I’ve never gone to Bethesda in search of great cocktails. I’ve had a few interesting sips at Nest or Redwood over the years, but the city has always felt like an apple martini or vodka-soda kind of place. Some bars offer classic cocktails on the menu, but other establishments that started promisingly eventually swapped the specialty drinks out for something more mainstream.
So when I heard about an interesting new cocktail menu at Roof, the three-month-old restaurant and lounge opened by Alan Pohoryles, the man behind the quintessential happy-hour joint Tommy Joe’s, I jumped on the Red Line to check it out. And while I was in the neighborhood, I took the opportunity to revisit Brickside, the first place in Bethesda I’d seen offer the Prohibition-era classic Mary Pickford rum cocktail when it opened last year, and a few beer-focused joints down the street.
7940 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda. 240-245-7663. www.roofbethesda.com.
The focus of this classy venue is al fresco drinking and dining, and the name is your hint as to where it takes place. During a recent visit, however, the eponymous attraction was closed. (The rooftop officially opened March 20, three months after the dining room, though bad weather may still force it to close.)
Roof occupies the second floor and rooftop of a corner building, so you access the restaurant via stairs (which feel more like the entrance to a parking garage) or elevator. It’s a lovely, albeit slightly cramped modern space, with floor-to-ceiling windows offering a fantastic panorama of Norfolk and Cordell avenues. If you’re not eating, try to get a seat at the narrow drink rail along the wall — the view is much more interesting than the flat-screen televisions you see from the stone-topped bar.
New Zealander Josiah Alexander is behind the short-but-sweet cocktail menu. The Zen is everything the title promises: Hangar 1 Buddha’s Hand Citron vodka is shaken with freshly squeezed Satsuma mandarin juice and thai basil, then mixed with a house-made lemongrass lemonade. The mix of orange, lemongrass and scent of Thai basil is a great flavor combination, accented here by hints of citrus from the vodka. Equally summery is the Refresh, with watermelon and lime juices, agave nectar and floral Hendrick’s Gin. Not bad for $10 per drink.
This is a bar for the wired: Each stool is next to an outlet (meant for charging your phone) and Roof offers free WiFi. My companion wondered whether everyone would spend the night with their eyes fixed on a tiny screen, but the crowd seemed more interested in chatting than staring at their phones or the TVs showing basketball.
freddy’s lobster and clams
4867 Cordell Ave., Bethesda. 240-743-4257. www.freddyslobster.com.
Freddy’s Lobster and Clams was a craft beer pioneer in Bethesda, offering a wide variety of Maryland brews as well as California heavyweights and interesting European ales in a funky, beach-shack setting. Almost everything about Freddy’s remains as I remembered it: Flying Dog and Evolution IPAs on tap, bottles from Flying Fish, Dogfish Head and Great Divide prominent in the cooler, and my bowl of savory lobster mac and cheese, loaded with crustacean and crusty with cheese. One thing that stuck in my craw: Service was slow, and it was a chore to flag the bartender down for anything. But for lobster rolls paired with a local ale, I’d be willing to give the place another go.
Rock bottom brewery
7900 Norfolk Ave., Bethesda. 301-652-1311. www.rockbottom.com/bethesda.
There are newer, buzzier brewpubs in the Washington area, but few can match the consistency or award-studded résuméof Rock Bottom brewer Geoff Lively. The nature of a chain brewpub means you probably won’t find trendy grisette or Berliner Weisse on Rock Bottom’s menu. But there are beers that are worth a look, particularly a cask-conditioned kolsch that was dry-hopped with citra, allowing that hop’s mango and citrus flavors to accent the kolsch’s crisp, balanced body. At the other end of the spectrum is the Highland Courage, a malty, medal-winning Scottish Ale.
You have a few more days to sample Fire Chief Ale, a red ale that combines caramel flavors with a biscuity backbone. It’s Rock Bottom’s annual gift to fire-related charities, and the National Fallen Firefighters Foundation will receive 25 cents for every $5.50 pint sold through the end of March. The Bethesda brewpub raised $1,025.75 for charity during the same promotion last year.
brickside food and drink
4866 Cordell Ave., Bethesda.
What a difference a year makes. This restaurant and bar sports a faux-Prohibition theme, from cocktails served in handled Mason jars to the faded “Vote Against Prohibition” lettering on the exposed brick wall. But Brickside has shifted gears a bit since opening last spring: The vintage cocktails, such as the 12 Mile Limit and the Mary Pickford, have disappeared. In their place, you can order the Apollo Punch, which contains “blueberry vodka, Tang, Sprite, Everclear, grenadine,” or a martini with Jameson, Fireball and apple cider.
The Pimms Punch #1 is fruity but a little too sweet (probably because it’s made with Sprite), and the boozy Brickside Moonshine Punch, recommended by the bartender, contains white whiskey, orange vodka and prosecco, yet somehow tastes both citrusy and soapy. While scarfing down a bowl of flavorful Old Bay Fries, which come with tangy malt vinegar ketchup, I listened as the folks on the other side of me — early date? blind date? — made plans to head down the street for dancing at Union Jack’s.