Have you looked up from your Blackberry or iPhone while walking and texting along D.C.’s streets lately? Try it. You’ll be surprised at how many rooftop lounges, bars and restaurants are popping up across the city. Over the next few months, I’ll explore the latest and hottest venues being added to the D.C. warm weather rooftop culture. New York and Miami rooftop scenes . . . watch your heels!
Ozio (1813 M Street NW. (202) 822-6000) has never been the same for me since it moved from its original spot on K Street. Back then, it was a swank NYC-inspired cigar bar that used to play Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dean Martin.
So, I only go to the M Street bar/restaurant when I’m attending a special event. But on a recent evening, I was immediately struck by how empty it appeared on the first floor. My dining companion and I went to the second floor in search of signs of life. To our surprise, the second floor was empty as well.
We looked around, checked our watches and wondered: Where was the happy-hour crowd? We had never seen Ozio so empty. Continuing our search, we followed the sound of R&B music. Ascending another flight we found ourselves on the rooftop. Who knew Ozio had a rooftop?!
Apparently, everyone but me. The crowd was on an upstairs deck complete with a fully retractable roof. The airy lounge was complete with two bars. My companion and I took a seat at the bar with neon art deco-era lighting. Well-dressed women sipped from martinis at tall table tops; a palm tree swayed in the breeze. It almost felt like a scene from “Miami Vice.”
Taking advantage of the happy-hour drink specials, we enjoyed a lovely Veramonte Merlot at $4 a glass. The bar and dinner menus offered reasonably priced appetizers, sandwiches and entrees ranging from $6 to $28. I settled on the Chicken Marsala. The dish, which normally comes with pasta, was easily substituted with a perfectly cooked and well-seasoned double order of broccoli.
While the Marsala sauce was tasty, it started forming a gelatinous moat around the chicken as the dish began to cool. I quickly finished it and washed it down with my fine $4 glass of vino, fearing that after a minute more, the dish would be ruined.
The service was good and attentive, even at the busy bar.
Masa 14 (1825 14th Street NW. (202) 328-1414). Another entrant to the D.C. rooftop restaurant scene is Masa 14's teakwood rooftop area. It was so new on the day I attended the Urban Daddy VIP Rooftop Happy Hour launch party that the beautiful teak tables and benches were still wet with varnish. The roof deck is a warm, inviting spot, but unfortunately, there is not much of a city view from the cozy space.
The only thing that drew my attention that evening — besides the pretty girls in blue satin sashes and sundresses — was a huge wall planter structure that reminded me of Mayan temple stairs with flower boarders. I wonder whether anyone will try to ascend the steps of this wall of plants that look like the stairs of Chichen Itza temples with offerings to appease the Margarita Gods.
Howard University graduate students, smartly dressed professionals and those who clearly went home and changed after work mingled seamlessly together. But as in many D.C. locales, women vastly outnumbered the men. Perhaps it was an off night, but the men in attendance definitely had more than enough female conversation partners.
Now . . . on to the food! First, came the spicy shrimp flatbread with Oaxaca cheese, pineapple, jicama and pickled Fresnos. Then, came the Bao buns (which we never got because the server kept taking them to the first few tables just outside the kitchen. Apparently it never dawned on her that the other tables might like to sample them).
Lastly, the “El Tigre” — a chorizo link with pico, Sriracha crema and potato sticks was tasty, but the bun was so large it overpowered the meat in between. All the samplings offered are on the regular rooftop menu. The shrimp flatbread was the definite star of the menu that evening.
Masa 14's $4 margaritas were surprisingly good. They are featured on the drink menu along with $4 moijitos and sangria. All in all, a caliente scene with an upscale food and setting. This rooftop will be a new contender this summer to the D.C. restaurant scene.
And an honorable mention for your rooftop D.C. tour: Cantina Marina (600 Water Street SW. (202) 554-8396), at the Southwest Waterfront. While it’s more patio restaurant than rooftop restaurant, enjoy some good old American fare at this veteran outdoor spot. The crab balls and fish tacos were some of my favorites. It will put life, if not your vision, back into a comfortable D.C. perspective.
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