing.” Dan’s Café has a fun casual vibe made even more casual by their “mixed drinks:” you get a squirt bottle of your liquor of choice along with a can or cup of mixer, some ice, and that’s all…you’re left to make your drinks yourself. Coupled with a regularly sweaty dance floor and some excellent people watching, this place is a well loved staple by district locals.
Cost: Cheap – those squirt bottle drinks run at only $12 a pop and shots run equally as cheap.
Location: 2315 18th St NW
Closest Metro: Red Line, Zoo/Adams Morgan Stop
4) Cafe St. Ex
The Scoop: Café St-Ex is a great spot in the U Street/14th Street Neighborhood well known for locally sourced food and a casual atmosphere. At night, though, the restaurant is filled to the brim with 20-somethings who come and dance up a storm. St Ex’s downstairs, called Club 54, has DJs almost every night of the week.
Cost: Affordable; no covers, at least to my knowledge, and drinks are of average DC price ($6-10 for a beer or mixed drink).
Location: 1847 14th St NW
Closest Metro: Green/Yellow Line, U-Street Stop
The Scoop: Hawthorne is a relatively new bar owned by two local restaurateurs well known for creating great party spots for the DC crowd. Hawthorne sits on multiple levels, and while the first two tend to cater more towards the restaurant side of the business, the further up you go, the more “bar” vibe you get. Hawthorne’s roof is one of the best in the area, and their dance floor can get pretty packed. Hawthorne is also well known for a good DC bottomless brunch that serves not just mimosas, but male-friendly libations such as bottomless beers or the “Hawthorne Smash,” a bourbon-based cocktail.
Cost: Average. Come here for a fun night out with friends and pay no cover, but it’s not the cheapest place in the world.
Location: 1336 U St NW
Closest Metro: Green/Yellow Line, U Street Stop
The Scoop: Yes, Nellie’s is a gay bar, but it makes this list because it is by far one of the most entertaining spots in town. For anyone who is OK getting out of your comfort zone and having a blast on a Saturday, Nellie’s is your spot: Nellie’s has some of the best weekend parties and always has great dance music. During the day, the rooftop is full of daydrinkers, while at night, there are usually DJs spinning house/club music. Nellie’s is also home to a fabulous Drag Brunch, which is loads of fun. Final verdict: whoever you are, Nellie’s will be a blast for you.
Cost: Drag Brunch runs at around $40/$50 for tickets, but drinks aren’t too over-the-top pricey.
Location: 900 U St NW
Metro Line: Green/Yellow Line, U Street Stop or Shaw Stop
7) La Boum Party Brunch
The Scoop: La Boum is not a bar but rather a weekend party experience that makes all of the “must go” lists in DC. La Boum is French slang for “house party,” and that is absolutely what the creators of La Boum aspire to be. On Saturdays and Sundays in DC, La Boum takes over the space at Capitale nightclub for a wild brunch experience complete with DJ, burlesque dancers, and a few bad decisions. Wait lists for this crazy brunch party can be weeks or months long, but trust me: it’s totally worth it.
Cost: Expensive: La Boum’s $35 price fixe menu does not include drinks, and bottles at the party can run pretty expensive. Expect your personal tab to easily hit $100, or come prepared after a pre-brunch party spot.
Location: 1301 K St NW
Closest Metro: Blue/Orange Line, McPhereson Square Stop
Where to Stay in Washington, DC Without Spending a Fortune.
If you’re coming to DC to party on the weekend you’re in luck. Hotel rates drop between $50 to $100 as business travel dies down. The nice thing about DC is that getting around without a car is easy via the Metro. There is a handy site dedicated to finding hotels near the Metro, and they have a page dedicated to cheap hotels in Washington, DC organized by rates. If experience over price is more important than prioritize hotels near these stations, Chinatown, Dupont Circle, Clarendon or Ballston is the best bet.