Dos Mamis: This bright, welcoming cocktail bar from Himitsu co-founder Carlie Steiner and Taqueria del Barrio founder Anna Bran-Leis is “built for the people who live in Petworth,” Steiner says. The owners have a stake in the neighborhood: Bran-Leis’s taqueria is right next door; Pom Pom (formerly Himitsu) is across the street. But Steiner insists that “this is a space that’s meant for daily happy hour,” rather than “special occasions.”
It’s a pitch as good as any realtor’s. The cheery vibes are infectious, whether you’re sitting on the avocado-colored couch that fills the front bay window, pull up to one of the mod white chairs at the bar, or, if you’re lucky, score one of the couches on the cozy rear patio, where potted palms and wandering vines overhead provide the feel of an urban oasis.
Though the owners stress the neighborhood connections, this clearly isn’t your corner hole-in-the-wall. (The cool pinks and blues on the walls certainly make it much prettier.) “We operate with a cocktail background and a cocktail bar mentality,” Steiner says. “There’s a place for spirit-and-soda drinks, but that wasn’t our vision.” So yes, you can get a $6 glass of sparkling wine at happy hour (5 to 7 p.m. daily), but your bartender’s more likely to guide you toward the Gin Ne Sais Quoi, a thirst-quenching mash-up of pleasingly bitter pink gin and lemon tonic, “accessorized” with juniper berries and fresh slices of lemon, lime and orange. The house mojito — “Mamijito” — balances bright, fresh mint and citrus with the funk of mezcal.
Even the frozen drinks veer away from the usual sugar-sweet concoctions: Cu-Cumber Here Often takes a base of gin and fino sherry, then adds salted watermelon, cucumber and lime for a more-ish slushie that's by turns dry and vegetal, a complexity far beyond frose.
General Manager Lauren Paylor is the friendly face in motion behind the bar, juicing, peeling, shaking and stirring, proving that Steiner isn’t kidding about the “cocktail bar mentality.” The prices — $9 to $13 for cocktails, $10 to $15 for wine, $13 for frozen drinks — are at the low end of what you’ll find at cocktail bars. Watch out for programming on the patio: A recent screening of “Selena” featured choripan, nachos, candy bars and popcorn, plus one drink for $25. “There’s nothing that brings me more joy than outdoor movies,” Steiner says. 819 Upshur St. NW.
The Eastern: Matt Weiss and Mike Schuster are partners in the Capitol Hill whiskey bar Barrel, but when it came time for their next project, in a new development just down the block from Eastern Market, they decided to move in a different direction than Barrel’s aged cocktails and meat-focused pub menu. That they’d want to change the formula makes sense for these serial restaurateurs: Schuster is a co-owner of the Hill East bar Trusty’s and the critically lauded restaurants Maydan and Compass Rose, while Weiss runs the intern favorite Union Pub and cocktail dens McClellan’s Retreat and Truxton Inn.
What they thought the Hill needed, Weiss says, was a solid wine bar that serves good food — “something in between a cocktail bar that just serves snacks, and a full kitchen with a scratch menu.” So far, the Eastern’s on the right track. Barrel chef Walfer Hernandez is the executive chef here, and his menu goes beyond the expected charcuterie plates to embrace hummus and smoky eggplant dips — Weiss credits Maydan as an influence — as well as lamb meatballs and ceviche.
But the Eastern is a wine bar, in all its mid-century modern glory, where vino outsells all other food and drink combined on many nights. Instead of grouping the menu’s 30-plus by-the-glass options by varietal, small groups of wine fall under suggested headings: “If you like Bordeaux,” “If you like Chardonnay,” “If you like California cabernet sauvignon.” The elasticity of the headings allows it to feature lesser-known grapes, such as Macabeo or Nebbiolo, in a way that appeals to more than wine geeks. (Most wines cost between $9 and $15 per glass, though they can go as high as $22, or even $40.)
“We were trying to bring a Barrel touch to this — kind of cheeky but very approachable,” Weiss says. Instead of an intimidating list of buzzwords, “this gives a novice, or someone who knows more about wine, a nice road map” to find something new. If not, the general manager and the bar manager are accredited sommeliers, as are several other staffers.
Brunch kicked off recently, providing another option for those who want to browse Eastern Market on Saturdays and Sundays. But the Eastern has become even more of a destination at happy hour, where the long banquettes and chair-like bar stools fill up shortly after 5 p.m., thanks to $7 wines — rotating red, white, rose or prosecco — and $8 cocktails. 360 Seventh St. SE.
The Garden: Del Ray’s newest arrival is a perfect fit for the neighborhood: a spacious beer garden that specializes in Virginia craft beer and an Oktoberfest-friendly menu with bratwurst and stuffed pretzels that also has a children’s play area outfitted with Little Tikes toys and chalkboards, and a pet-friendly water station with metal dog bowls.
The Garden comes from the owners of the adjacent Charlie’s on the Avenue and the nearby Live Oak, and they’ve nailed the details in the lot that once held Greenstreet Gardens. A layer of pebbles and stones crunches underfoot. There are bar-height wooden tables for adults who are just having beer, and lower, picnic-style tables suitable for families. (At one recent happy hour, where at least one group of moms was getting together to catch up, we had to count to make sure there were more adults than kids in the place.) A corn hole set sits next to a brightly painted wall, and most of the tables are shielded from the sun by fabric sails.
Be warned that there’s no inside seating: Head to a small window to get a drink — the 20 drafts include prosecco, a grapefruit crush, margarita, Manhattan and cider in addition to craft beers. Don’t feel like getting up, or don’t want to leave the kids? Scan the QR code on your table to order and pay through the Go Tab app, then wait for a server to bring drinks and food.
The family-friendly vibe extends to the kitchen: Hot dogs, grilled cheese and fish tacos are available on the kids menu, and all ages can get into a basket of peel-and-eat shrimp or cheeseburger sliders. With the music set at background levels, and no TVs to be seen, the Garden is a solid choice for hanging out with friends or, thanks to the WiFi, laptop-toting work-from-home types who want to be outdoors. 1503 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria.