You find the history of any great city not just in its memorials or famous houses but in the establishments where the everyday folks gather to chat, relax, and celebrate the victories of life – I’m referring, of course, to bars! D.C. has a wonderful selection of drinking history and bars for every taste and budget but our self-guided drinking history tour will showcase how you can learn the story of America while wetting your whistle around the nation’s capital city.
Start: Martin’s Tavern, 1264 Wisconsin Avenue NW, Washington, DC, 20007
End: Round Robin, Willard Hotel, 1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004
Stop 1 – Martin’s Tavern (A)
1264 Wisconsin Avenue, Washington, DC, 20007
Open 7 days a week until 1:30am, Friday & Saturday until 2:30am
Martin’s Tavern (folks in the neighborhood may simply call it Billy Martin’s, after the first proprietor) opened in 1933, on the day after Prohibition ended. How convenient to have your bar up and running so soon after the thirteen-year dry period ended! Billy Martin still runs it today – the fourth generation, that is – it’s the longest family-run restaurant still in operation in D.C.
Martin’s Tavern is the stop for those with lofty political ambitions. Diners have included Lyndon B. Johnson, Harry S. Truman, Geeven Richard Nixon, who favored the meatloaf. A young, handsome Senator named John F. Kennedy used to each breakfast in the single-seat booth until he started dating a beautiful photographer named Jacqueline. The young couple upgraded to a larger booth for their meals at Martin’s, including the booth where JFK proposed! You can still sit in Booth 3, aptly labeled the Engagement Booth.
Walk south on Wisconsin Avenue and turn left on M Street. Turn left on 18th Street and head north. Look for the Lounge between Nando’s Peri-Peri restaurants and Public Bar.
Stop 2 – Eighteenth Street Lounge (B)
1212 18th Street NW, Washington, DC 20036
Closed Mondays, Open Tuesdays-Thursdays and Sundays until 2am, Open Friday & Saturday until 3am
This beautiful historic mansion, now home to one of the most chic drinking establishments in D.C., was once the home of Theodore Roosevelt! The mansion was rented by our most famous roughrider before he was President of the United States. When he lived in the White House, he shared the space with six kids, a small bear, badgers, a blue macaw, a one-legged rooster, hyenas, guinea pigs and his daughter’s pet snake, to name a few Roosevelt pets – so we know our 26th President can appreciate a raucous atmosphere! The former residence of Roosevelt has been converted into a swanky, Victorian-themed lounge with five unique bar spaces inside.
For those interested in drinking with Washington’s bold-faced names and beautiful people, a few things to know. First, dress to impress – jeans and sneakers will not cut it here. Second, those in the know refer to it simply as “ESL.” Finally, there’s almost always live music – chat the bouncer up about the bands playing and you might just talk yourself in. Bully to that!
Walk south on Connecticut Avenue and turn right on 17th Street NW. Take a left on H Street NW – look for entrance on the corner of H Street & 16th Street NW.
Stop 3 – Off the Record at the Hay Adams (C)
800 16th Street NW, Washington, DC 20006
Open every day until midnight
Located just one block from the White House, this trendy bar is located in the basement of the historic Hay-Adams hotel. This is the kind of spot where you can nestle against red velvet walls and wait to see which noteworthy politician will be seen whispering with a journalist – strictly off the record, of course!
Just like the hotel has drawn famous names like Charles Lindbergh, Amelia Earhart and Sinclair Lewis as guests, the Off the Record bar has attracted the likes of Brad Pitt, Henry Kissinger, and a DC By Foot favorite, author and historian David McCullough!
Walk east on H Street and turn right on 15th Street NW. Walk south on 15th Street – entrance located on left side of the street, just past G Street NW.
Stop 4 – Old Ebbitt Grill (D)
675 15th Street, Washington, DC 20005
Open until 1am Monday-Thursday, open until 2am Friday-Sunday
Though the Old Ebbitt Grill has changed locations several times in its history before settling in its current White House-adjacent locale in 1983, one thing that hasn’t changed is Washington’s love of the bar and restaurant. It first opened it’s doors in 1856 and was a favorite of presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, Warren G. Harding, and Andrew Johnson.
The bar is a favorite for locals and tourists alike, so if the main bar is full, consider going upstairs to the Corner Bar or the back of the atrium area to Grant’s bar. As you walk through the main bar, be sure to look for the the animal heads on the wall – they were allegedly bagged by President Theodore Roosevelt himself! For fans of the Broadway musical Hamilton, keep your eyes peeled for the carved wooden bears, imported by Alexander Hamilton!
Walk south on 15th Street NW and turn left on Pennsylvania Avenue NW. The entrance is located at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue NW and 14th Street NW.
Stop 5 – Round Robin at The Willard Hotel (E)
1401 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20004
Open until 1am every night except Sunday (open until midnight)
It doesn’t get more historic than the Round Robin. This bar dates back to 1850 and has hosted such luminaries as Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant (on many occasions!), Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, and the list goes on.
While the bartender is likely to be discreet about the deals they’ve seen brokered here, they will certainly let you in on one secret – the mint julep recipe they use at the Round Robin is the same one that Senator Henry Clay first brought to Washington, D.C. in the early 1800s. Clay was insistent that a true mint julep be made only with bourbon – so don’t expect to find gin or rum in the Round Robin’s version today!