Among the key differences: the Banneker would have a rooftop bar, dubbed Lady Bird, which had to be constructed from scratch. “Nothing existed” atop Rouge, Raeshawna Scott, the general manager of the Banneker, says in an email. “There were just machines on the roof.” On Instagram, former Rouge manager and bartender Rico Wisner noted that he grew cocktail ingredients in a small garden on the roof when he was in charge a decade ago.
While the hotel and its French restaurant Le Sel opened in June, delays meant that Lady Bird wasn’t unveiled until Oct. 8. After one visit, I was left wondering why the hotel’s owners hadn’t thought of this long before.
Lady Bird, named after former first lady Claudia “Lady Bird” Johnson, is a gem of a bar, just 1,200 square feet indoors and out on the hotel’s 11th floor. The conservatory-like interior, decorated in green and blue jewel tones, is dominated by a chunky square bar at one end, facing a long row of low-slung couches and clusters of chunky wooden chairs. Local artist Meg Biram created a mural of feathers behind the bar; designs throughout are inspired by the wood thrush, the official bird of D.C.
As nice as the airy room is, you want to head out through the glass doors, which fold up accordion-style, and onto the wooden deck, which runs parallel to 16th Street NW. Peer over the railing and you’re staring at the White House’s front door, looking at the Washington Monument and Jefferson Memorial beyond.
Take a seat at one of the mod sofas paired with cylindrical tables, at a high two-top table or around an inviting firepit, and wherever you perch, there’s a landmark to spot: Washington National Cathedral, the lantern of St. Matthew’s Cathedral, the towering Cairo condominium building, cranes building the Australian embassy just across the road. (Okay, maybe not that last one.)
The cocktail menu is small — just six choices on opening weekend, including the lush Bramble, made with Old Forester, Pimms and blackberry liqueur, and the intriguing O Captain, My Captain, which gets its funk and tartness from aged rum, Angostura bitters and carrot juice. The 20 wines by the glass include a handful of local options, including Maryland’s Big Cork and Virginia’s Barboursville and Paradise Springs. Food options, which come from the same kitchen as Le Sel downstairs, are for snacking: dips, cheese and charcuterie, a plate of french fries topped with pork belly and shaved Comte cheese.
Live music was featured as part of Lady Bird’s debut — indie-soul group Oh He Dead performed a stripped-down set last Friday — and Scott says that future programming will include “different levels of artistry including live music, painting demonstrations, DJs, etc.,” though the calendar is still coming together.
One question is how popular will Lady Bird become: On opening weekend, tables were first-come, first-served, and staff made sure all customers were seated, not standing around the bar. On the way out, we saw customers asking the concierge about Lady Bird, being told there was a 20- to 30-minute wait to enter, and directed to Le Sel’s bar to wait.
1315 16th St. NW. thebanneker.com. Open Wednesday through Saturday. Cocktails $14-$16; wines by the glass $11-$19; snacks $12-$25.
CloudM at CitizenM
Nobody goes to Federal Center in Southwest Washington for the scenery.
That’s what you tell yourself, anyway, as you navigate the canyons of steel and brutalist concrete on the way to the CitizenM hotel, a Dutch-based chain that opened on School Street SW in October 2020, promising “XL” king-size beds in every pod-sized room, along with widescreen TVs and customizable mood lighting. But who wants to play with lights when there’s a bar upstairs?
CloudM, the bar on the 11th floor, has a youthful, kitschy vibe, from the metal sculpture of a Donkey Kong-ish gorilla near the entrance to the long communal table nestled in front of the bar. The decor is bright, pop-art stuff — shelving units along the walls hold a fluorescent-pink statue of a French bulldog, piles of disco balls, blocky robot toys — matching the bright, poppy music. Featherweight, but fun.
And then you step out onto the balcony. The gleaming white dome of the Capitol and the lantern of the Library of Congress loom large to the east, beyond the beige government rooftops of Federal Center and the curvaceous Museum of the Bible. Look the other way, and enough of the Washington Monument pops above nearby office buildings that you wonder if you should book a room for next July 4.
For much of the summer, these vistas were only available to hotel guests “as an amenity space,” says Robin Chadha, CitizenM’s chief marketing officer. Lucky visitors: The terrace has pairs of couches, easily big enough for groups of four to six, facing each other across low tables. Each grouping also has a monolithic tower that hides outlets and charging stations, though you have to bring your own cable. Other options include high tables with bar stools and even a picnic table.
