Though Rural Society has been open for less than a month, the buzz about the new Argentine steakhouse from chef Jose Garces has reached a fever pitch. I haven't dined at the downtown Loews Madison Hotel's new restaurant yet, but I'm pleased to report that happy hour should be just as buzzy a destination.
The light-filled bar is spacious, and if you don't get a seat at the marble-topped counter, long drink rails make it easy to rest your cocktail while you stand and chat. There's also a shaded patio for those rare summer days when Washington isn't sweltering.
Happy hour, which runs from 4 to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays, offers good value all around. Beer lovers can order a $3 bottle of Argentina's Quilmes lager or $5 drafts of Heavy Seas, DC Brau and Allagash. Feel like wine? You'll pay $5 for any of the four house wines, including Picada 15's light, fruity Argentinian white blend of mostly chardonnay and sauvignon blanc, and the richer Urban Uco tempranillo.
But really, the cocktails are the stars.
The Gintonic is far more interesting than the name would have you believe: It's based on Bombay gin and Fever Tree tonic, but adds a distinctly South American touch: Yerba Mate, an herbal tea popular in northern Argentina and Uruguay. Steeped in-house with citrus, it adds an earthy, almost green-tea flavor that meshes well with the juniper and spice of the gin. The key might be the garnish of a flamed orange peel, which adds smokiness and extra citrus flavor. This, and the other two cocktails, including a bright caipirinha, cost $7.
My date was taken with her Coco Vino, the South American mix of red wine and Coke, which was made more interesting here with a house-made vanilla-chili sugar syrup that added a slight burn on the finish. Like the wine selections, it's only $5.
Rural Society, 1177 15th St. NW. 202-587-2617. Happy hour beer and wine, $3-$5; cocktails, $7.