Biking for beer: A guide to the Metropolitan Beer Trail

People ride bikes on the Metropolitan Branch Trail near City-State Brewing, one of the seven stops on the Metropolitan Beer Trail. (Photos by Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post)
People ride bikes on the Metropolitan Branch Trail near City-State Brewing, one of the seven stops on the Metropolitan Beer Trail. (Photos by Sarah Silbiger for The Washington Post)
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Not long after the Metrobar beer garden opened in Edgewood last summer, co-owner Jesse Rauch says, he noticed an unexpected trend: An increasing number of customers — “bachelor parties, bachelorette parties, birthdays” — were arriving not by Uber or via the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station across the street, but by walking or cycling up from the Metropolitan Branch Trail, a popular bike and jogging path that runs between Silver Spring and Union Station and has an entrance just a block from Metrobar.

“They were going up and down the MBT, visiting the different new bars and breweries cropping up there,” Rauch says. In addition to Metrobar, which has a decommissioned Metro car at the heart of its space, frequently mentioned bar crawl stops include City-State Brewing, which opened a few weeks before Metrobar and is located a brisk five-minute walk up the trail, and the Dew Drop Inn, a two-level neighborhood bar with a huge patio that is located a block north of City-State. “Coming out of covid,” Rauch says, “I figured there was a great opportunity to find ways to collaborate with the other bars on that trail” to drum up business.

Rauch and his Metrobar partners reached out to their neighbors as well as bars in Brookland and NoMa, where they began working with the NoMa Business Improvement District, to formalize the barhopping route, eventually including seven bars and breweries located along or just off the MBT. The idea, says John Groth, another partner in Metrobar, is that “we could help get more people to use the MBT to traverse the bars and get from neighborhood to neighborhood. A lot of these neighborhoods, even though they abut each other, things like Rhode Island Avenue or the Metro tracks separate them in certain areas. The MBT really helps you get from point A to point B, if you’re walking or riding your bike or whatever, and we felt like we needed to utilize that.”

Businesses and governments using brewery or distillery “trails” to drive tourism isn’t a new idea: In this region, they can found from Maryland’s Eastern Shore to Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Loudoun’s Ale Trail has four geographic “clusters” throughout the county, including one highlighting farm breweries.

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What makes the Metropolitan Beer Trail especially attractive is its compact size and lineal scope: The route between the Wunder Garten beer garden in NoMa and Right Proper Brewing in Brookland is just over 2.2 miles, and, except for a few blocks near either end, it sticks to the MBT: a paved path that’s open only to bikes, scooters and pedestrians, with no need to worry about cars or buses. It’s as friendly to parents pushing a jogging stroller or a couple out for a stroll with their dog as it is to hardcore runners or cyclists.

The beer trail debuted last weekend with the launch of a passport program, which offers rewards ranging from discounted drinks to T-shirts for checking in at all seven locations, as tracked through a smartphone. Think of it as a relatively short marathon, not a sprint, as participants can take as long as needed to visit every stop. “We know of people who’ve been hitting three or four in a day before we even came up with the idea,” Groth says. “Hitting seven in a day is a lot,” he cautions, before adding, “I think it’s possible if you’re pacing yourself and you don’t overdo it.”

(Once you’ve visited all seven locations, there’s still more to do: Consider tacking on “unofficial” visits to Andy’s Pizza, at Streets Market in NoMa, where drafts from the Veil, Wheatland Spring, Tripping Animals and Crooked Run form one of the most underrated beer selections in the city, or riding a few blocks east of Right Proper for a Saturday pit stop at the pleasant Public Option brewpub in Langdon Park.)

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Before the trail officially opened, we did some reconnaissance with the help of a Lime e-bike. Here’s what you need to know about each of the stops, starting with a pro tip: The ride is easier going from north (Right Proper) to south (NoMa), due to downhill ramps from Franklin Street NE to the trail near the Dew Drop Inn, and more ramps from the trail to the street in NoMa, as well as a downhill slope above Florida Avenue.

STOP 1: Right Proper Brewing

920 Girard St. NE.

The home of one of the city’s most popular breweries, Right Proper’s Brookland tasting room offers around a dozen beers on tap, some of which you won’t find anywhere else, as pints and flights. There’s live music after 6 p.m. on Fridays and occasionally on Saturdays and Sundays, so check the brewery calendar. Right Proper scaled back its hours during the pandemic and now opens at noon Friday through Sunday, so don’t plan on including this in a weekday trip.