After you’ve claimed the no-reservations seats, someone in your party can head inside to order at the bar. The house cocktail list is predominantly classic drinks “with a twist.” The savory Early Days looks like a classic mint julep in a silver cup, but the Makers Mark has been bulked up with blended rum, sauvignon blanc and a “mint-lemon-dill-cardamom-peach” syrup that push the limits of what a julep can be. More predictable is the 1,2,3,4 Panch, a punch with black tea, pineapple and lemon adding depth to a combination of Hennessy and Tio Pepe Fino. For a nod to the hotel’s Dutch roots, order a genever and tonic with Bols’s barrel-aged spirit, which is dominated by oak and baking spices, with only a hint of juniper.
CloudM reopened to the public in late September, and for now, it’s only open from 4 to 10 p.m. Friday through Sunday, with no food service, which limits both crowds and date-night appeal: The neighborhood is a dead end, with no other restaurants or bars in the immediate vicinity, though you can walk 15 minutes to the Wharf after your drinks.
550 School St. SW. citizenm.com. Open Friday-Sunday. Non-guests should check in at the front kiosk for access to the 11th-floor bar. Cocktails $10-$14; nonalcoholic drinks, with soda and housemade syrups, $8.
The Perch SW at Cambria Capitol Riverfront
Fans of Washington’s rooftop hotel bars all have a favorite view. Some confidently say the best comes downtown at the Hotel Washington, formerly known as the W Hotel, with its intimate look into the White House’s backyard and postcard-worthy vistas of the Mall and Arlington National Cemetery. Others make the case for the Watergate’s Top of the Gate, which puts Georgetown, the Key Bridge and the Potomac River front-and-center. But for a view of D.C. now, I’m not sure any rooftop captures the state of change as well as the Perch SW, which opened earlier this year atop the Cambria Capitol Riverfront in Buzzard Point.
From the wide terrace, which surrounds two sides of the building near South Capitol and Q streets SW, visitors can see inside Audi Field and watch D.C. United players running on a sliver of the pitch, or turn their heads and see the scoreboard at Nationals Park across the street. Tables and couches arranged next to the glass-walled edges offer a birds-eye view of the construction around the new Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge, and the cranes that continue to transform this part of the city beyond recognition. You can pick out the amenities on the rooftops of upscale new apartment buildings but also look into auto repair shops and concrete facilities.
For those who prefer classic D.C. sightlines, bar stools arranged along the South Capitol Street side have an unobstructed view of the Capitol, while the tables along the western edge can watch jets descend over the Potomac into Reagan National Airport, or take in the historic buildings of Fort McNair. No matter where you are, the Anacostia River glimmers.
The terrace, which is just under 4,000 square feet on the ninth floor, is designed for events as well as hotel guests, with a mix of cocktails and dining tables; sofas piled with cushions; and soft chairs arranged around fire pits. With much of the furniture sitting along the rooftop’s edge, there’s plenty of room to move around and take in the views while social distancing, according to Thomas Penny, the president of Donohoe Hospitality Services, which operates the Perch, as well as other hotels in the D.C. area. “Because we opened during the pandemic, we laid out the furniture such that everything was spaced out,” Penny says. “Once we get the pandemic in our rearview mirror, the plan is to add additional furniture,” including more dedicated space for diners and drinkers.
On a recent Friday night, the vibe was lively, but not crowded. Prince, Janet Jackson and the Commodores played from speakers. Groups settled into couches, which could hold groups of four to a dozen, and selfies were taken on all sides. The cocktail menu is designed to appeal to all comers — a well-made margarita, a Martell sidecar in a sugar-crusted glass, and, because it’s 2021, a large Long Island Iced Tea. Cambria Hotels run local craft beer programs at each of their locations, which means a half-dozen regional beers, including Manor Hill, Solace and Dogfish Head on tap, as well as the option of a flight of three small pours for the price of a pint.
Reservations can be made through OpenTable but aren’t really necessary — outside of the popular Saturday and Sunday brunches, which can fill up weeks in advance. If showers pop up or a chill sets in, the Perch has an attractive indoor bar sporting leather sofas, flat-screen TVs and a glass wall facing the Capitol, but on my visits, all the customers were outside enjoying the weather and the views. You can’t blame them.
69 Q St. SW. perchswrooftoplounge.com Open Thursday through Saturday for “small bites and cocktails,” and Saturday and Sunday for brunch. Cocktails $13-$14; beer and hard seltzer $7-$9; wine $9-$15.
Note: This story was originally published on Oct. 15, 2021. It has been updated.