But if you’re making the effort to travel across town to meet friends or a date after work, you want great value. These D.C. happy hours are all worth the trek, no matter where your office is: They go above and beyond the usual discounts found at many downtown bars — and some even last all night.
523 Eighth St. SE; 2901 Wilson Blvd., Arlington.
When: Monday through Friday, 4 to 7 p.m.
Specials: $5 Balkan food, beers, wines and cocktails.
You might be familiar with Ambar’s famous “Balkan Experience” brunch, which includes unlimited food and drinks for $39. Happy hour, offered every weekday on Capitol Hill and in Clarendon, is almost as much of a deal. Around a dozen small plates are $5 each, including a beef-and-veal kebab with paprika; hummus; and the spicy cow’s cheese dip known as urnebes. Spreads, soups and seafood are all available to be paired with house wines, beer or margaritas and mojitos. The menus do differ slightly by location — only Barracks Row offers unlimited Rakia, the potent Serbian fruit brandy — so it’s worth looking at the website if you’re deciding between the two. (Note: The Capitol Hill outpost will close on Jan. 27 for what’s expected to be a two-month renovation.)
1805 18th St. NW.
When: Daily, 5 to 7 p.m.
Specials: $5 beer, $6 wine, $15 large servings of Korean rice wine, $5-$12 food.
Restaurant critic Tom Sietsema recently awarded three stars to this reborn Korean dining room in Dupont Circle, and its stellar bar food is an attraction in its own right. How many happy hour menus let you choose between rich, satisfying ramen made with spicy Wagshall’s brisket ($7) and crispy, double-fried Korean fried chicken dressed with sweet-and-spicy gochujang and Alabama-style white barbecue sauce ($12)? (A kimchi dog covered in the house kimchi slaw makes for a perfect smaller snack.) To drink, there are pints of Kirin Ichiban for $5, and $6 glasses of wine, but groups should split a tea kettle-sized portion of the makkoli, a Korean rice wine infused with seasonal ingredients, such as coconut and strawberries, or a more traditional bottle of Soju (both $15).
1201 U St. NW.
When: Tuesday through Sunday, 5 to 7 p.m.
Specials: $8 tiki drinks, $4 beers, $6 wines, $3-$6 small plates
Turn happy hour into a vacation at Washington’s best tiki bar, where frozen pina coladas flow and Hawaiian-shirted bartenders whip up a rotating selection of classic rum cocktails for $8 instead of the usual $12 to $14. Got a date? Split the potent Pineapple of Hospitality — a hollowed-out pineapple filled with rum, fruit juice and more spirits — for $18. (Beer and wine are available, too, but tiki drinks are the reason to visit.) Don’t overlook the Chinese-inspired dishes, including a pleasingly spicy bowl of Dan Dan Noodles ($6) or a Nashville-by-way-of-Taiwan take on hot chicken steamed buns ($5).
1825 18th St. NW.
When: Monday from 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., Tuesday to Thursday from 5 to 6:30 p.m., Friday from 4 to 6:30 p.m.
Specials: $6.95 cocktails, $1.50 off wine, $4 beers, discounts on various bar snacks, from fries to a butcher’s-cut steak. Dark, cozy and everything you want in a neighborhood bar, Bar Charley can get a little busy at peak times — especially Mondays, when happy hour runs all night, and office groups and first dates vie for the prime spots in the bay window. The draw: eight classic cocktails for $6.95, including a well-made daiquiri and Jack Rose, and a pair of Tiki drinks on tap. (The bourbon-heavy Suffering Bastard is a better bet than the sweet, too-pineappley Mai Tai.) To keep happy hour from turning into hungover morning, the kitchen sends out $7 plates of Korean barbecue wings and $9 bowls of coconut curry mussels. Note: There’s a reason everyone in this basement bar is ordering Old Fashioneds and Moscow Mules. Stick to the classics.
1405 T St. NW.
When: Monday to Friday, 4 to 7 p.m., Thursday from 4 to 10 p.m.
Specials: $2 off cocktails, $2 empanadas.
Colada Shop’s Cuban cocktails are already some of the best deals around the bustling 14th Street strip: On the regular menu, most drinks cost $8. But its happy hour is even more wallet-friendly, with $2 off all cocktails and $2 empanadas. (At these prices, it’s basically “Buy a drink and get a free empanada.”) Grab the couch in the vibrantly colored backroom, sip a rum-and-apricot Hotel Nacional or the silky-smooth daiquiri, and snack on the house-baked spinach-and-cheese empanada. Before long, you’ll be grooving to bolero and son tunes, closing your eyes and imagining you’re in warmer climes.
3178 Bladensburg Rd. NE.
When: Friday from 3 to 11 p.m.
Specials: Half-price beers.
There is no better place to drink beer than a brewery, because you’ll never find a fresher pint anywhere else. Although the stripped-down tasting room at D.C. Brau doesn’t quite have the atmosphere of your favorite bar, it does have a deal that’s better than at most centrally located watering holes: Every Friday, all beers are half-price from open to close. That means $2.50 for a pint of Public Pale Ale, Brau Pils or even the vaunted On the Wings of Armageddon double IPA — maybe the cheapest it’s ever been. (Check the brewery’s website with real-time price updates on Fridays; some rare brews cost $5 per pour.) Although there’s no food available, you can BYO or have pizza delivered and purchase growlers or six-packs on your way home.
3628 Georgia Ave. NW.
When: Monday to Saturday, 5 to 9 p.m.
Specials: Buy any drink, get one free.
D.C. Reynolds didn’t invent the idea of BOGO — buy one, get one — but the popularity of this long-running happy hour has convinced other bars on Georgia Avenue to offer the same deal. (I don’t care about the relationship between imitation and flattery as long as we all get cheaper drinks because of it.) The way it works is simple: Settle in at the scruffy bar or on a stool at the long counter on the patio. Order a drink — D.C. Reynolds is better than average with local craft beers and Kentucky whiskeys — and the bartender will give you a ticket that can be redeemed for a second drink when you’re finished with the first. There are rules: You can’t mix-and-match beverages — the free drink has to be the same as the first — and one member of a pair can’t just buy one drink and give the free one to their other half. Still, it’s hard to beat this offer’s value and long window. (Note: D.C. Reynolds will close in April after eight years.)
750 15th St. NW.
When: Daily from 2:30 to 6:30 p.m.
Specials: Half-price cocktails, wine, draft beers and oysters; discounted raw bar, sandwiches and snacks.
If you’re looking to impress a date at happy hour, Joe’s fits the bill: The landmark Union Trust Bank, one block from the White House, has been transformed into a classy restaurant with soaring marble columns, a black granite bar and a mezzanine with views of it all. The place attracts a suited expense-account crowd, except at happy hour, when the half-price deals are the draw. Regional craft beers are $3.50, fancy wines by the glass range from $4.50 to $12, and signature cocktails, including a stellar Old Fashioned and full-bodied Moscow Mule, are $6. Complement the drinks with half-price oysters or another snack, such as an Alaskan king crab roll or deviled eggs topped with lobster (each $4.95). The early start time makes this attractive for sneaking out of the office.
1819 Columbia Rd. NW.
When: Monday through Friday, 4 to 7 p.m.
Specials: $5 beer, wine and cocktails, $1.25 oysters, $4-$15 bar snacks.
Ann Cashion and John Fulchino’s Adams Morgan dining room should be a regular spot in your happy hour rotation. Local oysters ($1.25), paired with $5 craft beer, wine or “premium well” drinks (read: cocktails made with better-than-rail spirits) would make for a fine after-work combo, but starting at 5 p.m., the kitchen sends out above-average bar snacks, such as $5 lobster roll sliders, $8 trotter tots (bite-sized pork croquettes) and shareable $5 Old Bay-covered fries.
1351 H St. NE.
When: Monday through Friday, 5 to 8 p.m.
Specials: Free dim sum with drink purchase.
Maketto turns the idea of happy hour on its head. Drop by the H Street NE boutique and restaurant on a weekday evening, and there isn’t a single discounted beverage available. Instead, Erik Bruner-Yang’s Cambodian-Taiwanese food is the focus: Pay full price for a DC Brau Tuk Tuk Lager ($6) or a glass of wine ($11-$13), and you'll receive a free dim sum plate, such as a bowl of crystal shrimp dumplings, or bao filled with pork or pan-seared leeks. Order two rounds, and you’ll get two snacks, and so on.
