Washington D.C.’s rich history attracts visitors from all over the world for its landmarks, monuments and museums. For those wishing to enjoy a cocktail between the tours, the Nation’s Capitol is also home to historic bars located right in the heart of the city, including three notable ones worth visiting.
OFF THE RECORD
Off the Record is almost off the radar if you do not know where you are going. Located in the underbelly of the historic Hay-Adams Hotel in Lafayette Square, the bar is a popular spot for local politicos.
The vintage venue was named one of the World’s Best Hotel Bars on Forbes.com, and its journalistic name alludes to the hotel’s history as the home of two famous writers: John Hay, who was a personal secretary to President Abraham Lincoln as well as an ambassador and Secretary of State; and Henry Adams, a historian and Harvard professor who was the descendant of presidents John Adams and John Quincy Adams. Both men were writers and their homes were scenes of intellectual activity and stimulating discussions with famous guests. In 1927, the homes were razed to create the current hotel building, which features wood paneling from the Hay residence. Because of its proximity to the White House and St. John’s Church, located across the street, the hotel has featured many prominent guests enjoying its views and amenities.
Off The Record’s cozy basement location is hidden down a side stairway and features a wealth small nooks with comfortable seats perfect for sparking intimate conversations. The elegant establishment’s sexy crimson walls are lined with caricatures of famous political figures that prompt conversations as visitors try to unravel who each drawing is. The crowd, on one recent night, featured many of the city’s movers-and-shakers enjoying the bar’s finely crafted cocktails.
The popular bar has many offerings for its regulars and out-of-town guests to enjoy. In addition to signature drinks like the Pear Martini, the menu offers a variety of options, from soups, salads, sliders and sandwiches, to heartier fare like lamb chops and chicken, pizza and sweets, of course.
THE ROUND ROBIN
The Round Robin is the perfect place for a swanky cocktail among the city’s political and social elite. Located just off the lobby of the gorgeous Willard InterContinental Hotel, the bar has been a meeting place since the days of Abraham Lincoln, and has seen numerous notables pass through its Pennsylvania Avenue doors, including Charles Dickens, Buffalo Bill, and almost every U.S. president since Franklin Pierce. The celebrated hotel and its beautiful bar is worth a sight-seeing stop just for its rich history. Martin Luther King finished his famous “I Have a Dream” speech while a guest at the hotel, Mark Twain penned two books there, and Walt Whitman has mentioned it in his writing.
The tiny barroom does, indeed, have a round bar, on which many mint juleps are made and glasses of scotch are served. Numerous portraits of famous patrons are lineup up on its hunter green walls, which are accented by dark woodwork and quilted leather banquette seating. A few tiny tables are situated at large windows, which look out onto the front sidewalk, a perfect seat for a midday Bloody Mary as visitors arrive and leave under the Willard’s distinctive awning.
The Round Robin, named one of the best bars in American by Esquire magazine, also has a scotch bar which is open late afternoons and evenings from Mondays through Saturdays. The bar’s menu offers a mix of soup, salads, sandwiches and other small bites, as well as desserts.
OLD EBBITT GRILL
The Old Ebbitt Grill is considered the city’s oldest saloon, dating back to 1856. But the present day Ebbitt is not located at the same location as the original, which was in a boarding house. The bar has moved around to a few locations, before landing on 15th St. NW in a beautiful Beaux-Arts building in 1983, bringing its rich history with it. Luminaries like Presidents Ulysses S. Grant, Andrew Johnson, Grover Cleveland, Theodore Roosevelt, Warren Harding and others have had a drink – or two – at the Old Ebbitt, which is now a flourishing restaurant and popular historic location for locals and tourists.
Despite its moves, the bar features a large collection of antiques and memorabilia, and the restaurant has kept some items as well as the style of previous locations. The Victorian interior features beautiful carved stained glass panels depicting the Treasury, the Capitol and the White House, a beautiful mahogany bar and an antique clock near the entrance which was rescued from the previous location.
A seat at the bar is a perfect place for a nightcap. Glowing bottles are backlight behind the bar, and the atmosphere is warmed by friendly staff pouring drinks. The restaurant is known for its oysters, and offers a late night “happy hour” with seafood specials. This popular stop is a must-see in Washington D.C.