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These new rooftop bars feature killer cocktails, happy hours and views

The rooftop bar at Takoda Navy Yard. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)
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Forget cocktail lounges “hidden” behind unmarked doors: Even in sweltering summer heat, when there always seems to be a chance of thunderstorms, Washingtonians head to rooftop bars. Whether you’re looking for a new view or a change of happy hour scene, we’ve explored and rated the latest crop of rooftop destinations (all of which opened in 2022), including how to guarantee a seat and how much you’ll pay for a drink.

D.C.

Bar Amazonia at Causa

920 Blagden Alley NW. causadc.com. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

This Blagden Alley dining and drinking destination is a reunion of sorts for Carlos Delgado and Glendon Hartley, who opened the Peruvian restaurant Ocopa on H Street NE in 2012. Hartley went on to open Service Bar, one of the city’s best cocktail spots, with partner Chad Spangler, and after Ocopa closed, Delgado became an executive chef at José Andrés’s China Chilcano. Now they’ve again joined forces — this time with Spangler — to celebrate the flavors of Peru. The first-floor restaurant, Causa, will offer tasting menus of six or nine courses when it opens, and the upstairs Bar Amazonia has a lively design of murals, retro furniture and flowing greenery. It also has a large patio, situated above Tiger Fork. A 30-foot section of windows behind the indoor bar opens to allow access to the counter from the outside.

Reservations: Not all the seats on the patio are covered, and those that are receive their shade from fabric sails. Instead of having customers roll the dice on next weekend’s forecast, the bar releases rooftop reservations at 1 p.m. each day, though walk-ins are also allowed. Tables are reserved for two hours for groups of four or fewer and two-and-a-half hours for larger parties. On weekend visits, we’ve seen groups with children.

Views: In the heart of Blagden Alley, you’re looking at a cluttered mix of historic old houses, renovated condos, old apartment buildings and spiky church spires.

Drinks: More than 100 bottles of pisco are available, which Bar Amazonia touts as one of the largest selections in the country. That’s your first hint of what to order, though it can be tough to decide between vintage versions of the punches and sours on the menu (“circa 1900”) or the new, upgraded versions, such as the Pisco Sour de Amazonia, a savory delight with Key limes and house-roasted watermelon. Keep an eye out for the words “Causa acholado” in the cocktail descriptions: “Acholado” indicates a blend of pisco varietals, Spangler explains, and “we are making our own blends to achieve desired flavor profiles for a number of our cocktails.”

Even if you have to Google ingredients like hierba luisa, which the staff describes as “dried lemongrass tea,” or ají panca, a dark red Peruvian pepper, you can take comfort that Hartley and Spangler know their way around a cocktail menu. The Naranjilla Tónica is a gin and tonic that gets its name from the tonic made with naranjilla, a semitropical citrus, plus hierba luisa, acai and cinnamon. Look for surprising touches, such as drinks served with swirls of aromatic palo santo wood smoke, or arriving in clay pots. Cocktails cost $12 to $18, with many in the $15 range; Peruvian Pilseners and IPAs cost $6 to $9.

Delgado’s menu at Bar Amazonia includes snacks that pair well with drinks, such as Lagarto, a spicy alligator picadillo, and skewers of hearts, duck tongue, salmon belly and Wagyu beef.

The Runaway

3523 12th St. NE. therunawaydc.com. Open daily.

In some ways, the Runaway is just like its sister restaurant, Petworth’s Slash Run. Both feature live music throughout the week, offer half-price burgers on Mondays and half-price drafts at weeknight happy hour, and serve bottomless brunch drinks on Sundays. But where Slash Run leans Ramones, with a mural outside and a “Rockaway Beef” burger, the Runaway is dedicated to “pride of Wheaton High School” Joan Jett and her trailblazing 1970s band the Runaways. There’s a mural of Jett outside and one of the whole group in the stairwell. Jett and Runaways singer Cherie Currie both have burgers named after them. (The “A Pinch of Rock and a Dose of Roll,” named after the opening line from “Queens of Noise,” is the burger to get, thanks to two kinds of bacon, jalapeño coleslaw and sweet pickles.) The soundtrack rocks — even the Led Zeppelin pinball machine.

One other advantage for the Runaway: The second floor has tables outside on a narrow, covered patio facing 12th Street and a long rear back deck. The latter is the most popular, both at happy hour and for taking a break between bands. Dining tables run down one side of the space; the facing wall is lined with benches covered in brightly patterned cushions.

