When you’re heading out to a bar at this time of year, the natural inclination is to find a toasty hideaway where a fireplace crackles and your thick woolly jacket can be removed and draped over the back of your chair as soon as you sit down.
And yet there’s something so primal — and highly desirable — about spending a chilly evening around a roaring fire pit with some warm adult beverages that two D.C. hotels are basing their winter cocktail menus around alfresco drinking.
If the idea of sitting outside when temperatures fall sounds ridiculous, don’t worry: Other bars are willing to welcome you in from the cold with a hot toddy. There’s somewhere for everyone.
A Bar, which opened this summer in the boutique Avenue Suites in Foggy Bottom, is at once stylish and nondescript. That all changes when you pass through to the patio.
The courtyard behind the hotel feels like a hidden garden: groups of pillow-covered couches and benches clustered around low metal tables, with a long green wall that resembles a leafy hedge behind them. The seats are shaded by cantilevered umbrellas and warmed by heat lamps.
There’s a secret, though: One of the large metal tables hides a fire pit, and A Bar beverage manager Brennan Adams says that another one could be in place by mid-December.
The prospect of outdoor drinking is why A Bar’s new cocktail list is heavy on warm drinks, says Adams, who previously helmed the bars at El Centro D.F. and Masa 14. Think hot chocolate swizzled into warm milk and spiked with a choice of liqueurs, a sweet melon eggnog with pureed cantaloupe and seasonal spices and, “for a real fall feel,” a roasted pumpkin and apple cider fortified with applejack. (Adams notes that most of these cocktails can be made without booze on request.)
Adams’s “modern hot toddy” menu features drinks made with various teas. “The first one will be a bergamot base,” he says. “What goes really well with bergamot? Lemon. So I’m making a syrup with kumquat, which has a nice citrus texture.”
This summer’s sizzling temperatures were assuaged by glasses of Adams’s Patio Punch, which changed frequently and cost $4 from 4 to 7 p.m. on weeknights. For winter, the punches are being replaced by traditional gluhwein, or mulled wine. “Every country in Europe has its own, so I’ll do a tour of Europe,” with a new country featured every few days, he says.
Those drinks will be served outside, at a fire pit or a regular table, with the option of fondue sized for one or, if you make reservations, a whole group. “We don’t do bottle service, but if you reserve a fire pit, we’ll do fondue service,” Adams jokes.
A Bar, 2500 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. 202-464-5610. www.abardc.com. Bar open 4 p.m. to midnight daily. Cocktails, $10-$12.
Visitors to Poste Moderne Brasserie’s secluded courtyard are packed elbow-to-elbow in the summer, when spiked lemonade and drinks made with fresh herbs and vegetables from the chef’s garden are the big draw. This year, though, Poste is trying to turn its best feature into a year-round operation.
The new “Cour de l’hiver” features multiple fire pits surrounded by chairs and all-weather sofas, and, for those who don’t get a seat next to the flames, blankets and leopard-print robes for extra warmth.
An outdoor-only fondue menu features spicy sausage and apples dipped in tangy Comte cheese, or apples and strawberries in rich dark chocolate. (The s’mores version, which pairs melted milk chocolate with graham crackers and marshmallows, seems set to be a hit with kids of all ages.)
We were stoked to try the Smokin’ Bacon Hot Chocolate, which spikes the house cocoa with bacon-infused Bulleit bourbon and tops it with a cayenne-bacon marshmallow. We drained our mugs, even though the bacon flavor was less smoky than anticipated. Where There’s Smoke There’s Fire is a winter margarita, as refreshing in cold weather as its counterpart is in summer thanks to smoky mezcal and spiced rum in an agave-sweetened green tea.
Poste’s courtyard is going to be a weather-dependent destination: Managers say they’ll close for rain, snow or “very cold temperatures,” so it’s worth calling ahead before heading out. You might want to mark Dec. 7 for a visit: Poste will have music outdoors from 4 to 7 p.m. on the first Friday of each month until spring.
Poste, 555 Eighth St . NW. 202-783-6060. www.postebrasserie.com. Bar open Tuesday-Saturday at 4 p.m., weather permitting. Cocktails, $12-$14. Fondue, $11-$17.
Though fully enclosed, Firefly’s fall renovation has the cozy Dupont Circle eatery feeling like a woodsy outdoor tableau, without the wind chill. Bartender Jonathan Harris, late of the Gibson, has spruced up the cocktail menu, too, and his winter punch complements the decor perfectly.
Black Fleece is a hot cocktail that harks back to two classic holiday drinks, the eggnoglike American cocktail known as the Tom and Jerry and the beer-based English elixir Lamb’s Wool. Harris, who serves his drink like a punch, cooks Duck-Rabbit Milk Stout with sugar, cinnamon, allspice and cloves, reducing it to a thick spiced syrup, then adds more beer and whiskey to replace some of the alcohol that’s cooked off. As with the Tom and Jerry, the drink is topped with a thick egg cream made from whipped eggs. The resulting drink hints at eggnog without the richness, and the black stout makes it all the more appealing for those squeamish about overly sweet drinks.
Firefly, 1310 New Hampshire Ave. NW. 202-861-1310. www.firefly-dc.com. $5 at happy hour, weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m.; $9.50 otherwise.
This sleek lounge on Ninth Street NW doesn’t have a fire pit, but after a fruitless day plodding through Chinatown for gifts, it’s comforting to know you can tuck your shopping bags out of sight under the bar and treat yourself.
Dean Feddaoui once whipped up drinks at the bar at Bourbon Steak, and his skill is evident in the two hot cocktails he’s making at 901.
To produce his Oak Barrel Aged Bourbon Cider, Feddaoui mixed reduced, raw and cooked ciders, then barrel-aged them for a month with Jim Beam, resulting in a drink that’s more tart than sweet. After heating, it’s topped with a dense layer of tart pear puree whipped cream that’s good enough to eat on its own.
Sweeter is Two Sins, a play on the traditional hot buttered rum. Feddaoui’s version is made from a brown-butter base scented with vanilla bean, allspice and nutmeg, and to rid the drink of its greasy feel (and hopefully, of a few of its fat grams), he skimmed off the butter and added house-made butterscotch and dulce de leche that’s toasted until it has the slightly charred flavor of a campfire marshmallow.
901 Restaurant and Bar, 901 Ninth St. NW. 202-524-4433. Closed Sunday. www.901dc.
com. Cocktails, $11.