No one is ever going to agree on what makes the “best” bar: Is it a sumptuous cocktail den with creative drinks, a rough-and-tumble dive with cheap whiskey, something in between, or somewhere else entirely? Thankfully, the breadth of bars in Washington means there’s always something different around the corner. These are the bars that have impressed me most over the past year:
10. Showtime Lounge (113 Rhode Island Ave. NW. No phone. twitter.com/Showtime_DC). Come to this divey, cash-only Bloomingdale bar for $5 beer-and-a-shot combos, and stay for the free jukebox crammed full of ’60s soul and retro blues and the Sunday night shows by Granny and the Boys, the funky, octogenarian-led house band.
9. Copycat Co. (1110 H St. NE. 202-241-1952. copycatcompany.com.)
The cocktails on the colorful chalkboards at this narrow second-floor H Street bar might be classics, originals or borrowed from friends of the skilled bartenders, whose résumés include roles at Barmini and the Columbia Room. If crowds make the bar uncomfortable, head out to the hidden back patio.
8. Anxo (Two locations: 300 Florida Ave. NW, 202-986-3795; 711 Kennedy St. NW, 202-722-2696. anxodc.com). No D.C. bar is pushing cider forward like Anxo, whether you prefer traditional English and Basque ciders served with Spanish-style pintxos at the original Truxton Circle location, or the bright, tannic and delicious options made at the breezy Brightwood Park cidery.
7. All Souls (725 T St. NW. 202-733-5929. allsoulsbar.com). Tired of $14 drinks? Just steps away from the U Street and Seventh Street corridors, former Jaleo employees David Batista and Joanna Brady run a cozy one-room neighborhood spot where almost all of the simple yet impeccably made cocktails cost $9.
6. The Sovereign (1206 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-774-5875. thesovereigndc.com). The Sovereign differentiates itself from other craft beer bars by its careful devotion to the best Belgian-style ales — tart lambics, funky wild ales, spicy saisons — whether they come from Flanders, Quebec or Texas.
5. Archipelago (1201 U St. NW. 202-627-0794. archipelagobardc.com). Escape the crowded D.C. streets at this tiki paradise, where dangerously potent rum drinks are served in hollowed-out pineapples, and customers sip perfectly crafted piña coladas and mai tais in front of a shrine to “Magnum, P.I.”
4. Jack Rose Dining Saloon (2007 18th St. NW. 202-588-7388. jackrosediningsaloon.com). Turnover behind the bar and in the kitchen has dinged overall performance at Jack Rose, but the hemisphere’s largest bourbon and whiskey selection has been married to an increasingly ambitious beer program and the revamped cocktail menus in the speakeasy-ish Dram & Grain basement bar.
3. Lyman’s Tavern (3720 14th St. NW. 202-723-0502. facebook.com/lymanstaverndc). Washington’s primo pinball destination is a corner tavern that offers free popcorn, frozen cocktails, a deep whiskey selection and a kitchen that turns out comfort food, including satisfying pupusas and Salvadoran-influenced hot dogs.
2. 2 Birds 1 Stone (1800 14th St. NW. No phone. 2birds1stonedc.com). The hand-drawn menus at this subterranean watering hole change every week, so the gin gimlet made with key, Persian and makrut limes that you enjoyed on one visit might be replaced by a Pimm’s cup variation combining lemon-grass-infused Pimm’s and a house-made ginger ale.
1. Columbia Room (124 Blagden Alley NW. 202-316-9396. columbiaroomdc.com). Though it’s best known for its prix-fixe three- or five-course cocktail tasting menus, the Columbia Room has much more to offer to those without reservations: the city’s most elegant cocktails in the lounge-like Spirits Library, and fresh seasonal drinks out on the upstairs patio, known as the Punch Garden.
Fritz Hahn covers bars and is a beer columnist for The Washington Post.