401 Seventh St. NW.
When: Monday through Friday, 4 to 6 p.m.
Specials: $2 tacos, $4 appetizers, $5 beer, $6 wine, $7-$8 margaritas.
There are plenty of Taco Tuesday happy hours around town. But when you’re craving something more original and authentic than ground beef and shredded cheese melted onto a giant flour tortilla, head to José Andrés’s Mexican outpost in Penn Quarter. The weeknight “Hora Feliz” features a selection of $2 tacos — such as shredded beef in a spicy red chile sauce; barbecued pork with sour orange and pickled red onion; and vegetarian refried beans with a chile-tomato salsa — on house-made corn tortillas. Paired with $4 appetizers, including ceviche, and free chips and addictive salsa, and you’ve got an affordable dinner to go with the well-made margaritas and mojitos. The only downer is that it ends so early.
3282 M St. NW (entrance in back, off Potomac Street NW).
When: Monday to Thursday, 5 to 7 p.m.
Specials: $3 off draft beers, $3 off wine by the glass, $7 appetizers, $12-$18 pizzas.
The basement beer bar at Pizzeria Paradiso’s Georgetown location underwent a significant makeover in January 2018, adding skee-ball, pinball and video-game machines to become the Game Room. It’s a comfortable place to hang out over a few rounds of shuffleboard or Big Buck Hunter, especially given the specials: All eight of the rotating craft taps are $3 off, which means you’ll pay as litte as $3 or $4 for choice drafts from breweries like Allagash, Right Proper or Union. (Selections change frequently, so check the menu.) Pair your brews with a personal pie or appetizers, and you’ll have plenty of fuel for one more round of Terminator 2: Judgment Day.
79 Potomac St. SE.
When: All day Monday, Tuesday through Friday, 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Specials: Half-price oysters, $5 bar snacks, $3-$5 beers, $5 wine, $7 cocktails.
While it’s best known as a bar to visit before and after Washington Nationals games, the Salt Line’s New England-style seafood and waterfront patio with firepits still attract bargoers during the offseason. Happy hour food specials include half-price local oysters and a $5 choice of “coddies” (fried balls of salt cod and potato served on crackers) or “stuffies” (middleneck clams stuffed with sausage, Parmesan and bread crumbs). Drinks continue the down-easter theme, with $3 Narragansetts and $7 draft Cape Codder and Fish House Punch cocktails, while locals are represented by $5 DC Brau and Port City pints.
1206 Wisconsin Ave. NW.
When: Monday through Friday, 5 to 6:30 p.m.
Specials: $4 draft beer, glasses of wine, spirits and bar snacks
The dark, cozy Sovereign is the Washington area’s best Belgian-style beer hall. Sometimes that comes at a price, like when you realize the rare farmhouse or abbey-brewed ales you’re eyeing are $14 a glass. But the Sovereign has one of the best happy hours of any local beer bar, with a quartet of drafts — say, a stout from Brussels’s De La Senne, or a saison by France’s Thiriez — for $4 each. Friends don’t like beer? Not a problem, a quartet of wines and cocktails, such as a genever and tonic or a pastis spritz, are also on the $4 menu, as are tartines and loaded fries.
1503 17th St. NW.
When: Monday through Friday, 5:30 to 7 p.m.
Specials: Half-price regular sushi and most alcoholic drinks.
D.C. foodies are used to lining up outside Bad Saint, Rose’s Luxury or Little Serow before opening time to guarantee a seat. But lining up early for happy hour sounds unusual — until, that is, you’ve experienced Sushi Taro. The gem of a Japanese restaurant near Dupont Circle is a cut above other sushi happy hours around town, with two gleaming pieces of Japanese wild snapper nigiri for $6, or rolls starting at $3.50. (There are restrictions about which beverages are half-price, so make sure you ask before you order.) The catch about this happy hour: It’s valid only at the 11-seat bar. Your best bet is to show up early — some people get in line before 5 p.m. — or around 6:30 p.m. to try your luck for the second seating. It’ll be worth the wait.
This story was originally published on March 15, 2018. It has been updated.