Reservations: The Runaway takes reservations through Resy. Check the calendar to see if there’s a concert scheduled on the night you want to visit. While diners with reservations don’t have to pay the show’s cover charge to eat upstairs, it might be loud. (If you do want to stick around after dinner, remember to go downstairs, pay at the door and start a tab at the bar.)

Views: The bar is located on a commercial strip that backs up to houses, so there’s not much to see. A high fence around the deck tries to keep the sound in.

Drinks: A low-key neighborhood rock-and-roll tavern isn’t the place to get fancy. The Runaway’s menu has more drink-and-a-shot combos (five) than actual cocktails (four), even if the respectable Old-Fashioned comes with a burnt orange peel. Play it safe with the Industry Standard’s pint of Narragansett and shot of Old Overholt rye ($9) or go DIY with the Death in the Afternoon ($13) — a shot of absinthe with a pour of the draft prosecco. Speaking of taps, there are eight, including beers from Maine and Three Floyds. All drafts are half-price every weekday from 5 to 7 p.m., alongside the natural wines by the glass.

Smoke and Mirrors at AC Hotel Capitol Hill/Navy Yard

867 New Jersey Ave. SE. smokeandmirrorsrooftop.com. Closed Sunday and Monday.

The AC Hotel — one of Marriott’s “lifestyle” brands — opened in February at the northern end of Navy Yard, near Garfield Park and the Southeast-Southwest freeway. Smoke and Mirrors, a rooftop bar and lounge with a capacity of 350 outdoors and in, has its own entrance and elevator that whisks customers to the roof without their having to make eye contact with the hotel guests. Portions of the outdoor seating are under cover, making it less likely you’ll need to scamper inside if a storm pops up.

Reservations: Reservations only guarantee tables indoors. Guests can request outdoor seats, which include mod couches and low-slung firepit tables, when booking their spot through OpenTable, and staff will attempt to “accommodate upon arrival.” Stools at the outdoor bar and at drink rails along the glass-walled edge of the roof are available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Views: If you’re perched at one of the drink rails, the expansive panorama extends from Washington National Cathedral on the left to the Hecht Co. warehouse and the National Arboretum’s Mount Hamilton on the right. The Capitol and the Library of Congress are front and center — the bar is five blocks down New Jersey Avenue from the Capitol grounds — but Smoke and Mirrors provides an unusual vantage point, looking at the Capitol Hill neighborhood’s rowhouses, church spires and landmarks. It’s a nice change from the federal buildings that fill the vistas at other Capitol-adjacent bars, as long as you look beyond the rush hour traffic stopping and going on the freeway below.

Drinks: Patrons without table reservations browse Smoke and Mirrors’ menu with QR codes, but ordering is done the old-fashioned way, by getting up and walking to either the indoor or outdoor bar. The freshly revamped summer cocktail menu takes its inspiration from go-go songs, such as Rare Essence’s “Do You Know What Time It Is?” (mezcal, tequila, blood orange and elderflower, served in a glass covered in vibrant chili salt) and Critical Condition Band’s “Jiggle It” (vodka, mezcal and espresso cordial).

People like to complain about D.C. cocktail prices, but at Smoke and Mirrors, you’re paying a hotel premium as well as for the view: $18 for a gin and tonic made with house-infused gin and bottled Fever-Tree Mediterranean Tonic. Same price for a paloma with Del Maguey’s Vida Mezcal and Fever-Tree grapefruit soda. An Old-Fashioned with the house Smooth Ambler bourbon is $21. Of the 10 drinks on the menu, three cost less than $17, and two of those are $16. (This exception is a $13 froze.) Meanwhile, a bottle of Michelob Ultra is $7, and a Devils Backbone lager is $8.

Takoda Navy Yard

1299 First St. SE. takodanavyyard.com. Open daily.

Shaw’s popular Takoda expanded to Navy Yard in June, and the two-level bar across N Street SE from Nationals Park is already proving as popular as its sibling. That’s to be expected, especially since the footprint of the new space has “150 percent [of] the square footage” of its sibling, according to a press release. Those who’ve been to the original will recognize the setup: The bars are located on the second and third floors of the building, up a long flight of stairs (or short elevator ride) from street level. But the younger Takoda has some notable differences. Outside of the bar area, most of the rooftop is uncovered. There are plenty of long, narrow tables at which to perch, as well as drink rails running the length of two sides of the building. But despite the openness, Takoda’s rooftop doesn’t sit in direct sunlight for most of the afternoon. The building sits on a corner, with a much taller hotel wrapping around the north and west sides, casting it into shadow.

