As vaccination rates climb and restrictions loosen across the Washington region, more and more people are venturing to bars and restaurants again, meeting friends they haven’t seen in person for far too long. And while you might be dreaming of returning to your favorite happy hour spot or the romantic restaurant where you celebrate your anniversary every year, you should make time to soak in some sun at the beer gardens and dock bars that have opened in the past year. Whether you’re looking to split a bottle of wine with a group or head to a rooftop with bloom-covered pergolas, these are some of our favorite arrivals.

D.C.

Other Half Brewing

It wasn’t a surprise that Other Half Brewing rocketed to popularity in the mid-2010s. In fact, it would have been a surprise if it didn’t. The brewers were early adopters of the hazy, juicy New England-style IPAs that were about to take over the beer world, using a technique called dry-hopping to stuff their products full of the aromas of tropical fruit or dank weed. The beers, given names like All Green Everything or Stacks on Stacks, often clocked upward of 7 to 10 percent alcohol by volume, and were packaged in bright, pop-art cans guaranteed to get noticed on your Instagram. Smooth, delicious and oh-so-drinkable: Soon, beer nerds and finance bros alike were waiting in line for hours outside Other Half’s Brooklyn warehouse just for the chance to buy these hard-to-get beers.

Other Half is very much a New York brewery — it now has an outpost in the Finger Lakes as well as a second Brooklyn location in Domino Park — but co-founders Andrew Burman and Matt Monahan are from the D.C. area, and when they had a chance to convert the former Pappas Tomato Factory in Ivy City into a 22,000-square-foot brewery and tasting room, they seized the chance to move south. The facility opened in October, but its design, with a focus on an outdoor pavilion and seating at rows of picnic tables and around upturned barrels, proved perfectly adaptable for the pandemic. An expansion to the rooftop, adding another 2,000 square feet, offers a view of the Capitol dome from a plant-covered pergola. (That space is also used for yoga classes on Wednesdays.)

The sheer variety of beers available can be overwhelming — recent visits found 16 drafts and close to 50 beers in cans, per Other Half’s online menu, with dozens to take home. And while IPAs and Double IPAs remain a mainstay, don’t overlook the lagers, including a crispy Helles called Box Car, and the sours made with orange, passion fruit and other juices.

Other Half is the brewery that visiting friends and beer nerds will want to visit to see if Double Dry Hopped All Citra Everything lives up to the hype, but the truth is, it’s a great place to hang out for a couple of hours. Food trucks arrive on Saturdays, and on a Friday night in April, a vendor from the nearby Profish was at a card table on the patio, shucking fresh oysters for $2 a pop. Bring a board game, but be warned that Other Half is the rare new arrival that doesn’t take reservations.

1401 Okie St. NE. otherhalfbrewing.com. Open daily.

St. Vincent Wine

The first time Peyton Sherwood and Frederick Uku visited New Orleans, their bartender friends urged them to check out a wine bar in the Ninth Ward called Bacchanal. After purchasing full bottles of wine and snacks at an indoor shop, “you walk out into this backyard, and everyone’s just kind of hanging out, drinking wine and eating cheese,” recalls Sherwood, the founder of Park View’s Midlands Beer Garden. “You feel like you’re in this backyard party, and it was the most comfortable, relaxed, amazing place he and I’d ever been. We just fell in love immediately, and we’re like, ‘Why don’t we have something like this back at home?’ ”

Sherwood and Uku had met a decade before, when Sherwood worked at Solly’s Tavern on U Street NW, and Uku handled wine at Vinoteca next door, and they’d stayed close. Trying to recapture the spirit of Bacchanal gave them an excuse to work together, and we should be glad it did.

The duo took over the former Union Drinkery in 2019, and transformed the tiny patio and back parking lot, removing dead trees, razing what Sherwood describes as “an abandoned brick building” and adding trees, planters and a crunchy gravel surface with enough room to seat 230 customers. A second-floor balcony offers an overview of the scene, and a perfect sunset view. When St. Vincent finally opened in November, the pandemic knocked capacity down to under 100. Still, it quickly became a popular destination for weekend brunches and evening outings, with reservations filling up well in advance — so much so that people were making back-to-back reservations to hold onto tables for four hours.

