Of course, when one bar closes, a new one almost always follows in its place. A decade from now, will anyone say that one of 2019’s new arrivals altered the landscape the way PX changed our idea of “speakeasies” or the Front Page became every intern’s go-to? We can only guess. But we know that they made a busy, and sometimes exhausting year that much brighter.
9. Coconut Club
It seems as if every new bar is designed with Instagram in mind, but few seem as perfect for photos as Coconut Club: the white bird cage chairs hanging from the ceiling, the “Thank You, Next” sign on the bathroom mirror, the tropical drinks served in coconuts and decorated with bright flowers. What keeps customers coming back to the comfortable, planted-bedecked bar north of Union Market, though, is more than a backdrop for selfies. Weekday happy hour brings discounted fish tacos, bowls of crab rangoon dip and serious mai tais and caipirinhas. The bartenders aren’t afraid to shake things up: The Tiki Negroni is made with pineapple-infused Campari, and earlier this year, the Old Fashioned got its savory note from bourbon infused with coconut milk and Spam. The Miami Vice color scheme and images of Hawaii promise an instant vacation; make a note to come back in warmer weather, when the planters surrounding the patio are filled with a riot of color. 540 Penn St. NE.
8. Casta's Rum Bar
The basement-level bar under the West End Hotel, the latest project from Versus Equity — the group behind Morris American Bar, which made this list last year, and Heist Lounge — makes great use of its L-shaped rear courtyard, where tables sit between potted palm trees and underneath Instagram-worthy murals of Celia Cruz and Che Guevara. Step up to the onyx-fronted bar and you’ll find a rum-heavy cocktail menu starring a note-perfect daiquiri and some less well-known Cuban classics, such as the El Nacional, a fruity mix of apricot, pineapple and aged rum, and a flavorful version of the pre-Prohibition El Presidente, combining aged rum and grenadine with Lillet instead of the standard dry vermouth. And while the patio was the obvious destination during the summer, staying indoors is an easy decision when there’s hip-shaking live music on Tuesdays and Thursdays starting at 7 p.m., salsa dancing on Wednesdays, and DJs on weekends. 1121 New Hampshire Ave. NW.
7. The Eastern
A mid-century modern wine bar with “Mad Men” swagger, it hasn’t taken long for the Eastern to become a Capitol Hill staple. The banquettes and bar stools at the bar are filled right after work — happy hour, which includes $7 wines and $8 cocktails, runs from 4 to 7 p.m. daily — and they tend to stay that way through dinner. With more than 30 wines by the glass, the menu tries to be accessible by using categories, such as “If you like pinot noir,” instead of varietals or buzzwords. If there’s a knock against the place, it’s pricing: The last time I dropped in, five of the 15 red wines cost $12 to $14 per glass — and four were in the $22 to $40 range. But its cheeky attitude — note the $10 “champagne service” for a 750 mL bottle of Miller High Life — and sophisticated style have filled one neighborhood niche: “We have 14 seats [at the bar], and the other night, 10 of them were either first or second dates,” a manager confided on a recent visit. I don’t doubt it — as we spoke, there was a first date happening on the stools next to me. 360 Seventh St. SE.
6. The Game and Tiki on 18th
It’s never easy to replace a neighborhood institution like Ventnor Sports Cafe, which closed last year after providing Adams Morgan with big screens and Philly flavors for a decade and a half. And while the Game ostensibly remains a sports bar, about the only thing it shares with its predecessor are the rows of flatscreens on the walls. Credit local mixologist (and co-owner) Jo-Jo Valenzuela, a native of the Philippines, for the flavors on the menu — sizzling, funky sisig; crispy lumpiang; the sweet-and-spicy Guavamansi soda that adds the punch to his gin-based Rizal cocktail — that attract non-sports fans to the basement bar, where they sit side-by-side with folks who are intensely focused on the TVs. The vibe is completely different upstairs, at a stylish lounge called Tiki on 18th, where bartenders whip up classic Mai Tais, Suffering Bastards and the potent Jet Pilot while customers chill on Philipe Starck bar stools. Open Thursday through Sunday, it still feels like an escape on 18th. 2411 18th St. NW.
5. Hook Hall
The debate about whether kids belong in bars and breweries will probably never go away. So fair warning: Child-adverse 20-somethings might want to avoid Park View’s Hook Hall before dark. No matter when we’ve visited — a sunny August weekend afternoon, a chilly December happy hour — the place has been, in the words of a mom and co-worker who lives nearby, “a kids’ free-for-all.” The draw is the vast patio, an Astroturf-covered space filled with picnic tables, corn hole, a row of “cabanas” and a 32-tap bar. Kids treat this area like a playground, while parents watch from a distance. You’re likely to see neighbors stopping in with dogs, birthday gatherings for adults and children or, at this time of year, groups taking over the ski chalet-inspired booths for evening drinks around fire pits. The cavernous indoors — which still feels a bit like a supermarket — is fine, with oversize games, a large projection screen, and pop-up food vendors, but it’s not why Hook Hall has become popular with neighbors of all ages. 3400 Georgia Ave. NW.
