Cocktails/Wine Bars in Washington, DC
Old Town Alexandria's Grape and Bean takes "cozy" to a new level -- in both good ways (exposed brick, low light, convivial atmosphere) and bad (the crowds!). This combination wine bar, wine shop and high-end coffee shop also offers cheese and charcuterie plates, salads and simple sandwiches in gourmet pairings like brioche toast with egg, gruyere and white truffle oil. There are many excellent wines by the glass, with a focus on small, independent producers and hand-crafted wines. Wednesday evening happy hours offer a rotating selection of wine specials. One caution: Grape and Bean is more an after-work hangout than a closing-down-the-bars joint; they close at 10 pm. A second location in Rosemont, near the King Street Metro, will focus on take-home items like artisanal foods.
With locations in Dupont Circle, Penn Quarter and near the White House, Teaism is a DC institution. Office workers and weekend lunchers know the place for its pan-Asian menu and extensive tea selection, but the Penn Quarter location also serves up beer, wine, sake and specialty cocktails like ginger and mango margaritas. Teaism may not be on any fancy mixology "best-of" lists, but the drinks are tasty and they're cheap. The two-level seating area is both simple and casual and is a great alternative when you aren't feeling the usual bar scene. The evening clientele is a mixed bag of everyone from first dates to book clubs to the broke interns who survive off free happy hour noodles. Despite the liquor license, Teaism does not keep bar hours -- Penn Quarter closes at 9 on weekends.
Founding Farmers may not be the cheapest cocktail spot in town (drinks run $9-14), but its creative cocktails are some of the best in town. In fact, Founding Farmers won the DC Restaurant Association's 2011 RAMMY award for Best Bar. The worst thing about the bar menu is having to make a choice. Will you sample a pre-Prohibition option like Dark n' Stormy (dark rum, homemade ginger beer and lime juice)? Something fruity and fizzy, like the Fraise Fling (strawberries, lychees, vodka, agave and Prosecco)? Or will you just leave it up to the award-winning mixologists? When you're ready to eat, be sure to check out the reasonably priced menu of farm-to-table favorites. One warning: Founding Famers is wildly popular. If you plan to dine, be sure to make reservations in advance.
These days, you can't have a night out without running into a modern take on Prohibition-era "speakeasies." And in a town full of speakeasy-inspired spots, Last Exit is one of the more welcoming and reasonably priced. Tucked away at the bottom of some stairs inside Tonic, the intimate space holds only a few dozen customers. The specialty is infusions -- vodka or gin infused with fruits and herbs and paired with complementary-flavored foods like jellybeans, potato chips, grapes or chocolate chips. There's also a small menu of snacks like mac n' cheese, truffle fries and desserts. And the ability to actually hear your friends talk while you're enjoying a night out? Priceless.
For most places, "all things to all people" is a recipe for failure. Somehow Ted's Bulletin actually pulls it off. Ted's offers up breakfast-all-day, a small menu of lunch and dinner comfort food, homemade desserts and classic cocktails. Depending on the time of day, you're likely to run into families with kids, businesspeople enjoying a quiet lunch, young singles mingling in the bar or even President Obama (he stopped in for a burger). The cocktails are classic concoctions with a vintage feel and are all priced at $10.29. Or how about a boozy milkshake? (Yes, you read that right -- a thick, decadent milkshake with alcohol in it. Why are you not at Ted's right now?) The downside of popularity is the crowds -- we recommend visiting on a weekday or at lunch.