St. Vincent holds true to Bacchanal’s wine-shop aesthetic: Customers order full bottles or magnums of wine for the table through a QR code, and indicate how many glasses they need. Uku says the selection “is supposed to be accessible,” but adds, “I like to give people things that they haven’t necessarily seen before.” So far, chilled reds, easy-drinking whites and pet-nats have been popular among the more than 200 selections. One of the charms is scrolling through the lists of bottles on St. Vincent’s site, and reading Uku’s evocative descriptions of their flavors and origins. “I could overload you with buzzwords, but it’s been fun for me taking typical wine descriptions and turning them on their heads,” he says.

With the city’s reopening looming, St. Vincent is trying to figure out what comes next. Live music has always been part of the plan, indoors and out, and there’s also the matter of the upstairs cocktail bar, which was never built out, because it couldn’t be used during the pandemic. “It’s almost like opening a whole new place,” Sherwood says. There’s the matter of reopening the bottle shop, figuring out where people can stand while they wait for tables, and potentially extending the amount of time customers can linger at tables. But one thing’s for sure: “What I’m most looking forward to is just giving people the place where they can unwind and unplug,” Uku says.

3212 Georgia Ave. NW. stvincentwine.com. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Sandlot Southeast and Sandlot Georgetown

Some people might look at an oddly shaped plot of land between a dog park and a condo building and see a future construction site. Ian Callender and Kevin Hallums see a chance to spread culture, at least temporarily. In 2019, the duo launched a pop-up event space called Sandlot Southwest in Buzzard Point, across from Audi Field, in a lot that was slated to become a mixed-use development. For a summer, it was filled with a shipping container bar, live go-go and tailgating D.C. United fans. Last fall, after construction began, Sandlot Southwest moved a few blocks over to become Sandlot Southeast, sliding the bar and an array of picnic tables in an empty space between the Maren apartment building and a dog park, directly across from Nationals Park. This one might last a little longer, but Callender describes it as “an interim use project,” lasting until the Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge is completed, and the old bridge structure is demolished.

Callender, a member of D.C.’s Commission on Nightlife and Culture, might be best known for his work with the church-turned-arts-venue Culture House, formerly known as Blind Whino, and that commitment to the culture is apparent in Sandlot’s productions. Yes, sipping drinks in the sun might be the reason some people come to Sandlot Southeast: the cold-pressed juice cocktails include Sipsmith Gin shaken with beets, pear, pineapple and mint, and a fruit blend of Courvoisier cognac, pineapple, ginger, apple and activated charcoal, but, Callender admits, “I tell a lot of my friends, ‘We are not just a bar.’ ”

Just look beyond the picnic tables to the shipping container that operates as a mobile art gallery — Andy Yoder’s “Overboard,” an exhibition that looks at ocean waste through the lens of Nike shoes that washed up on Pacific beaches in 1990, is on view through June 27 — and the murals created by local artists. “It’s a subtle way of introducing artists,” Callender says, “ways where the artist can be front and center in a social scene.”

Sandlot is shaking things up in other ways, too: Earlier this year, it announced a partnership with UberEats that brings Black-owned food trucks for on-site service as well as delivery, including Takoma Station Wingery and vegan street food vendor Soultarian. Soon, Sandlot plans to open a catering kitchen and event space in the first floor of the Maren building, which will provide even more opportunities.

And while Sandlot Southeast remains the base, there are big plans for expansion. Sandlot Georgetown opened May 6 at the intersection of M Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW, on the site of a former gas station that (surprise) a developer plans to eventually turn into a mixed-use building. It shares a similar stripped-down picnic-tables-and-food-trucks aesthetic, but Callender says the big difference is that Georgetown draws more foot traffic than Navy Yard, with groups being lured in by curiosity — and the aroma of sizzling ribs being prepared by Grub Rockstar.

Later this summer, there will also be Sandlot Tysons, which Callender describes as a “more experiential art space,” and Sandlot Anacostia, a pop-up Callender says he hopes will be more amenable to live music, because it won’t be surrounded by housing, as Georgetown and Navy Yard are. “The idea for all this is not that it’s a vanilla box that we just pick up and drop into every neighborhood,” he says. “We want to embed ourselves and help amplify the neighborhood,” no matter how long they’re there.

