Obviously, not every bar is built for reading. Here are a few things I look for:
It can’t be too dark. This is obvious. I love exploring the draft list at ChurchKey, for example, almost as much as I enjoy a new book. But the light levels in there can cause serious eyestrain if you’re not in the right seat.
It can’t have too many TVs. We all know TV can be addictive. If you’re in a bar and there’s a flickering screen in the corner of your eye, there’s a chance you’ll feel compelled to glance up, even if you don’t care about what’s on. The best places for reading are distraction-free, or at least have seats where there are no screens in your field of vision.
It can’t be too popular. You probably shouldn’t bring a book to the neighborhood’s hottest new hangout. Constant buzz and chatter are distracting — though not as distracting as someone leaning over your shoulder while trying to order from the bartender. And some trendy bars discourage “camping” at tables and bar stools, trying to turn them over as quickly as possible, and you want to be somewhere that’s not trying to rush you out. (That said, you should keep refreshing your drink at a reasonable rate while you’re enjoying a book: A restaurant is not a library or college study hall.)
Whether your preferred reading material is a new novel or a copy of the New Yorker, these D.C. bars are the perfect place to enjoy it over a drink or two.
All Souls: A neighborhood corner bar with exceptional (and cheap-for-D. C.) cocktails, All Souls has plenty of natural light, comfortable seats and a small patio on a relatively quiet block in Shaw. The music is the right volume for conversation, making it easy to tune out, and the TV is turned on only for special events. 725 T St. NW.
Anxo Kennedy Street: With less bustle than its Florida Avenue location, Anxo’s Brightwood Park tasting room is a pleasant, sunny place to pitch up and read with a glass of fresh housemade cider. 711 Kennedy St. NW.
Cafe Mozart: Tucked into a downtown office building behind a German deli and grocery, Cafe Mozart’s bar feels like a place out of time, thanks to the prints and wooden signs hanging on the walls. You might not even realize it’s there, which makes it an unhurried place to sit with a half-liter of German beer or a glass of Riesling or grüner veltliner. 1331 H St. NW.
Colony Club: There’s a lot going on at Colony Club, from crafting classes to table tennis to live music and comedy, but if you time it right, the Park View bar can be a good place to read. It’s quieter during the day, when most of the people in the cafe are on their laptops and nursing cold brew. There’s always the spacious back patio, shared with neighboring Sonny’s and No Kisses, if you want to enjoy your literature in the sun with a glass of wine. 3118 Georgia Ave. NW.
Crown and Crow: It can be tough to read at a rooftop bar, most of which are magnets for Washington’s day drinkers. Best then to head into a windowless basement bar, especially one as attractive and timeless as the Crown and Crow, near Logan Circle. There’s music and classic movies playing on a TV, but you can also find a comfortable booth or couch to sink into with a novel and a cold beverage. 1317 14th St. NW.
Dew Drop Inn: A confession: There are some distractions that I don’t mind. Like sitting on the deck at the Dew Drop Inn in Edgewood with a book after work and listening to the click-clack of freight trains rolling by. There’s something nostalgic about the soundtrack of MARC trains rumbling down the track that keeps me engaged in a book a way music cannot. 2801 Eighth St. NE.
Kramerbooks and Afterwords Cafe: Reading in a bookstore? What a crazy idea! It’s not unusual, or surprising, to find book-lovers perusing their purchases over a beer or glass of wine at this Dupont Circle mainstay, though it can be easier to sip without distractions at one of the tables across from the bar. Just be careful: A few drinks might convince you that you need to pick up another book on the way out. 1517 Connecticut Ave. NW.
The Line hotel: It’s easy to feel as if you could hide out long enough to finish the first volume of “A Song of Ice and Fire” in the Line’s spacious lobby, thanks to its mix of oversize cushy sofas and high-backed benches that create inviting nooks. More importantly, if you settle in with a coffee from the Cup We All Race 4 or a grown-up drink from one of the lobby bars — courtesy of cocktail wiz Todd Thrasher of Tiki TNT — there’s a good chance you’ll be left alone as long as you’d like. 1770 Euclid St. NW.
Maketto: Erik Bruner-Yang’s stylish boutique-restaurant hybrid is known for its street fashion and delicious takes on Taiwanese and Cambodian cooking. But if you don’t go at rush hour, it’s a great place to spend some time with a book — especially at happy hour. Head to the minimalist cafe/bar upstairs, where you can take a stool at one of the long counters or a seat at a communal table. The upper patio is more akin to a breezy gazebo, with rattan chairs and wall covers intermixed with verdant hanging vines. Pretend you’re reading on vacation while enjoying the after-work deals: Get a free dim sum, such as a bao or a bowl of crystal shrimp dumplings, with the purchase of any alcoholic beverage between 5 and 8 p.m. 1351 H St. NE.
McClellan’s Retreat: As D.C. cocktail bars go, the Civil War-themed McClellan’s Retreat is a place to bring a date for get-to-know-you drinks — relaxed, a bit quiet, and with a good chance of impressing them. Those same qualities make it a go-to for reading over a glass of wine or one of the regularly changing rye whiskey or rum-based concoctions. 2031 Florida Ave. NW.