Distance from trail: At 0.4 miles from the MBT, Right Proper is the most distant stop from the trail itself, which is one of the reasons to think about starting there. There’s also a ramp from Franklin Street to the trail to negotiate — something to consider if you’re thinking about pushing a jogging stroller uphill.

Bike essentials: Right Proper has stylish bike racks with logos out front, as well as an air pump. The closest Capital Bikeshare station is more than two blocks away, at 12th and Irving streets.

Outdoor space: A shaded patio, with stones crunching underfoot, offers the choice of seating at picnic tables or bar stools grouped around barrels. A toy box with bulldozers, trucks and games offers distractions for the youngest visitors. There’s also a streatery with colorful picnic tables protected by a bright blue fence.

What to order: As nice as fresh Raised by Wolves pale ale can be, go with something lighter. At 5 percent alcohol by volume, the Terra Firma lager, which sports a clean, spicy finish, and the refreshing Li’l Wit, a soft, citrusy Belgian-style witbier, seem like perfect bike beers.

STOP 2: Dew Drop Inn

2801 Eighth St. NE.

The Dew Drop Inn marks its seventh anniversary next month, but the laid-back two-story tavern has really found new energy over the last two years. A parking lot full of picnic tables became a refuge for people who were looking to socialize with drinks in the great outdoors. Sunday afternoons bring the Funset, with DJ Smudge and guests who used to make Sundays on Marvin’s rooftop deck one of the best parties in D.C. dropping sets of vintage hip-hop, R&B, house and soul.

Distance from trail: The Dew Drop’s bike racks are located where the trail hits Edgewood Street, across from the ramp to Franklin Street. The patio is down a few steps from there.

Bike essentials: There are plenty of racks, though some people choose to bring their bikes, scooters or strollers onto the patio and keep them at their tables.

Outdoor space: Dew Drop has two patios. The more spacious one is a converted parking lot filled with picnic tables. The upper level has fewer seats but overlooks the train tracks, if you like to hear the sound of wheels clacking on rails while you sip drinks or read.

What to order: Dew Drop’s fun drink menu features a long list of beach-worthy crushes and a slushie cocktail that gets its electric blue color from its primary ingredient: blue raspberry MD 20/20. If you’re cycling, consider a DC Brau radler, a mix of a German-style lager and lemonade that checks in at a refreshing 2.3 percent ABV. (The beer was allegedly created to refresh German cyclists, as “radler” means “cyclist.”) If you’d prefer a slightly more potent version, Dew Drop makes a shandy with radler, gin and elderflower liqueur.

STOP 3: City-State Brewing

705 Edgewood St. NE.

The newest brewery in D.C., City-State has expanded rapidly since opening in June 2021, and its cans are now found at bars and stores across the region. The inclusive and welcoming taproom makes clear that it’s about more than the beer: On weekends, families might drop in for story time or to let children play in Little Tikes cars, while adults visit to play video games and listen to DJs spinning go-go while pop-up kitchens serve barbecue or tacos.

Distance from trail: A wide concrete staircase leads directly from the MBT to the brewery’s patio. Those with strollers or who would prefer not to lock their bikes at the bottom of the stairs should turn off the trail at Edgewood Street, just south of Dew Drop Inn, and follow signs up a slight hill and past Mess Hall to access City-State’s patio.

Bike essentials: There are racks in the grass at the staircase, and ride-share scooters and bikes are frequently parked outside.

Outdoor space: The large patio, which overlooks the trail, is kid- and dog-friendly and filled with beer garden-style tables.

What to order: The beer list changes often, but Big G’s Flavor from the Pocket, a sweet golden ale created with Backyard Band’s Anwan “Big G” Glover, has become a flagship beer for good reason.

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STOP 4: Metrobar

640 Rhode Island Ave. NE.

First things first: You can’t actually drink inside the full-size Metro car that fills Metrobar’s beer garden. (The target date for opening the interior, which will have its own bar, is this summer, according to the owners.) You can, however, drink on platforms next to the car, much to the delight of small children, or at picnic tables and umbrella-shaded spots around the beer garden. Groups of families fill the place on weekends — there always seems to be a kid’s birthday party happening — and the bar hosts a wide variety of events, including music on Friday evenings, karaoke, yappy hours and DJs, and stations food trucks outside the front door.

Distance from trail: There’s a one-block on-street ride from the trail to Metrobar.