Sandlot Southeast: 71 Potomac Ave. SE. sandlotsoutheast.com. Closed Monday to Wednesday.

Sandlot Georgetown: 2715 Pennsylvania Ave. NW. sandlotgeorgetown.com. Closed Monday to Wednesday.

Virginia

Barca

You really only have one choice to make at Barca, a recent arrival to the Robinson’s Landing development at the southern end of Old Town Alexandria: Do you want to enjoy platters of serrano ham and Spanish cheese washed down with a dry albariño? Or do you want frozen rum drinks over the Potomac River?

Barca, from the team behind nearby hot spots Ada’s on the River and Vola’s Dockside Grill, is really two destinations in one. The Wine Bar, located on the first floor of a condo building, is a pleasant spot with marble bar counters, cool Mediterranean tones and a snug patio facing the river. And then there’s the Pier Bar, constructed from two 20-foot-by-40-foot shipping containers, and placed atop an old naval shipping pier, that feels ready to welcome a roaring summer party with fruity sangria and frozen mojitos.

Dave Nicholas, the managing partner for Alexandria Restaurant Partners, doesn’t want to call the Pier Bar a tiki bar — Painkillers and rum punch are more the vibe at Vola’s Hi-Tide Lounge — but the cocktails downriver can be just as transportive. The Barcelona Nights, with Pusser’s and Malibu rums, Yellow Chartreuse, and kiwi puree, and La Cupula, which stars gin, maraschino liqueur, pineapple and pomegranate juices, are perfect sips for warm weather. From seats at the bar, or along the pier rails, there are views of sailboats, with the Capitol dome or the Woodrow Wilson Bridge in the distance, to admire while snacking on garlicky shrimp or spicy calamari.

Nicholas says the concept is evolving — it’s operating at 50 percent capacity because of social distancing rules — and he expects to expand the drink program in coming months. Normally, Nicholas says, “white wine is probably 30 percent of wine sales, versus red, but we’re absolutely crushing it out there.” And, he adds, “people love frozen drinks, so we’re adding a frozen Orange Crush.”

More room might be coming in a few weeks, but it may not make it that much easier to get in. Barca splits its seats 50-50 between walk-up customers and reservations, and right now “it’s weeks out to get reservations,” Nicholas says. He’s not exaggerating: On Open Table, most prime weekend slots are already booked into July. Nicholas and his partners originally discussed making the Pier Bar walk-up only but changed their minds because “I want to take care of my locals,” he says.

On a recent Saturday afternoon, with no reservations available online, I dropped in and was told the wait for a table for two might be an hour to an hour and half. But just over 30 minutes later, a text popped up and we were on our way back to the water, contemplating frozen cocktails.

2 Pioneer Mill Way, Alexandria. barcaalx.com. Open daily.

The Freshman

Crystal City — sorry, “National Landing” — is opening back up for summer with round-the-clock activities: morning yoga sessions, Friday afternoon concerts, movie nights in the park and weekend markets. The plethora of activities coincides nicely with the opening of the Freshman, a new all-day cafe and bar from veteran nightlife entrepreneur Nick Freshman.

Freshman, whose other projects include Spider Kelly’s, Takoma Beverage Company and Thompson Italian, signed a lease for a prime space on Crystal Drive soon after Amazon announced the location of its National Landing offices, expecting to open in spring 2020. “I think it’s one of the most overlooked and underserved areas” in the D.C. region, says Freshman, who lives “about a mile from the front door.” Then the pandemic arrived, and the building became a resource for unemployed restaurant workers. Finally, the Freshman opened in late April, about a year behind schedule.

The Freshman’s day starts at 8 a.m. with dirty chais, cafe au lait, pastries, and Greek yogurt and granola parfait, and customers can order bacon, egg and cheese sandwiches and bloody marys until close. The rest of the menu is a wide mix: fresh Chincoteague oysters; “fancy toast,” including dried fig and Virginia ham; steak frites and “grain goddess” salads. But the 50-seat outdoor patio, which wraps around two sides of the building, is a cozy place to sit with a drink in hand and watch life go by — or the Pacers 5K races through closed streets, as happened on a recent Friday.

