Washington has long been known for hotel bars full of wheeling and dealing — the Willard, after all, claims to be where the term “lobbyist” was coined. (Spoiler: It wasn’t.) The current power-hotel scene includes a mix of historic properties, such as the Willard’s Round Robin and the Hay-Adams’s Off the Record, and new destinations, exemplified by the Trump International Hotel’s Benjamin Bar. But there’s much more out there for travelers and locals alike.
The buzziest hotel in town remains the Line in Adams Morgan, with restaurants from chefs Erik Bruner-Yang and Spike Gjerde, an inviting lobby-cum-workspace, art events and an in-house radio station. But the past year has seen a number of hotels carve out their own spaces in the increasingly crowded scene.
The Eaton DC was dubbed the “anti-Trump hotel” when it opened in August, reflecting owner Katherine Lo’s progressive politics. But there’s much more to it, such as the wellness aspect — yoga, acupuncture and mindfulness classes — alongside a mix of chic bars and restaurants, in-room record players and an in-house radio station. The flagship food destination is American Son, created by chef Tim Ma of Kyrisian, which earned 2.5 stars from Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema this spring. There are three other eating and drinking options.
The daytime attraction is Kintsugi, a coffeehouse with inviting seating at the large windows along K Street NW and a menu focused on vegan and gluten-free pastries, fresh juice and holistic teas. After dark, the focus shifts to the Allegory, tucked behind an unmarked door off the lobby’s library lounge. In Shaw or on H Street NE, this would come with all the baggage of a speakeasy. Here, the dimly lit lounge, outfitted with long leather couches, cozy nooks and an “Alice in Wonderland”-inspired mural, is just a place to linger and explore the menu created by Passenger and Columbia Room veteran Alexandra Bookless and her team. Grab a seat at the glowing bar and watch the bartenders whip up the frothy, floral Open Veins, made with genever, acai berry and egg white, or the mezcal-and-mole 2666, which offers a great depth of flavor. There are pages of classics, too, organized by base spirit, making it easy for your friend who only likes gin or rum drinks. (The brandy section might be the most rewarding.)
Take the elevator to the top floor and you’ll find Wild Days, the rooftop bar with indoor and outdoor spaces. On chilly nights, there are fire pits and blankets at the tables fronting K Street, though you might as well stay in the greenhouse-like main bar, wrapped in glass walls. Plants grow throughout the space, and attractive murals and long tables attract happy-hour groups. The cocktail menu is shorter than Allegory’s but still interesting — the No Man’s Woman is an Irish whiskey Manhattan with notes of baking spice, and there are a pair of nonalcoholic cocktails, plus tacos from American Son’s kitchen. The downside to Wild Days can be its popularity for events and DJ nights: Show up on a Saturday, and you might find a line of folks waiting to take the elevator up. But time it right, and Wild Days could be your new summer hang. 1201 K St. NW.
Over the past decade, the Dupont Circle Hotel’s bar has had multiple personalities, including the genteel Irish pub Biddy Mulligan’s and Bar Dupont, a lobby lounge as generic as its name. It has offered live music on the patio and special Oktoberfest food-and-drink takeovers. The constant: the huge windows overlooking the traffic circle, offering some of the best people-watching in Washington.
A complete overhaul of the hotel’s food and beverage facilities gave the neighborhood the Pembroke restaurant, which Sietsema praised shortly after its February reopening, and turned Bar Dupont into the Doyle Bar. Marble bar counters with bump-outs that allow groups to gather, enormous pillow-topped velvet sofas, leather stools, bookshelves filled with guides to art and plants — the refit creates the atmosphere of a well-appointed, but not ostentatious, country house.
