With that in mind, I set out to revisit bars that get overlooked. They're not as trendy as they once were -- if they ever were -- but they still deliver great experiences. That's the whole point of going out, right?
2463 18th St. NW. 202-667-0088. bossadc.com.
Adams Morgan's entertainment runs the gamut: Bars for drunk college kids. Bars for adults looking for whiskey and craft beer. Bars for adults who wish they were still college kids. Somewhere in the middle is Bossa, a cozy, candlelit lounge that also is one of the area's most eclectic music venues. On Tuesday nights, the master Malian griot - and best world music album Grammy Award nominee - Cheick Hamala Diabate takes the stage; Saturdays bring crowds of salsa dancers, who spin and twist through the tightest spaces while Raul Morel y Tumbao perform. (Weekends are always busy, because this is Adams Morgan.) But it's the midweek visits for infectious gypsy soul, hypnotizing traditional African music or funky world jazz - don't miss the Ethiopian jazz of the Feedel Band on the first Thursday of the month - that make the trip to the two-level club most rewarding. The drink menu at Bossa is fairly basic, but Caipirinhas are the way to go.
2233 Wisconsin Ave. NW. 202-333-7445. breadsoda.com.
There's a definite retro '70s vibe to Glover Park's neighborhood rec room: Large images from "Bullitt" hang on the wall. The color palette is warm oranges, browns and grays, with dark wood and a rough stone wall. The attractions include such traditional bar amusements as pool, shuffleboard and darts, although checkers, Trivial Pursuit and card games also are available for those sipping local draft beers or a selection of house cocktails, including a spicy michelada. On Tuesday nights, the kitchen adds tacos to the menu, and the pool tables are converted for table tennis, which attracts very good competitors. (They're nice about letting us mere mortals take a turn.) Wednesday brings free pool and shuffleboard and happy hour from 4 p.m. until 2 a.m. And Breadsoda has the rare all-day happy hour on Saturday and Sunday, with $4 beers, rail drinks and wine from noon to 7 p.m. The two-level patio, with seating at street level and down a flight of stairs, offers fresh air when it's needed.
Bump 'n Grind
1200 East-West Hwy., Silver Spring. 301-588-8000. bumpngrind.co.
The south end of Silver Spring is coming into its own, with Denizens Brewing and Scion Restaurant offering solid beer selections along East-West Highway. The most interesting spot, though, is Bump and Grind, a coffee shop/cafe/bar/record store that hosts concerts, poetry readings, storytelling nights and DJ sessions. You might show up for happy hour and find yourself at "Talkback Cinema," a monthly movie night where reciting dialogue is encouraged, or walk in to find owner David Fogel spinning underground house tracks. Bump and Grind, however, is definitely not a nightclub: You can get DC Brau or Jailbreak beer as well as a flat white or cortado, but the shop closes at 9 p.m. Thursday through Saturday. DJs start much earlier here than elsewhere; make sure to check the website for details on performance times.
1110 H St. NE. 202-241-1952. copycatcompany.com.
Within seconds of entering Copycat Company, your eyes will be drawn to the large chalkboards behind the bar. The fantastically illustrated cocktail menus, which change every two or three weeks, are the creation of owner Devin Gong, who studied at the Maryland Institute College of Art. Sometimes there are themes, such as tiki drinks or Manhattan variations, but the selection also can be something as simple as 18 amaro-based cocktails, carefully annotated and arranged on a scale of bitterness.
Gong, a veteran of Barmini and Napa 1015, and his frequent bartending partner, Rob Tinney, who created cocktails at the Columbia Room and Eat the Rich, are happy to make up drinks on the spot. But the menu is the perfect jumping-off point for exploring H Street NE's best cocktail program.
The dark, narrow bar seats 35 at stools and tables on the second floor. A newly opened back patio has its own bar and picnic tables, although that bar is mostly for beers and shots. For snacking, Gong developed a menu of bao buns, dumplings and skewers. The reason: "I couldn't find a chef who wanted to work until 2-3 a.m. My mom taught me how to make dumplings. I make skewers for barbecues."
DC9 rooftop deck
1940 Ninth St. NW. 202-483-5000. dcnine.com.
If the sun's out, you probably want to have a drink outside. Rooftop bars are plainly superior to sidewalk patios for reasons of pollution and noise, which is why there's always a line for the best ones. The corner of Ninth and U streets NW is rooftop central, with the wildly popular (and relatively spacious) Nellie's Sports Bar and Brixton roofs facing each other across U. But I usually head around the corner to DC9. The indie rock club's rooftop isn't large or stylish, and there's not much of a "view" to speak of, but those things are less important than being outside for happy hour, which runs from 5 to 8 p.m. on weeknights, 4 to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 5 to 7 p.m. on Sundays, with $3.50 domestic beers and $4 rail drinks. For extra cool points, this is probably the only outdoor bar where the soundtrack features Animal Collective, Wolf Alice and Father John Misty.
5007-E Westone Plaza Dr., Chantilly. 703-378-3797. fostersgrille.com.
