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Oct 22, 2011 08:09 AM

Old bars in DC - looking for suggestions

OK, so my husband and I still celebrate our meeting anniversary (goofy, I know) and since we met at one of the oldest bars in the country, Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop in New Orleans, we try to go to an old/historic bar for a drink on the day, which is coming up.

We were new to the area last year, didn't put much effort into researching, so went to Old Ebbitt. Martin's Tavern showed up on a google search, as did Hawk and Dove, which I know is closed. Any other suggestions?

By the way, I know "oldest" anything is very controversial (which is why I said *one* of the oldest up above) since many think it should mean the oldest in terms of continually operating as a bar and in the same location. But we're not that picky! When we were living in Richmond, we just gave up (oldest we could find with the picky criteria was 1970s!) and went to a bar located in a historic building downtown. But I think we can do better here, right?

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  1. Many of the old historic bars have closed in DC but here are a few

    Round Robin Bar at the Willard Intercontinental Hotel - expensive
    Not only is the Round Robin located within one of Washington’s most storied (and ritzy) hotels, the Willard Intercontinental, but the bar itself boasts a historic pedigree capable of overshadowing some the District’s most famous museums. Presidents Abraham Lincoln and William Taft both frequented the Robin’s trademark round, mahogany bar and it was there that Henry Clay mixed Washington’s first ever Mint Julep – which remains the bar’s signature cocktail to this day.


    Back in the bootlegging days, the building that houses Stetson’s was one of DC’s premiere speakeasies. Seventy years later, the rumrunners may not still be around, but Stetson’s has usurped the space in a manner that would make their inebriated predecessors proud. This U Street tavern – which made our list of DC’s Best Dive Bars – is still a no-frills, Bud-and-a-Jack kind of place and even still pretty much looks like a 1920s gin joint with its mirrored bar, wobbly tables and ancient bar stools.

    Gadsby’s Tavern

    From 1785, on this Alexandria public house frequently served dinner and drinks to some of America’s most well-known founding fathers, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and James Madison. Today, Gadsby’s atmosphere remains largely the same two centuries ago on (with the added addition of, you know, electricity) and a fixture of Northern Virginia fine dining.

    U Street Cafe
    1301 U St NW, Washington, DC 20009

    1. I'm not sure exactly how old they are and how divey you want to get, but Lil Pub on Capitol Hill and the Raven have a history. But dive would be the focus rather than the history, so I'm not sure if that's what you're looking for. No frills at either.

      Lil Pub
      655 Pennsylvania Ave SE, Washington, DC 20003

      2 Replies
      1. re: dangerpantz

        Trying to include link to The Old Ebbitt Grill in downtown DC. Link is to their history page. You might want to check out their other pages to see if the place for you.
        I have not been in years. First went with my father in early 60s. At that time it was a "real" Washington place. I need to get there again to check it out.

        If for some reason you end up in the Brookland neighborhood of DC [Catholic University, Shrine of the Immaculate Conceptiom, Franciscan Monastery], try Colonel Brooks Tavern, a nice little neighborhood bar. Nice mix of clientele who'd probably be happy to tell you about the neighborhood. Experience local Washington rather than federal Washington. Across the street from Brookland-CUA Metro station. About 30 years in Brookland..


        If you go, let me know how things went.

        Old Ebbitt Grill
        675 15th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20005

        1. re: Ttimgents

          For all - thanks so much. Great suggestions (and some history lessons, to boot. ;-)) Our bar tastes run from swanky to divey, so we may have to hit a couple of these.

      2. I don't know how old it is but I love Off the Record at the Hay Adams hotel. It certainly oozes old charm. The rooftop patio is also fun, with incomparable views of the WH.

        5 Replies
        1. re: tcamp

          We're going to hit Off the Record earlier in the nite this Sat. but can anyone suggest a bar that plays good rock music (cool 60's stuff, punk, heavy stuff, non mopey "alternative" rock) to go to later that wouldn't be filled with idiots on a Sat. nite? I think this may be impossible, I remember the difference between Pharmacy on a Sat. and a Sun. was nite and day. But hoping to find a place to actually talk and enjoy the music while having drinks that cost a lot less than OtR. Thanks.

          1. re: Joanie

            The Hawk and Dove just reopened. Don't tell the idiots.

            Hawk and Dove
            329 Penn SE, Washington, DC

            1. re: flavrmeistr

              flavr - IIRC except for brunch/lunch they're the only ones that would be interested

            2. re: Joanie

              The bar at Black Cat might fit your needs. NOT the concert venue, which this Saturday is a DJ, but the bar.

          2. For divey historical, try Tune Inn down the street from Hawk & Dove.

            For upscale historical, try the bar at the Mayflower.


            Tune Inn
            331 Penn SE, Washington, DC

            5 Replies
            1. re: monkeyrotica

              Tune Inn is still closed due to the fire last summer.

              Tune Inn
              331 Penn SE, Washington, DC

              1. re: monkeyrotica

                Also the Hawk n Dove is closed as well for renovations

                1. re: scotcheroo

                  The Hawk and Dove was sold to a new owner and will be completely remodel according to the article below

                2. re: monkeyrotica

                  Town and Country bar is closed. (Sniff. Sniff.)

                  1. re: Pappy

                    Fortunately, we made it there before it closed. I love a good hotel bar.

                    So many choices - thanks, everyone. It's a good thing I have the day off Friday. We may have to start at noon. :-)

                3. My first thought when I saw the title is Martin's. Get there early so you can get a seat at the bar and then ask for the handout that they have about the historic things that have happened in each booth.