Round Robin Bar
Allegedly, Kentucky Senator Henry Clay established the official recipe for the mint julep on the site of the Willard in the early 1800s, and the stately Round Robin Bar still proudly serves it today -- Maker's Mark bourbon, mint, sugar, and branch water for $15. Upstairs, the Scotch bar serves from the menu of over 130 Scotches -- one of the most extensive selections in the city.
The W's brand of trendy nightspots have varying success from town to town, but when POV opened on the W's rooftop in July 2009 it became an immediate hit in Washington's rather sparse downtown bar scene -- in no small part due to its incredible views of the White House and the Washington Monument. Sasha Petraske, better known for developing the posh Milk & Honey bars in New York and London, sets the scene with dim lighting, comfortable couches, and well-crafted cocktails prepared with fresh fruit or vegetable juice, such as the Dark & Stormy ($15). While lines can be long, guests of the W can just show their room key and slide right in.
Lounge & Bar
Offering the ultimate in privacy -- glass-enclosed booths -- the contemporary Lounge & Bar is a popular spot for politicos to have confidential conversations over wine and cheese. The extensive wine menu offers about 300 wines by the bottle as well as an extensive selection of artisanal cheeses ($5 an ounce), each paired with a condiment such as fig conserve or sundried pears.
This classy cocktail bar gets animated starting around happy hour and going late into the night, especially on weekends. The mostly professional crowd can nosh on small bites and sample drinks such as thyme gimlets in the contemporary, lounge-style space. Try to snag one of the tables near the huge windows for great people-watching on Dupont Circle, or sit outside (there are heat lamps in cool weather).
Off the Record
Appropriately named Off the Record -- "Washington's Place to be Seen and Not Heard" -- this cozy, high-class bar rests in the basement of one of the city's most prestigious hotels. Decorated with warm red walls and dark wood paneling, much of it left over from the hotel's initial construction in 1927, the space seems to evoke more than a few important decisions.
Quill's soft lighting, cushioned banquet, piano, and Jeffersonian details -- parquet flooring inspired by the design in Monticello's main salon; 18th century maps of wine regions Jefferson visited in France, Germany, and Italy -- combine to create a comfortable, sophisticated spot for sophisticated drinks. Signature cocktails, such as the Purple Haze (strawberry-and-mango-infused vodka, raspberries, creme de violette, pomegranate juice), cost about $15.
Bar at Urbana
This popular wine bar -- which serves glasses from a carefully selected wine menu, signature cocktails, small plates, and brick-oven pizzas -- can be hopping on the weekends, though it still caters to a more mature crowd than many of the other bars in Dupont Circle.
This French bistro is a popular meal spot for congressmen, powerbrokers, and local celebrities -- but it can turn into a popular late-night drink spot for politicos as well, staying open until 2 a.m. when it's busy (or midnight when it's not).