Washington, D.C. is a major metropolitan city so it naturally has an interesting nightlife. Also, like all major cities, the cool places to go change fairly frequently. As of right now, here are the best areas to haunt if you are looking for a good time after hours.
Logan Circle / Shaw / U Street
This entire area is the latest crest in the wave of nightlife options in D.C. Like many of the best strips, it is loaded with places to stop and all of them are different. Our current favorite place to go out.
Where it is: There is a large area being covered here. Centering from the intersection of U Street and 14th St NW, going south on 14th St or east on U Street will take you past many places. For most of bars in this area, the U Street Metro will be the closest but check the address; depending on the location the Shaw stop--or even McPherson Square--may be closer.
What we like: Variety. There are Italian wine bars, clubs, speakeasies, beer gardens...you name it. The atmospheres are just as mixed with college students mingling with downtown workers and tourists of all ages.
What we don't: It's generally a lot of walking because it is not as compact an area as some below. In cold or wet weather, you'll likely be outside more than you like.
- Dacha Beer Garden - Okay, this place is not that close to either 14th St or U St, but it is only 1 block from the Shaw Metro and it's one of our favorite spots in D.C. It is a true and literal beer garden--all outdoors with many communal tables and some great beer on tap (that you can get in a boot!). For obvious reasons, it is better to visit on a warm summer night, but they do have heat lamps and remain open any day where the temperature is above 45 degrees with no rain or snow. They are also dog friendly.
- Left Door - This speakeasy is the definition of enigmatic--we don't even link to their website because it's a solitary photo of their logo. The Left Door is located at 1345 S St NW, just off of 14th St, but you won't find a sign there either. Rather, you will find two doors with "1345" over them. Guess which one it is? Inside you will find a 1930's themed bar that is old-timey cocktails only. The drinks are expensive, but they are expertly made and very strong.
- Takoda - The theme here is all-American, which manifests itself as "American" food and U.S.-based craft beer. What is more impressive is this U Street bar's large rooftop area, which is bright and cheerful. We also don't mind the extra happy hours, which last from 5-7pm Monday-Thursday as well as the last hour before closing.
- Archipeligo - A tiki bar right in the middle of U Street complete with (indoor) thatched roofing and fruity drinks. You kind of have to be in the right mood for Archipeligo and its over-the-top tiki-ness, but if you are you will certainly enjoy it.
- Ghibellina - Ghibellina is actually an above average Italian/pizza restaurant that is full-service. The reason we mention it here is because we wanted to specifically bring up its outstanding happy hour. Daily until 6:30pm, you can get personal pizzas for $10, cocktails or beer for $6, and wine for $5. The pizza is very good, if a little chewy, but being able to eat a slightly early dinner with drinks for under $20 per person is a fantastic deal. Warning: happy hour is only at the bar, which has several dozen seats, but all of those seats stay full. Get there early or prepare to hover over anyone who looks like they may be done soon.
For many years now, the Adams Morgan area has been the hottest of hot spots. It's luster is a little faded from its high about 10 years ago, but there are so many bars, lounges, and restaurants that you won't want for choice.
Where it is: When people mention "Adams Morgan" with relation to nightlife, they are talking about 18th St NW, specifically the blocks between Kalorama Rd and Columbia Rd. It's just north of Dupont Circle, but a little too far from the Metro to walk (about 1 mile). You're best bet is a cab or Uber, but beware of pickup--the traffic gets so bad on 18th St that many drivers will ask you to walk a few blocks away.
What we like: The sheer choice is a little overwhelming, but we like that because it means we can visit Adams Morgan many times and have it be a different experience every time.
What we don't: To us, it feels like people and places here are going through the motions. The bars aren't trying particularly hard to cater to guests and many of the people seem to be attracted here out of habit. It's very crowded at times and some bars take full advantage by charging ridiculous prices.
- Madam's Organ - It's kind of a dive bar, but it's priced a little higher and generally full of people in collared shirts and skirts. Still, it's an interesting experience and redheads drink for half price.
- Grand Central - Designed to look kind of like a train station, Grand Central features a dance floor and upstairs lounge. If you happen to be a Buffalo Bill fan (we're so sorry), Grand Central is an official Bills backer bar.
- Heaven and Hell - A multi-level dance club where the various floors are themed differently--we assume you can guess by the name. It is a loud, often very crowded nightclub. Frankly, we don't like this type of place, but we are nothing if not thorough in our research for you.