Why waste a warm summer day standing in line outside Dacha or waiting to go up to the Brixton's rooftop when you could be actually enjoying a cold drink in the sun? Here are a few favorite bars with patios that aren't as well-known, and might actually have open seats at happy hour.
The Bird: With the array of brightly colored umbrellas and Adirondack chairs on the sidewalk patio outside the Bird, you might never think to perch anywhere else. But the Shaw restaurant also boasts a lovely and intimate little rooftop patio overlooking the street, with a mixture of tables for two and four. It can be packed on weekends, but on a recent midweek afternoon, I was the only person outside. Stop by for the “Early Bird” happy hour (4 to 7 p.m. weekdays), and every discounted cocktail, beer or wine comes with a free trio of amuse-bouches from the chef, such as a pickled quail egg or a few forkfuls of chicken teriyaki. 1337 11th St. NW. Opens at 4 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. on weekends.
The Betsy: The rooftop gin bar above Belga Cafe can't be seen by passersby: It's entered via the alley next to the Barracks Row restaurant (look for painted chicken feet on the sidewalk). Once there, you'll find a menu with almost two dozen variations on gin and tonics: Think Bluecoat gin paired with Fever Tree Bitter Lemon tonic, lavender and blocks of ice flecked with lemon peel, or Green Hat's Summer Gin with Fever Tree Naturally Light tonic, sprigs of thyme and grapefruit ice. (See the potted plants hanging on the wall? Bartenders pluck fresh herbs from them to garnish your glass.) Those who'd rather not have gin can choose regular or sparkling rosé, or a margarita with strawberry-infused tequila. Happy hour runs from 4 to 6:30 p.m. daily (and until 8 p.m. on Sunday) and includes half-price beer, wine and food, but no cocktails. 514 Eighth St. SE (enter through alley). Open at 4 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 10 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
Five to One: There's much to like about the new cocktail lounge from Trevor Frye (formerly of Dram and Grain) and team, from the free glass of vermouth or house cocktail that welcomes guests at the door to a well-curated cocktail list that often features drinks inspired by the headliner around the corner at the 9:30 Club. But those sitting at the bar might not be aware that there's a cool, industrial deck located off the back of the second floor. It's really nothing more than a handful of metal bar stools sitting on a floor made of metal grating, but it's key for grabbing some air or watching the sunset, even if the view isn't the greatest. A satellite bar on the second floor offers beer, wine and basic cocktails, but not the showstoppers from the main menu. 903 U St. NW. Opens at 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Hill Prince: The courtyard between Hill Prince's living room-esque lounge and the rear carriage house is just as attractive as the rest of the place, with strings of lights crossing the space between the two buildings. On Friday and Saturday nights, a small bar pops up outdoors selling Dark 'n' Stormy cocktails, glasses of rosé, cans of beer and other summer beverages. 1337 H St. NE. Open at 5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday.
Union Drinkery: The candlelit main bar at Union Drinkery is the kind of dark, moody neighborhood bar where you hang out on a cold or rainy night. But head through the back door (helpfully marked “Patio”) and you'll find a gravel-covered lot full of umbrella-shaded picnic tables, decorated with a colorful series of doors painted by local artists. There's even a foosball table, though you may have to nudge it to make it sit flat. There's no service outside, so order drinks at the bar and bring them out. (Happy hour, which includes $5 beers and $7 beer-and-a-shot combos, runs until 8 p.m. daily.) 3216 Georgia Ave. NW. Open at 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
Velvet Lounge: Velvet Lounge has been an institution on U Street for two decades: a dark, graffiti-covered dive where you go to hear live indie rock or hip-hop acts or just to hang out and have a few beers and shots. The neighborhood's full of nicer, better-known outdoor spots (the Brixton, Dodge City and El Rey are on the same block), but Velvet Lounge's post-apocalyptic graffiti covered patio — really an empty lot with benches and drink rails — might be the most comfortable of the lot. 915 U St. NW. Hours vary based on whether there's a show; see velvetloungedc.com for details.