Rooftop bars offer an escape


Arlington Rooftop Bar & Grill stands out because of its large size and a beer selection that beats most other rooftop offerings. (Astrid Riecken/For The Washington Post)
May 12, 2011

May is when the outdoor bar scene finally heats up. Patios are open daily, not just set up based on the whim of the weather. Tropical drinks find their way onto menus. Sunglasses and sundresses make their long-awaited return.

If you’re dying to spend time on a rooftop deck this summer, you don’t need to head for standbys like Clarendon Ballroom or Donovan House. Four new options have opened since Labor Day, greatly expanding your alfresco party possibilities. Here’s how they stack up.

Whitlow’s on Wilson

2854 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.
703-276-9693. www.whitlows.com.

Melding sports bar and tiki-party vibes, Whitlow’s rooftop is more spacious than you’d think from the street, and is, in fact, the largest of the new spots. There’s room for more than 200 people to surround the thatched-roof bar, sit comfortably at the 13 tables or just rest along the outside wall, which has a convenient railing for drinks. Flat-screen TVs are mounted behind the bar for baseball and hockey viewing.

Whether you’re visiting on a Tuesday afternoon or a Saturday night, everything is designed to be laid-back and flip-flop friendly, from the tiki masks adorning straw walls to the goofy drink menu featuring frozen cocktails and the Double Wide, which mixes Miller Lite and orange juice in what a bartender jokingly referred to as a “white-trash mimosa.” If you’re going on a weekend, though, be warned: Recent warm weather has led to extra-long lines for roof access. Plan accordingly.

Roof hours: Opens at 4 p.m. daily; closes at 11 p.m. Sunday-Wednesday, midnight on Thursday and 12:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Happy hour: $3 bottled beers and rail drinks and $3.75 Coronas from 4 to 7 p.m. on weeknights.

Arlington Rooftop Bar & Grill

2424 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.
703-528-3030.
www.arlingtonrooftopbarandgrill.com.

We were surprised when Arlington Rooftop Bar & Grill opened above Delhi Dhaba last winter: Why would anyone head to a nightspot with the word “rooftop” in the name in December, especially if the roof wouldn’t be ready until spring? But the huge outdoor space has been worth the wait. A tiny bar houses a dozen taps, a couple of TVs and two bartenders who efficiently serve the waiting crowds. (I have to give bonus points for having a rotating Dogfish Head beer on draft; this is one of the few rooftops with a halfway-decent beer selection.) The space contains a good mix of open standing room and tables and chairs.

There are three flights of stairs to climb from street to bar, and an elevator offers handicapped access.

Roof hours: 11 a.m.-11 p.m. Monday-Wednesday, 11 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Thursday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday.

Happy hour: $3 draft beers (except Guinness, Dogfish Head and Blue Moon, which are $4), $4 glasses of house wine and $5 rail cocktails between 3 and 7 p.m. on weeknights.

The Red Derby

3718 14th St. NW. 202-291-5000.

www.redderby.com.

If you like the Red Derby’s friendly, low-key neighborhood scene, you’ll love the rooftop deck, which is just an open-air extension of the downstairs room: chatty bartenders, great music, an all-can beer selection that ranges from Natty Boh to Oscar Blues Ten Fidy, as well as dozens of domestics (including the newly arrived DC Brau) and imports (the sunny Wittekirke white beer from Belgium, which is perfect for warm weather).

On sunny days, you might find yourself lingering longer than you planned, so grab a board game from a rack near the stairs and take it with you. There’s something refreshing about the views of endless rowhouses and shops in the surrounding streets — a reminder that this bar is in the middle of a neighborhood, not a chain-filled entertainment district.

Stop by on Saturday or Sunday for brunch or just a bargain hair-of-the-dog drink: bloody marys, mimosas and screwdrivers are $4 between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m., or $2 each if you also order food from the brunch menu. Just remember that the Derby doesn’t take credit cards.

Roof hours: 5 p.m.-midnight Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Friday, 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight Sunday.

Happy hour: None, but the bar always offers $3 canned beer and $5 beer-and-a-shot specials.

DC9

1940 Ninth St. NW. 202-483-5000 www.dcnine.com.

DC9’s rooftop deck opened in mid-September, but it was barely a month old when the club found itself mired in legal problems and was closed by police. It’s now back in full swing. It’s not the fanciest roof around — the views are of Howard University Hospital and Ninth Street storefronts — but it has nice touches, including tables that swing out of the way to make room for late-night crowds.

It’s obviously a great alternative during concerts and dance nights if you hope to escape the crowd for a while, but there is a major caveat: The stairway to the roof also leads to the second-floor concert hall, so anyone who wants to go to the roof will be charged the same cover charge as someone going to that night’s main event. If it’s sold out, only ticket holders are allowed up.

You don’t have to worry about paying to enter early in the evening, though, which is why DC9 has become an attractive happy-hour destination: It’s just enough off the well-trodden U Street path that it’s not overly crowded, and you can buy cheap drinks until 8 p.m.

Roof hours: Open until 1 a.m. nightly if there’s a show. May close earlier if there’s no event, based on the crowd.

Happy hour: $2.50 Budweiser and Bud Light bottles, $3 rail drinks and $3 beer of the week 5-8 p.m. daily.

Fritz Hahn has written about bars, drinks and nightlife for the Washington Post Weekend Section since 2003, but he also writes about everything from Civil War battlefields to sailing classes. A product of Prince George's County public schools, Fritz majored in journalism at the University of Maryland and lives in the District.
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