Before my first visit, I looked at the menu online and almost decided not to bother making a trip. A $23 Whistle Pig Manhattan? The same price for a Last Word with Green Hat gin? (No offense to our local gin distillers.) But when I examined the menu in person, every cocktail was cheaper — the Manhattan had dropped to $18, the Last Word to $17. All drinks are now in the $16 to $18 range. (I suppose a $5 million renovation doesn’t pay for itself.) Vic’s Daiquiri, a riff on the classic recipe by Trader Vic, was bright and citrusy on a cold evening — I could see myself sipping it outside on the terrace this summer. Same with Roger’s Shrub, which mixed a carrot shrub, ginger and gin into a complex, yet easy-drinking, afternoon pick-me-up. One of those, plus a comfortable spot on the curving blue velvet couch, and you won’t want to leave. 1500 New Hampshire Ave. NW.
The first hotel to join Hermes, Gucci and Ferragamo at CityCenterDC is the city’s first Conrad Hotel, a luxury Hilton brand with locations in Hong Kong, London and Dubai. Step out of the elevators and find yourself in a soaring atrium — the curved, textured marble walls and hanging-sun-disc-esque light have the feel of an underground cavern in a 1970s sci-fi film. (Trypophobes might want to avoid looking up.) But once you enter the bar and restaurant, you’ll be back in familiar territory. Everything about the place screams “extra-luxe”: the floor-to-ceiling windows offering views of downtown Washington; the large, circular marble bar that sits in the middle of the room; and the seating at sofas and wingback chairs, which face each other across glass coffee tables and are spaced far enough away from each other that customers can have discreet conversations without worrying about inadvertent eavesdroppers.
Helmed by chefs Bryan and Michael Voltaggio, Estuary’s focus is the flavors of the Chesapeake Bay region, so your gratis bar snack might be a bowl of toasted almonds covered with a salty housemade crab spice, and the bar menu includes a Maryland crab roll (think half of a lobster roll, in a Maine-style split bun) or a plate of Virginia’s Surryano ham served with cob-shaped pieces of corn bread and creamy butter. If only the same local spirit extended to the cocktails — basic daiquiris, Old-Fashioneds and negronis, competently made with Bacardi, Knob Creek or Spring 44. A product from this area might have made the drinks more appealing than the curving shelves behind the bar loaded with high-end bourbon and whiskey. (You will, at least, find the District’s Hellbender and Right Proper on tap alongside Bud and Stella.)
Estuary is exactly the kind of lounge for a business meeting or a date you’re trying to impress. The vibe is that of a no-nonsense 1990s power-hotel bar, and while it’s been softened slightly to appeal to hipper Conrad customers, it will most likely entice the crowd who won’t blink at $18 or $24 for a glass of champagne, $16 for a mediocre vodka-and-Cocchi Americano cocktail, or $18 for an appetizer plate of ham and corn bread. Not surprisingly, it was full on all three recent visits, and the forthcoming rooftop bar might make it even more of a destination. 950 New York Ave. NW.
The bar at the Moxy doubles as the check-in desk, which is why you might find yourself behind a couple with a row of suitcases when you’re just trying to order a happy-hour drink. But the quirky atmosphere in the downtown boutique hotel, part of the Marriott chain and located a few blocks east of the Eaton, extends beyond the front desk. The Moxy’s sidewalk cafe opens into a spacious, millennial-centric game room, where the attractions include shelves of board games, long communal bar tables topped with chess sets, a foosball table and a carousel-size mechanical horse. The other furnishings could have been pillaged from 1970s basement dens: overstuffed olive-green couches and mod wood-and-leather chairs arranged around round, low-slung coffee tables.
Like other hotels, Moxy, which opened in late November, wants you to hang out all day while taking advantage of its free WiFi. Even the two-top tables in the bar have both USB plugs and three-prong electrical outlets. There’s a coffee bar and grab-and-go cafe with yogurt and snacks. Happy hour, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m., brings $5 house wines and beers (think Atlas Brew Works, Stella, Miller Lite); $6 cocktails, including spicy margaritas and Moscow mules; and $7 naan flatbreads topped with spicy chicken, cheddar cheese and pickles. Later in the evening, a DJ supplies the music from a mezzanine platform while after-work crowds sip cocktails and play Scrabble. 1011 K St. NW.