New Columbia Distillers Gin Garden
New Columbia Distillers started making gin in an Ivy City warehouse in 2012, becoming the first legal distillery in Washington since Prohibition. But the visitor experience never quite measured up to the quality of the gins, vermouths and whiskey being produced there: The stuffy ciderblock garage was open for just three hours on Saturday afternoons, and cocktail lovers who came for a taste had to jockey for a place to stand between the makeshift bar, copper stills and a table where groups slapped labels onto freshly filled bottles.
This summer, though, New Columbia took over the vacant cab company and auto repair shop next door, creating a dedicated indoor barroom and, more excitingly, a seasonal gin garden. Colorful plants sprout from both wooden boxes and shipping pallets repurposed as shelves; empty barrels serve as tables; and sails overhead provide shade.
With the expanded space, New Columbia has also expanded in other areas, says co-founder John Uselton. Instead of opening from 1 to 4 p.m. on Saturdays, the bar is now open from 1 to 8 on Saturdays and 1 to 5 on Sundays, with pop-up food vendors on Saturdays. And the cocktail menu, which had been a trio of rotating drinks advertised on a felt letter board, now includes “seasonal specialties” — Dog Days blends Navy Strength gin and New Columbia’s Pimms-adjacent Summer Cup liqueur with cucumber syrup, grapefruit, lemon and ginger beer — and classics, such as a Manhattan and Negroni, made with house spirits. Coming soon, Uselton says: a lineup of gins paired with specific tonics and garnishes, served in balloon-style glasses.
And if you just want to drop in on a Saturday afternoon and taste New Columbia’s spirits and Capitoline vermouths, and maybe tour the distillery? You can still do that, too. 1832 Fenwick St. NE. greenhatgin.com
Casta's Rum Bar
Every time I’ve been to Casta’s Rum Bar, the Cuban-themed restaurant and cocktail spot in the West End Hotel, I’ve walked right through the main bar and made my way to the patio. One visit, and you’ll see why: The walls are covered in murals paying homage to Celia Cruz, vintage Cuban license plates and the “Guerrillero Heroico” image of Che Guevara, though I’ve seen more people taking photos in front of the wall-sized “Welcome to Havana” postcard. Palm trees and other tropical greenery make this odd little courtyard seem lush.
The striking outdoor bar, fronted with a large slab of onyx and accented with globe lamps overhead, has seats protected from sun and rain, and it’s where you’ll want to perch for a lineup of classic Cuban cocktails that go well beyond the mojito. (In truth, Casta’s mojito is actually pretty good, but you’d expect that from a place curated by Doug Fisher, who’s also behind Morris American Bar.)
The sweet and fruity El Nacional, made with apricot liqueur and pineapple juice, is a smart choice to start; the refreshing and simple Saoco finds the vanilla and molasses notes of aged rum accented with coconut water and lime. The simple and note-perfect daiquiri, served up or frozen, is probably the star.
One sour note: Casta’s menu just lists drinks as being made with “rum” or “aged rum,” instead of saying which of the four dozen rums you can expect in your glass. Havana Club might be the rail, but it doesn’t go into every concoction.
At $12 per cocktail and $14 for frozen drinks, it’s easy to run up a larger tab than expected, given how quickly the drinks go down. It might be easier to come by for happy hour, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m. on weekdays, when Caribbean beers are $5 and cocktails are $10. Make plans to come on Wednesdays, when salsa dancing to live music starts soon after happy hour ends.
1121 New Hampshire Ave. NW. castasrumbar.com
The biggest surprise of the summer might have been Hook Hall. A year ago, this former Murry’s Supermarket in the heart of Park View was empty, having just been vacated by the ax-throwing bar Kraken Axes, which was moving to a spot elsewhere in the city. But now the space at the corner of Georgia Avenue and Morton Street has changed completely.
The run-down parking lot has been smoothed and carpeted with a layer of fake grass, and it’s filled with German-style beer garden tables, umbrellas and corn hole sets. (Coming later this month: a weekly bocce league.) A bar with 32 taps fills the back wall. More striking is a row of “cabanas” along the long wooden fence: Sheltered areas full of brightly-colored couches, decorated with pots and baskets holding festive flowers and palm trees. Each has seating for 12, and is outfitted with ceiling fans and USB stations. A three-hour reservation on Friday or Saturday costs $100 (food and drinks are not included), but the cabanas are available on a first-come, first-seated basis on Sunday, Wednesday and Thursday if they’re not booked. (Hook Hall is closed on Monday and Tuesday.)
Open since mid-July, Hook Hall has become a community go-to: Dropping in after work or on weekend afternoons, we’ve seen birthday parties for toddlers and 20-somethings, and we’ve watched as families played corn hole and couples brought their dogs to happy hour. The owners boast about the 13,500 square feet of space, but the cavernous, warehouselike indoors isn’t much of a draw, despite the giant TV screen, oversize Connect Four, Skee-Ball machines and indoor corn hole sets. Even with a 40-foot bar, it feels cold and uncomfortable, whereas the patio makes everyone feel welcome. It will be interesting to see what happens when the weather turns colder, but for now, Hook Hall is winning fans in the neighborhood and beyond. 3400 Georgia Ave. NW. hookhall.com
Camp at the Line
Most guests who visit the Line’s popular bars and restaurants probably don’t realize that the Adams Morgan hotel has a spacious rooftop deck with 360-degree views of the city. It’s a popular setting for weddings and private events, but the hotel has decided to start opening the space to the public more often on weekends, while helping local charities at the same time.
Calling it “Camp at the Line” is a little misleading, as there’s no macrame or woodworking to do while admiring the stunning vistas of Washington National Cathedral or downtown Washington. The hardest choice you’ll have to make is whether you want to make advance reservations for $35, which include a spread of barbecue and other dishes from A Rake’s Progress, Spike Gjerde’s well-reviewed restaurant downstairs, or pay a $10 cover charge per person at the door, which includes one drink. Either way, $5 per ticket goes to a designated charity, such as City Dogs Rescue & City Kitties (Sept. 29) and the Sitar Arts Center (Oct. 13). Events will be held through Halloween.
The cocktails — prepped by bartender extraordinaire Morgan Stana of A Rake’s Progress on a recent visit — were simple yet flavorful: Oaky bourbon with a smoked cherry and bitters recalled a campfire, while fresh strawberries and a sparkling rose meshed well with floral gin. Order a beer, and a bartender will fish a can out of an ice-filled bathtub. The only thing that gives us pause is that this isn’t a cheap day in the sun: A glass of wine or a cocktail costs $14, and a can of beer, local sparking wine or cider is $7. But for the views, and the opportunity to help a local charity, it’s worth dropping in. The Line Hotel, 1770 Euclid St. NW. thelinehotel.com/dc