Reservations: The roof is open on a first-come, first-served basis.

Views: Beyond the Nationals’ parking garage, there are views of the shimmering D.C. Water headquarters, the rolling arches of the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, the Anacostia River and the hills beyond. Also: lots and lots of modern, personality-free buildings.

Drinks: The array of taps behind the bar pour 16 beers and eight cocktails. The former, predominantly craft, don’t offer many surprises outside of rotating Dogfish Head and Sam Adams lines; the latter feature cocktails from sister bars, such as the Cortez Margarita and the Boardwalk Mojito. The Bloom City, essentially a gin and tonic with mint and hibiscus, and the tropical-leaning Fineapple, which mixes bourbon and Aperol with pineapple and grapefruit, are standouts. Make sure to check what’s spinning in the frozen cocktail machine. Happy hour runs from 4 to 6 p.m. daily. Both frozen and regular cocktails drop from $13 to $9, and beers and rail drinks are $7.

Maryland

Hip Flask at Marriott Bethesda Downtown

7707 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda. hipflaskrooftop.com. Closed Sunday and Monday.

When Marriott opened its new 700,000-square-foot headquarters in the heart of downtown Bethesda, the development naturally included a hotel — the company’s 8,000th worldwide. In addition to a restaurant and bar on the ground floor, the hotel placed another bar at the very top, with a dedicated elevator to whisk visitors straight up to penthouse level on the 13th floor. The bar itself is surrounded by retractable glass walls, so guests sitting indoors can enjoy the sun and view as well as the benefits of air conditioning. The outdoor portion runs around two sides of the building, with a mix of cushioned sofas and all-weather chairs surrounding low mod tables. This is a bar that attracts a wide variety of customers: fashionable young people, golf-shirt-wearing couples, casual hotel guests.

Reservations: Both indoor and outdoor seating is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

Views: The wider end of the roof overlooks downtown Bethesda, with radio towers and the office towers of Tysons beyond. The other, which weirdly doesn’t have any tables, faces east toward downtown Silver Spring, with a lovely view of the gleaming white spires of the Mormon Temple rising from a sea of trees. It’s popular as a photo backdrop. In between, the sofas and tables for two gaze into the Marriott headquarters building.

Drinks: Hip Flask’s website describes itself as “a modern cocktail factory embodying an elevated approach,” with word salad about “sheer cocktail vessels allowing large format ice and the actual liquid to be the star of the show.” In other words, it’s a cocktail bar. Highlights were the Toki Hi-ball 2, with its namesake Japanese whisky enlivened by the citrus flavors of yuzu and persimmon, and Daisy’s Dilemma, which adds earthy chamomile to the familiar combo of Aviation Gin and Lillet Blanc and is topped with frothy foam and served in a coupe. There’s more yuzu to be found in the Marmalade Skies, alongside vodka and white peach juice, topped up with sparkling rosé to provide some color.

One off touch: When I went inside to order our second round — this is a self-service bar — I noticed a short list of “cold press juice cocktails” on the bar that hadn’t been mentioned in the printed menu. The Watermelon Margarita, which incorporates cold-pressed watermelon juice, might be simpler than other cocktails that cost almost twice as much, but it’s refreshing on a summer afternoon.

Outside of cocktails, Hip Flask offers local touches with beers from Waredaca and Cushwa, among other drafts, though the wine list is more international in scope. It also offers nonalcoholic cocktails and champagne. Cocktails cost between $16 and $19, with most in the $18-$19 range. Beers are $8 to $9, and wines by the glass cost $15 to $18.

Virginia

Buena Vida

2900 Wilson Blvd., Clarendon. buenavidagastrolounge.com. Open daily.

When this three-story Mexican restaurant opened its doors in 2019, it confusingly offered three concepts under one roof: the casual Tacos, Tortas and Tequila (TTT) on the ground floor; the sit-down Buena Vida restaurant above that; and Buena Vida Social Club occupying the rooftop. Two rebrandings later, the entire building has come under the Buena Vida banner. The problem, at least for those who want to enjoy the weather, is that the rooftop might as well be its own entity. Reservations are available for the first and second floors, but not the roof. Happy hour, which includes $6 margaritas and $5 food specials from 4 to 7 p.m., is available at the bars on the first two floors, but not the roof. Fancy unlimited small plates for $44.99, similar to sister restaurant Ambar? “Not available on the rooftop.” Brunch with a view? Nope, not that either.