Bike essentials: Metrobar’s neighborhood includes plenty of on-street bike racks, with more across the street outside the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema. A Capital Bikeshare station is located on the trail at Bryant Street NE.

Outdoor space: All of Metrobar is outdoors. A covered deck with tables sits between the train and the restrooms.

What to order: Local beer, cider and hard seltzer are the focus, with selections from Other Half, 3 Stars and Denizens prominent. For a refreshing low-ABV summer beer, try Chamolite, from the up-and-coming Urban Garden Brewing, with notes of chamomile and sweet honey. In addition, the bar offers a small but solid selection of nonalcoholic drinks, including a fruity virgin Mai Tai and pineapple-thyme lemonade, which is also served in child’s sizes.

STOP 5: The Eleanor

100 Florida Ave. NE.

The trail’s resident game room features two miniature bowling lanes (think 10-pin scaled down to almost duckpin size), Skee-Ball, pop-a-shot basketball, classic and modern arcade games, and a selection of pinball machines, making it a perfect group pit stop. It’s worth noting that Metrobar and the Eleanor are over a mile apart — the longest bar-free stretch on the entire beer trail, threaded between dog parks, apartment buildings and parking lots — so consider that before you promise the kids Skee-Ball.

Distance from trail: After you come down a wooden ramp from the trail, the Eleanor’s front door is located directly across an apartment building’s driveway.

Bike essentials: There are bike racks along Florida Avenue. The closest Capital Bikeshare station is roughly two blocks away at Florida and Fourth Street NE, on the other side of the MBT and Metro tracks.

Outdoor space: Tables on the patio are separated from Florida Avenue by high wooden fences.

What to order: The draft beer menu has a regional focus; the clean-drinking Vasen lager, from Richmond, was a surprise find on a recent visit. Happy hour, which runs daily from 4 to 7 p.m., includes $5 beer, $6 wine and cocktails, and discounted food, such as $5 nachos and $6 wings. The menu focuses on classic bar food, such as wings and burgers, plus pasta, flatbreads and salad bowls.

STOP 6: Red Bear Brewing

209 M St. NE.

D.C.'s first “100 percent gay-owned” brewery is known for hoppy West Coast ales, drag shows and a vast library of board games. Red Bear has scaled back its outdoor seating since reopening during the pandemic and no longer takes reservations, but it’s still one of the most delicious stops on the beer trail.

Distance from trail: The brewery is one block east of the trail exit at M Street.

Bike essentials: There’s plenty of parking space, thanks to the racks outside REI next door. Speaking of REI, there’s an in-store bike shop that can handle minor mechanical problems, such as fixing a flat ($10) or adjusting brakes or derailleurs ($15).

Outdoor space: A large uncovered patio fills the plaza between Red Bear and REI.

What to order: Those looking for lower-ABV beers can try the spicy FurROARi Italian Pilsener, the piney Lightweight Flannel West Coast pale ale or the Floor is Guava, a fruity guava-raspberry sour. Right now, Red Bear is pouring Syla, a Belgian tripel made in collaboration with Ukraine’s Pravda Brewery.

STOP 7: Wunder Garten

1101 First St. NE.

The German-inspired NoMa beer garden is known as a gathering place for groups — the large cabanas that dot the space can be reserved for an afternoon or evening — but most tables are available on a first-come, first-served basis, even during Sunday’s popular Yappy Hour, when “pupucinnos” are almost as popular as liter mugs of beer.

Distance from trail: Two blocks from the trail’s M Street exit (the same one as Red Bear).

Bike essentials: The entrance sits on a street with a protected bike lane, and there are racks right outside. Capital Bikeshare has multiple stations in the NoMa neighborhood, including at First and K streets and First and M streets.

Outdoor space: Beyond one large walled tent where the main bar is located, almost everything at Wunder Garten is alfresco, and ordering through QR codes at tables means you don’t have to go indoors at all.

What to order: Beyond some standard German choices (Spaten and Hofbrau lagers, Franziskaner hefeweizen), there are a few good local options (Port City Optimal Wit) and lower-ABV IPAs (Cisco Gripah). Dogfish Head’s tart SeaQuench, available in cans, is a favorite under 5 percent. The cider and seltzer selection is basic, outside of Anxo. Food comes from CaliBurger and La Buena Argentinian Empanadas.

Photo editing by Annaliese Nurnberg. Design by José L. Soto. Copy editing by Jill Martin.