There's nothing better than relaxing with a cold beer outside -- unless it's relaxing with a cold beer near the water. Rooftop bars are fine, but I'd rather feel the breeze coming from downstream. Here are a few of my favorite waterfront bars where you can sip a drink while also enjoying panoramic views of lakes, rivers and maybe even a sailboat or two.
Most visitors to Annapolis only take in one water view: the one from the City Dock. But there's a much more expansive way to see America's Sailing Capital. The Severn Inn, which sits just outside the historic district in the shadow of the U.S. Naval Academy Bridge, looks directly across the Severn River at the Naval Academy, with the landmark green dome of the Academy Chapel, the historic wooden dome of the Maryland State House and a number of church steeples rising in the background.
Sit on the Severn Inn's two-tier deck and you have a prime view of sailboats practicing maneuvers, pleasure boats out for an afternoon cruise and fishing dinghies launched from the neighboring Jonas Green Park. Spiky wooden support beams for vanished piers jut from the water like ghosts.
The first-come, first-seated tables on the deck are the real attraction, rather than what's on your plate. The menu has some decent craft beers for $6 and more than a dozen wines by the glass, most priced at $9. The snacks are nothing special, outside of a creamy Chesapeake crab dip that comes with crunchy house-made Old Bay chips and a pretzel roll. There are oysters, of course: $2 each for local War Shore varieties isn't a bad deal, especially paired with the sights.
1993 Baltimore-Annapolis Blvd., Annapolis. 410-349-4000. www.severninn.com.
The suburbs are studded with man-made lakes that are used for stormwater retention, recreation or aesthetics. Some also are used for waterfront dining, such as Columbia's Lake Kittamaqundi, which has a branch of Clyde's on its shores. My current favorite is the Bungalow Lakehouse in Sterling. Its patio has padded wicker chairs, high metal tables and a view of a shimmering pond surrounded by a ring of trees. A covered veranda offers a mix of large, comfy sofas and tables.
The barstools along the building's outer wall are some of the best seats, because a large section of that wall rolls up like a garage door to allow access to the counter and bartender of Bungalow's indoor cigar bar. Customers are served as if they were sitting inside, although they get all the benefits of being outdoors. (But the "cigar bar" nomenclature isn't a joke: If you don't like the smell of cigars and cigarettes, you might want to give this area a pass in favor of the tables on the veranda.) A solid list of craft beers on tap ($4.50 from 4 to 7 p.m. on weeknights) is complemented by a decent selection of Scotch and bourbon. Overall, this is a very nice place to sit in the sun, conveniently located off Route 7.
46116 Lake Center Plaza, Sterling. 703-430-7625. www.bungalow4u.com.
You can tie up your boat at Skipper's Pier, located on Rockhold Creek in southern Anne Arundel County, and take just a few steps to get a cold longneck or a Hurricane at the restaurant's dock bar. Grab a spot at one of the restaurant's waterfront picnic tables and enjoy platters of crab pretzels, steamed shrimp and hush puppies.
But for one of the best views at any bar in the Washington area, climb the wooden stairs to the rooftop deck. From this prime spot, you can watch sailboats glide past Drum Point into the gentle curve of Herring Bay and then beyond to the Chesapeake Bay. On a clear day, you can see blue water all the way to the horizon. Turn around, and there's a forest of masts bobbing in the marinas lining Tracy's Creek and Rockhold Creek.
The dock bar is open this Saturday and Sunday, with regular daily hours beginning in May, "weather permitting," says owner David Rosage. Bands play oldies and blues from 3 to 7 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays while the crowd sings along, but my favorite night for a visit is Tuesday, when crabs and domestic beers are $2 each. That almost makes me forget about the panorama in front of me.
6158 Drum Point Rd., Deale, Md. 410-867-7110. www.skipperspier.com.
Every Washingtonian should make at least one trip down to the Georgetown waterfront on a weekend night: Guys with boats (or rich friends with boats) trying to entice women to come aboard; casually dressed young professionals and college students on dates at the crowded Tony & Joe's or Nick's Riverside Grill. (Sequoia's patio is usually a bit more adult, but somewhat removed from the action.) If you actually want to enjoy yourself, as well as the views of the Potomac, the best time to go is for a weeknight happy hour. Tony and Joe's offers a half-price raw bar and $1 off all drinks on weeknights from 4 to 7 p.m.
3000 K St. NW. www.tonyandjoes.com and www.nicksriversidegrill.com.
Laidback and divey, Cantina Marina caters to a variety of crowds: People who've rolled up for fish tacos and cold beers after a day of sailing; couples from the neighborhood who stopped in for margaritas while out walking their dog; happy hour groups getting something to drink before a Nationals game. The Dark and Stormys and Micheladas -- beers with hot sauce, spices and lime -- are the drinks to order. Nightly specials include $6 rum drinks on Monday and $3 Tecate on Tuesday.
600 Water St. SW. 202-554-8396 . www.cantinamarina.com.
Pussers Caribbean Grille
The only bar with waterfront seating near Annapolis' City Dock, Pussers allows tourists to watch boats cruising into the line of yachts known as "Ego Alley," and offers locals a place where they can tie up their boats at the end of the bar before grabbing a drink. On weekends, guitarists croon Jimmy Buffet-ish songs while bartenders whip up an endless stream of rum drinks. The house cocktail is the Painkiller, a sweet, creamy mix of Pussers Rum, pineapple, orange and coconut topped with a layer of grated nutmeg. (The menu refers to Painkiller #2, #3 and #4: The higher the number, the more rum in your glass.)
80 Compromise St., Annapolis. (Inside the Annapolis Marriott.) 410-626-0004. www.pussersusa.com.
Proud Mary Restaurant
Proud Mary bills itself as a tiki bar, but the atmosphere at the Fort Washington Marina's waterfront restaurant is about live jazz, soulful karaoke and gospel brunch instead of Trader Vic and Hawaiian shirts. Stop in on Wednesdays for a crab-leg feast with live reggae on "Crabby and Caribbean Night," and you may find Sugar Bear of EU fame sitting in with the musicians during Friday's "Jazz Night/Date Night."
13600 King Charles Terr., Fort Washington. 301-292-5521. www.proudmaryrestaurant.com.
An Old Town tourist trap next to the Torpedo Factory and the tour boat docks, the Chart House nonetheless offers great views, both on the large, shaded patio and at the indoor bar, where you can see the Potomac through floor-to-ceiling windows. (This makes it convenient for dodging passing summer showers.) Happy hour, offered from 4:30 to 6:30 on weeknights, brings $5 calamari platters and chicken-veggie lettuce wraps, or $6 fish taco plates. The Chart House is a fine place to take visiting parents and relatives, but high prices and a bland atmosphere keep it from being a regular hangout.
1 Cameron St., Alexandria. 703-684-5080. www.chart-house.com.
McLoone's Pier House
The terrace outside McLoone's Pier House, located just feet from the Potomac, is the best outdoor space at National Harbor. Grab a $5 happy hour martini (offered from 4 to 7 p.m. on weeknights) and take in views of ships cruising down the river and cars crossing the Wilson Bridge. The menu is seafood focused, but the "everything for everyone" chain mentality means you can find chicken carbonara and lamb shanks as well as shellfish paella and shrimp cocktail.
141 National Plaza, National Harbor. 301-839-0815. www.mcloonespierhousenh.com.