But the refashioned Buena Vida is a pleasant space for drinks after work, full of tropical plants and bright colors. (Like other bars that have opened in recent years, it claims inspiration from Tulum.) There are two bars, though only one was staffed on recent visits, while the other functioned as a large, U-shaped communal table, with servers taking drink orders. Afterward, a spokesperson for the restaurant told me it’s generally only open on weekends. The roof itself features slats that open vertically to let light and breezes in, or rotate flat to protect from rain. Along the Wilson Boulevard side, an uncovered area offers modern white banquettes and love seats and plenty of sun exposure.

Reservations: The roof is first-come, first-served. Just take an elevator straight up to the third floor and ask for seats at the host stand.

Views: Expectations are high, given Buena Vida’s location on the upward slope of Wilson Boulevard between Court House and Clarendon. Wide-open windows face Washington, with plenty of Rosslyn apartment and office buildings in the way. Tree cover from Colonial Village does its best to blot out buildings on the northern side, looking toward the Potomac. A row of fabric-backed booths, separated by oblong planters full of greenery, runs directly alongside the windows — the breeziest seats in the house. The aforementioned area on the Wilson side is surrounded by high walls, mostly offering views of the sky.

Drinks: This is a tequila- and mezcal-focused bar: Six of the eight “craft cocktails” contain one or both of those spirits. The Oaxacan Express, loaded with coconut, pineapple and bitter spices, arrives with a smoked twig of rosemary providing herbal aromas. The Margarita Al Pastor tastes exactly like you’d think: Tequila is infused with flavors of serrano ham and bacon through a technique called fat washing, and the smoky, rich spirit is shaken with pineapple and agave before being served with charred pineapple in a glass rimmed with jalapeño salt. Be warned: A housemade habanero syrup makes the Paloma Lava much spicier than expected. Fancy cocktails are $13 to $15 each, but the bar also pours strawberry, mango and regular margaritas for $10 and sangrias for $11.

And while there’s no happy hour or brunch (see above), there is a menu with chips and guacamole, pork belly gorditas, shrimp al ajillo and, weirdly, Caesar salad.

Hank’s Oyster Bar — Old Town

818 N. St. Asaph St., Alexandria. hanksoysterbar.com. Closed Monday.

After serving as the home to Hank’s Pasta Bar and, briefly, Hank and Mitzi’s, the building at the corner of Montgomery and North St. Asaph streets in Alexandria’s Old Town North neighborhood now houses a third, familiar concept from restaurateur Jamie Leeds: Hank’s Oyster Bar. The renovation of the building added a rooftop deck, which opened in April.

Guests climb two long flights of stairs (“Just a little further!” reads an encouraging sign in the stairwell) before reaching the sunny, covered rooftop. The space is split into two parts: a cozy, nine-seat bar surrounded by a “lounge” area that includes high-tops for two and long, bench-style tables for groups, and dinner seating with low round tables for four. The vibe is coastal modern, with exposed wood and cool blue furniture, and all seats are covered. (A skylight over the bar keeps things bright.) Happy hour runs on weeknights from 4 to 6 p.m. with half-price oysters, $6 beer and $7 wines.

Reservations: Bar stools and the tables in the “lounge” area near the bar are always first-come, first-served. The rooftop dining area plans to start taking dedicated rooftop reservations through Resy. Until then, customers who’ve made reservations for the dining room can ask to be seated alfresco when checking in at the host stand.

View: There’s not much to speak of, at least from the bar area. Some trees screen the modern office buildings of Old Town North and add color to the vista.

Drinks: The menu here is much the same as at other Hank’s locations: a frosé-with-watermelon-vodka concoction dubbed the Freakin’ Catalina Wine Mixer; a Spanish G&T in a balloon glass garnished with peppercorns, a forest of herbs, and sliced fruit and veg; and a bright, summery Negroni made with berry-infused gin, all of which cost between $13 and $15. Of note: Hurricanes can be made with rum ($14) or with Lyre’s nonalcoholic cane spirits ($12).

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