This is my favorite time of year to drink outside. There’s something about huddling around a blazing fire pit, holding onto a steaming mug filled with a toddy or hot buttered rum to keep your hands warm. It’s more fun than sitting on a rooftop with a frozen daiquiri on Memorial Day: It’s primal, and depending on whom you’re with, it’s either convivial or incredibly romantic.
(There’s nothing wrong with drinking a cold beer around burning logs, either, as long as you don’t spill it on your scarf. Then it’s just cold.)
Not every bar can have fire pits on the patio, so a growing number of places offer hot drinks outdoors without the open flames. Sipping your glogg around a glowing orange heater isn’t as much fun as a fire — you miss the popping and sparks, for one — but it’s a perfectly acceptable alternative, especially when you toss in a great view or happy hour.
No matter what you prefer, there are options out there for when the temperature drops.
Fire pits + hot drinks
555 Eighth St. NW. 202-783-6060.
I love Poste’s private courtyard in winter, with its comfortable couches covered with pillows and furry blankets, all-weather armchairs and cauldron-size iron fire pits filled with logs. But its outdoor bar isn’t always open when you’d expect it to be. Case in point: I stopped by around 7 p.m. last Friday to find the fire pits crackling and people chatting at tables under heat lamps, but the bar itself was locked up tight. If the outdoor bar is closed, order your drinks inside and carry them out yourself. Pi-Tea the Fool has a cringe-inducing name but offers unique flavors: It takes bright, tropical fruit notes from African Nectar tea, richness from an aged Zacapa rum and some caramel sweetness from agave. The hot cider — dubbed Which Cider the Aisle? — gets some punch from Calvados, but it’s more pleasant than special. Drinks range from $11 to $13, and there’s a special fondue menu if you want to cuddle up.
3234 11th St. NW. 202-332-3234.
On a cold night, there’s no better place to be in Columbia Heights than near the gas-powered fire pits on Room 11’s patio. The hot cocktails rotate every few weeks and cost $9 apiece: There’s usually one cider or mulled wine, and one toddy-esque drink. This week’s selection, Corduroy’s Lost Button, is a sweet and complex applejack drink, which gets its body from maple syrup and the smooth caramel-and-bitters flavors of Averna. Because patio seating at Room 11 is always in demand, there’s a good chance couples will wind up sharing the fire pit with others, so this might not be the best place for a heart-to-heart. The patio is open until at least 11 p.m., but after that, it’s “based on demand,” so if there aren’t customers, everything will be put away. (This is more common on weeknights than weekends.) Arrive after dinner for the best chance to get a seat.
Fire pits + cold drinks
1200 Bladensburg Rd. NE.
Any sort of indoor component to the outdoor Bardo brewpub won’t happen until next spring — have fun using the portable toilets in the middle of December! — so owners Bill and Andrew Stewart need to work overtime to get people to come out to their Trinidad beer garden. There are kerosene heaters near the bar and a large campfire surrounded by picnic tables. This is no mere fire pit — you can watch what look like whole tree trunks burn while you sip a pint of North Coast’s Old Rasputin Imperial Russian Stout, an intense beer that will do its part to keep you warm.
MacDowell Brew Kitchen
202 B Harrison St. SE, Leesburg.
In the summer, the sand-covered patio at Leesburg’s MacDowell Brew Kitchen feels like a little Margaritaville, thanks to the palm trees overhead and the good-sized bar fashioned from the hull of a boat called the Sea Witch. But in winter, it’s a cozier place, thanks to wood-burning fire pits. Order a craft beer inside — MacDowell is home to a nanobrewery but also stocks local and regional brews — and carry it outdoors to grab a seat on a bar stool or low-slung chair. Just be careful where you set your glass: Put it too close to the intense heat and you may see your beer begin to boil — or watch as your plastic cup melts.
Patio + hot drinks
P.O.V. Roof Terrace
515 15th St. NW. 202-661-2400.
The views of the monuments from the W Hotel’s rooftop bar are romantic no matter what time of year, but once the White House Christmas tree goes up, the vistas are priceless (and the terrace is heated). The Hot Peanut Butter Rum (Captain Morgan Spiced Rum infused with peanut butter, brown sugar and spices) is a rich, creamy concoction, and while the combination of the rum’s caramel sweetness, the brown sugar and the peanut butter gently tips the drink toward dessert flavors, the allspice gives it a bit of a backbone. (Fun fact: The bottles of peanut butter-infused rum are kept in buckets of hot water behind the bar. If they get too cool, the mixture begins to separate.) The five seasonal drinks on the Warm Winter Cocktail Menu go for $15 apiece, which is a little high considering one is a nice but unexceptional mix of vodka and a sharp apple cider topped with ground cinnamon. But remember you’re paying for the views (this is one of the best bars to show off to visiting friends and relatives), and you should make a reservation so you don’t get stuck waiting in the lobby bar for a table.
Tonic at Quigley's
2036 G St. NW. 202-296-0211. www.tonicrestaurant.com.
Tonic at Quigley’s opened its expanded back patio as a tiki bar this summer, and it quickly drew a mix of George Washington University students, IMF/World Bank employees and neighborhood professionals to its weekly Tiki Tuesday promotions. Now that it’s colder, Tonic has traded the tiki torches for tall, obelisk-shaped electric heaters, the frozen margaritas have vanished from the menu and the weekly deal is Hot Toddy Tuesday, with $6 hot drinks all night. My date ordered the Salted Caramel Hot Chocolate, which sounds like something you’d get at Starbucks but was spiked with caramel vodka and covered with a blanket of marshmallows. The result was sweet but not cloying. The Hot Toddy, meanwhile, is stripped down to bourbon, honey, hot water and lemon, and it gets the job done on a cold night. (Learn from my mistake: If the bartender asks if you’d like a particular bourbon, don’t call something fancy or there’s an upcharge.)