On a Saturday afternoon, the Chantilly branch of the Foster's Grille chain doesn't look much different from the average burger restaurant, full of families and groups of uniformed little leaguers wolfing down fries. But check out the list of 18 draft beers on chalkboards behind the bar: Flying Dog, Maine Beer Co., Hardywood, Ocelot. All are served in proper glassware, and about half are $6.50 or less. Every beer is available for takeaway in a growler; on Saturdays, select growlers are one-third off. Despite the large patio and long bar, Foster's still feels like a themed chain restaurant instead of a destination beer bar. But it's certainly worth making a detour there for lunch or dinner, especially if you've got an empty growler in the car.
Franklins Restaurant and Brewery
5123 Baltimore Ave, Hyattsville. 301-927-2740. franklinsbrewery.com.
For 14 years, Franklins has been the go-to place for fresh, local beer in Prince George's County. It's no longer the only brewpub in the county, but its beer remains the best. Regulars know the downtown Hyattsville restaurant has many faces: a toy store packed with goodies for all ages; a wine and beer shop; a family dining destination with pizzas and sandwiches. But the star is the copper-topped bar upstairs, which offers a view into Mike Roy's brewhouse. Roy's strong suits are IPAs and sour beers: The standout on my last trip was Sourhopnado, a well-made sour ale packed with resiny, citrusy hops. Get there between 4 and 6:30 p.m. for the daily happy hour, with $1 off all beers and discounted food, including a bowl of giant onion rings that might be too much for one person to finish.
726 Seventh St. NW. 202-628-5225. jackpotdc.com.
Sometimes I just want a bar to take care of the basics: good beer, tasty snacks and sports on television. I never would have guessed that I'd find these things in the shadow of Verizon Center, a location that has doomed so many bars over the years. Jackpot is tucked underneath California Tortilla, with a sidewalk sign advertising happy hour specials as the only clue to its existence.
This single-room establishment doesn't serve food, other than the fresh, hot, buttery popcorn that flows out of a machine behind the bar. But Jackpot has an admirable collection of craft beer, with Boulevard, Victory and Founders in regular rotation. (Because of Jackpot's location, Molson regularly shows up on tap.) Bartenders also serve up decent Prohibition-era cocktails, including the Boulevardier and the Ward 8. I might not bring friends to Jackpot on Fridays, when live music can be a little overwhelming for conversation, but it's an island of relative calm in a neighborhood where packed bars are the norm.
1840 18th St. NW. 202-483-1483. larryslounge-hub.com.
A cozy two-story gay bar that's welcoming and friendly to all (humans and canines alike), Larry's is as unpretentious as it gets. It's the kind of neighborhood hangout where you can stop in by yourself and wind up meeting one or both of the owners (Gunther and Ron) and get talked into a cup of the bar's "famous" and potent rum punch, which is $5. It's the kind of place where, if you're taking your dog on a walk around Dupont Circle after work, you might find yourself stopping at the patio for a refreshing vodka cocktail while your pooch socializes with the other dogs hanging out under tables. It's the kind of spot where people might come for a drink while they wait for dinner reservations across the street at Lauriol Plaza, but stay because the vibe is much more fun. Happy hour, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m. every day, brings $3 rail drinks and domestic bottles, and $5 draft beer and house wine. There are no DJs or live music - and they'd probably get drowned out by the conversation and laughter at the bar anyway.
815 S. Washington St., Alexandria. 703-836-6222. southside815.com.
For more than two decades, Southside 815 has been South Alexandria's go-to neighborhood bar, a few blocks off of the well-worn King Street tourist trail. This is a place without pretense: Knickknacks hang behind the bar, where strings of Christmas lights outline shelves and mirrors. Printed signs remind customers not to vape indoors or place their "dip cups" on the bar. But Southside is a prime place to eat and drink, especially at happy hour. From 4 to 7:30 p.m. on weekdays, rail drinks and domestic bottles are $3; craft drafts and glasses of wine are $4. Some of the best burgers in Alexandria are half-price, pulled-pork nachos are $2.50, and hot wings are 60 cents each. Even outside of the specials, you'll want to come back for beers - few cost more than $6 - and the Southern cuisine, including pimento cheese fritters and oyster and shrimp po' boys.
1029 Vermont Ave. NW. 202-347-4488. stansrestaurant.com.
Downtown Washington used to be full of laidback bars where patrons could bend an elbow after work without breaking the bank. Stan's Restaurant, located down a staircase at L Street and Vermont Avenue NW, is one of the survivors. The underground room is dark and heavy on wood, with plenty of mirrors to give the illusion of a larger space. The music is funky - Ohio Players, James Brown, and Earth, Wind and Fire - which furthers the retro vibe.
Order a gin and tonic, whiskey and ginger, or vodka and soda and the bartender will serve a very heavy pour - easily a double measure at most bars - of straight spirit in a tall glass with ice. They'll also slide over a small quartino carafe containing the mixer. It's up to you to determine how strong you want the flavors to be. (No matter how much tonic or soda you add, it's going to be potent.) Stan's gets crowded at happy hour, but no matter how long you have to wait to order, the bartenders are pleasant and efficient, and you'll probably wind up chatting with the people next to you, especially if you show up on your own. That's the kind of service that keeps you coming back.