4. Red Bear Brewing
The calendar of events at Red Bear Brewing is far more diverse than at most D.C. bars — drag shows, ASL-friendly trivia, football viewing, yoga, beer classes, drag bingo — and the welcoming vibe extends even to nights when there’s nothing planned. The massive space inside the former Uline Arena includes a wraparound bar, cozy armchairs and long beer garden-style tables, though it’s still often crowded at peak times. The beers have a distinctly West Coast flavor, with ESB and red ale featured regularly, making flights the best way to sample the new offerings that regularly pop up. Community focused, family friendly, LGBTQ-owned: No matter your tribe, this is a place where it’s easy to settle in with a drink and one of the hundreds of board games available to borrow. 209 M St. NE.
3. Walters Sports Bar
Its location across from Nationals Park made Walters Sports Bar a natural destination for Nats fans during this roller-coaster season, but the Park View transplant stood out for other reasons. Unlike other neighborhood spots, Walters embraces baseball: Murals next to the 22-foot projection screen celebrate hometown greats Josh Gibson and namesake Hall of Famer Walter Johnson, and bathrooms sport baseball card wallpaper. More eye-catching and fun is the “wall of taps,” which allows customers to try pouring their own beer from 24 taps. Owner Jeremy Gifford says it helps thirsty crowds get beers faster than waiting for bartenders; it also allows groups to razz their friends for foam-heavy pours. With a large patio and booze-soaked memories of October nights, Walters will be looking for an encore in 2020. 10 N St. SE.
2. Last Call
The Union Market neighborhood continues to change at a rapid pace, but amid the three-star restaurants and bustling new food hall, bartender-turned-bar magnate Gina Chersevani (Suburbia, Buffalo and Bergen) had the vision to turn the old J&P Korean cafeteria and carryout into the no-frills late-night bar you didn’t know you needed. The brick-and-cinder-block walls reveal multiple layers of colored paint, which have been given a cursory touch-up, and the bar gets its trademark glow from a pinball machine and neon beer signs. Canned beers, including Natty Boh, Colt 45 and Coors Banquet, are $3, and customers can take their pick of a beach-worthy Orange Crush, a fizzy on-tap Old Overholt Old Fashioned or an Aperol Schlitz — a shot of Aperol dropped into a Schlitz beer — for just $6. (There are more expensive drinks, such as a filthy dirty martini and a frozen Incredible Hulk, for $9 each.) But mostly, this is a low-key place to hang out, play darts, scarf a panini and have just one more drink, even on a Sunday night. No wonder it’s become such a hit. 1301-A Fourth St. NE.
1. Dos Mamis
Imagine you have the power to make one new bar relocate to a spot around the corner from your house. It should be the kind of place you want to stop in on the way home after work, but also somewhere where it feels right to get a little dressed up for a date or a night of gossiping with your best friends. An inviting spot for happy hour snacks, or to spend a lazy Sunday night watching a movie on the patio. For me, in 2019, this Swiss army knife of a neighborhood bar would be Dos Mamis.
Of course, it’s not like Dos Mamis could have happened anywhere other than Petworth’s Upshur Street restaurant row. It’s the collaborative brainchild of Carlie Steiner, who operates Pom Pom (formerly Himitsu) just across the road, and Anna Bran Leis, the founder of the neighboring Taqueria del Barrio. Decorated in pink and robin’s egg blue and avocado green, with a tile portrait of Frida Kahlo and a plant-covered rear patio, it’s an alluring destination that serves multiple purposes. “This is a space that’s meant for daily happy hour,” Steiner told me over the summer, but at the same time, “we operate with a cocktail background and a cocktail bar mentality.”
So while happy hour deals are offered twice a day — $6 beers, $6 wine and $9 “Mamajitos” from 5 to 7 p.m., then again from 9 to 11 p.m. with the addition of half-price bottles of wine — the regular-price drinks are as much of a draw. Many have only three or four ingredients, belying the depth of flavor in drinks like Miracle on Upshur Street (cognac, spiced honey and mole bitters, $12) or the house hot chocolate (Oaxacan-style chocolate with coconut milk, spiked with Hornitos tequila, $12). The friendly staff alternates between greeting regulars and chattily helping newcomers find just the right drink, and the everyone-is-welcome vibe extends to the menu, where spirit-free cocktails, low-alcohol cocktails and gluten-free drinks feature alongside the regular options.
Dos Mamis, which opened in June, has evolved over time. What had been a seasonal cocktail menu now changes monthly — November took inspiration from Cirque de Soleil; the current one conjures “Christmas in Miami.” Movie nights, with gourmet popcorn, cocktails and choripan, attract fans of “Selena” and “Beetlejuice.” There have also been bumps. Not long after opening, Dos Mamis began charging a flat 20 percent service charge instead of leaving a tip line on the receipt, and the bar’s Yelp page is littered with complaints about the automatic gratuity. (Bartenders say they’ll take it off on request. Honestly, though, 20 percent is what you should be tipping at a decent cocktail bar in the 21st century.)
But through a summer of frozen drinks and a winter of toddys, they’ve remained true to the owners’ vision: “We’re a neighborhood cocktail bar,” Bran Leis says. “If you’re out, whether or not you’ve dined on Upshur, it’s a place to go when you’re not ready to go home.” 819 Upshur St. NW.