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Expertly made cocktails near Penn Quarter

We're coming in from NYC this weekend and have a 9:30 reservation at Jaleo. We're looking for a place to get a well made cocktail or 2 beforehand. Ideally a place that's not too packed or trendy. Old fashioned over scene-y would also be preferable. In NYC, for reference, we love Employees Only and Little Branch, if that helps. Thanks.

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  1. So much in that area is new -- the classic old D.C. hotel bars are 10 blocks to the west, near the White House. Capital Grille is a chain steakhouse, but it offers some nice clubby atmosphere and its bar might be a good choice in that area.

    District Chop House is nearby and Art Deco-styled, though newish. I can't vouch for the cocktail expertise there.

    PS 7's has a nice drink menu but is more trendy.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Bill on Capitol Hill

      Would Caucus Room be quieter than Capital Grill? CG's bar can be a madhouse.
      There's always the bar at 701. A nice jazz combo on weekends. The kind of place where people still order premium scotch on the rocks and real martinis.

      1. re: MakingSense

        I can't recommend 701 ever since I ordered a Pimms Cup and the guy gave me an Old Fashioned glass with just ice and Pimms in it.

    2. There are several places around that that have some interesting cocktails but I'm afraid most are fairly scene-y. My list of favorites: Oya, Proof, Rasika, and Zaytinya

      1. Zola mixes some nice drinks as does Poste. Can't vouch for non scene.

        3 Replies
        1. re: MrsWheatie

          Zola is less sceney, wooden floors, nice bartenders. It isn't a huge bar, but it's nice. Close to Jaleo.

          Other places that fit this bill seem to be further away.

          1. re: ktmoomau

            You don't find Zola scene-y? I think it can draw a large crowd!
            How about just going to the Capitol Grill?

            1. re: KWynn

              Slightly but nothing like Zaytinya or Oya or other places and the bar area feels more old school than poste which is so modern in decor.

              If it is Friday night 701 will probably be pretty busy because I think they are doing a pre-Hirschorn party happy hour thing, but your dinner is so late that it might be over because I think the Hirschorn thing starts at 8.

        2. Cafe Atlantico! I love their pineapple Caipirinha!

          1. For your best drinks, I recommend PS7. Drinks are made with house-made sour mix, which is a rarity.

            However, you don't want trendy. In this neighborhood, most places are pretty trendy. For more classic, I'd second 701 (which has a lovely lounge) or Capitol Grille (an old standby that you'll find very comfortable). You may also consider a short cab ride to Le Bar at the Sofitel hotel. While I haven't had a drink there in a while, it's a very classic lounge.

            All that said, since dinner is later, if you are up for a longer cab ride and a bit of a sight-seeing adventure thrown in, consider the Hay Adams hotel's Off the Record bar on 16th street, neighbor to the White House and a very old-fashioned bar.

            1. How about Matchbox? It's close to Jaleo and the drinks there are unique and while some are on the sweeter side, still very yummy. I highly recommend their house infused vodkas. They've got their drink menu on their Web site if you want to preview it before committing.

              6 Replies
              1. re: jackisilvan

                Thanks everyone! I like the idea of a Hay Adams sort of thing, coupled with a little monument-spotting. We're probably a little scrappier than most of the clientele there. As long as it's not super stuffy I think we'll be okay. Or am I wrong? Also can anyone tell me what the walk would be like from there to Jaleo? We're NYers, so we don't mind a walk, as long as it's vaguely pleasant.

                If for some reason we decide to stay close to the restaurant, it sounds like PS7 and Zola might be good options. Or maybe we'll just wing it.

                1. re: robotcoupe

                  If you are willing to walk a bit the Hotel Washington has a sky terrace with great views, but perhaps not expertly made cocktails. Although I think it closes at some point in the fall. You will have views of the White House and Washington Memorial.

                  Also the Round Robin Bar at the Willard is pretty famous for its mint juliep(sp?).

                  1. re: ktmoomau

                    Of course, I can't believe I forgot the Round Robin!

                    So here's your itinerary: At 7, take a cab to the Hay Adams. Have drink. Walk across Lafayette Park, take pictures in front of the White House. Walk down 15th to Penn and take a left. Have drink at Willard. Continue walk down Penn and enjoy view of Capitol in front of you. Take left at 7th, which will take you to Jaleo. You'll also see the J. Edgar Hoover building, the Navy Memorial, and the old Post Office.

                    Depending on your stamina, this will take you past 701, as well!

                      1. re: katecm

                        That sounds like a great plan. Thanks everyone!

                    1. re: robotcoupe

                      It's really not a bad walk. If the weather's nice, that's what I'd do for sure.

                      You could also do a bus, the "circulator" bus runs, I think, on K St.

                      For what you're asking, it does seem to make sense to go over towards the White House -- I don't know bars well, but fwiw also you might think about the Willard Hotel's Round Robin bar; I didn't have the impression that they were so skilled at cocktails (known for the mint julep) but it's definitely historic.

                      You'll probably want to save yourself for some of Jaleo's sangria, btw.

                  2. OK, based on what you're looking for then you want things like a martini, manhattan, negroni, americano, etc. These suggest to me that you want places with more old school bartenders, not some new creation as much- which is fine by me- it's how I drink too. The bartenders at Shelly's really know how to make both a martini and a manhattan, though be aware that this is really a spot for cigar smoking as well, thus you'll have to deal with that.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: jpschust

                      That sounds like a good option, were it not for the cigar smoke. I am unusually averse to it. Oh well.