The beer side of the menu has a distinctly local character — Aslin and Fair Winds IPAs, Anxo cider, DC Brau hard seltzer — though the wines do not. The house cocktail menu is short but has a real gem in La Jefa. Illegal Mezcal is infused in-house with Mexican chiltepin peppers — a variety that can reach up to 100,000 Scoville heat units — providing a rich and smoky level of spice. The margarita arrives garnished with a hollowed out lime full of blanco tequila, which servers suggest can be taken as a shot or stirred into the rest of the drink. (The latter is probably the smartest way to go, no matter the time of day.)

2011 Crystal Dr., Arlington. thefreshmanva.com. Closed Monday and Tuesday.

Maryland

Forward Brewing

Cam Bowdren, a lifelong resident of Annapolis’s Eastport neighborhood, had one goal for the nano brewery he’d been thinking about for over a decade: “We want Forward’s taproom to be a front porch for Eastport,” the peninsula just south of the historic downtown. And so Bowdren’s plans included three tables right outside of the building, which his family purchased more than 30 years ago and originally operated as a marine electronics store.

Then, just as Forward prepared to open last spring, they realized they were going to need much more seating. So Bowdren filled the small parking lot behind the brewery with sawhorse-style tables and wooden barrels, surrounded by bar stools, and added more tables along the gravel driveway — more like an alley — leading to the parking lot. With service from a walk-up window, it feels appropriately laid-back for Eastport. Though Forward received permission from the city to have the pop-up tables during the state of emergency last summer, “We’re going to do it as long as we can,” Bowdren says. “I do expect it to be through the summer.”

Forward produces just seven barrels of beer per batch. For Bowdren and brewer Warren Hendrickson, a veteran of Flying Dog and Black Flag breweries, that means they can offer a wide variety of beers that rotate on and off quickly; Bowdren, a former middle-school teacher, found himself “thinking about the people walking up and down Fourth Street and what styles they might be familiar with.” So while you can grab hazy IPAs and fruited sours, the menu also includes coconut porter, Belgian stout aged in rye whiskey barrels and a traditional English Extra Special Bitter. The dry-hopped Annapolis Boat kolsch has been a summer favorite, but the brewery also added a blackberry hard seltzer made with champagne yeast.

418 Fourth St., Annapolis. forwardeastport.com. Closed Monday.

Pennyroyal Station

Construction and permitting delays meant that Pennyroyal Station had spent more than three years on “Most Anticipated Restaurants” lists before the pandemic hit and the opening was pushed back yet again. It’s easy to see why foodies were so excited: Chef Jesse Miller made his name at Cafe Saint-Ex and Bar Pilar, where he met veteran manager Erin Edwards. Edwards roped in friend and former co-worker Garrick Lumsden, who’d built one of D.C.’s best bourbon programs at Acadiana. And the eatery was coming to Mount Rainier, which doesn’t have much in the way of restaurants.

Waiting was rewarded: After soft-opening in November, Pennyroyal Station’s nostalgic take on comfort food had critics raving about its takeout options: the buttermilk fried chicken, the macaroni and cheese with burned ends and bone marrow, and the convenient family-size meals of brisket and collard greens.

But as weather warmed, there was a new lure on Route 1: outdoor dining. Pennyroyal Station had an attractive exterior before it opened, thanks to a vibrant mural by painter Yulia Avgustinovich depicting local flowers, wildlife and architecture. The 40-seat patio began to bloom, thanks to an herb garden growing in large planters, and happy hour perches under sail shades. In late April, more tables sprouted in a grassy, triangle-shape plot just north of the restaurant, next to a city memorial honoring “citizens who have distinguished themselves in the service of the community.”

Just in time, the restaurant has updated its cocktail menu, adding five new options, including the Island Thyme, a balanced mix of rums, thyme and lemon; the Evergreen, which derives its complex minty flavor from a barrel-aged gin distilled just up the road at Sangfroid; and the FROzeee, a slushie mix of vodka, rose and passion fruit tea. All cocktails are $10 or $11 — a surprise almost as refreshing as the drinks themselves.

3310 Rhode Island Ave., Mount Rainier. pennyroyalstation.com. Closed Monday.

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