Adams Where? The Weekly 18th Street shitshow? What does WBH have to do with that? Well, your author lived for two years on Calvert Street, just past the insufferable weekend crush of shwasty-faced hoodrats, gang-bangers, interns, fake IDers, and drunk-ass bros, and despite having a sweet apartment, was not thrilled with said swarm of ragers providing a ruinous end for an otherwise nice night out in a different part of DC. So why the hell am I writing this? Because nearly three years later, new delights have opened, old stalwarts have remained, and I’ve discovered under-the-radar gems that I overlooked in my previous desire to avoid 18th & Columbia and environs at all costs.
DISCLAIMER: 18th Street is still chock-a-block with absolute SHIT bars – and I’m gonna name them: Grand Central, Tom Tom, Town Tavern, Columbia Junction or whatever it’s called, Shenanigans, and many others. Avoid. It also still home to most dubious pizza by the slice ever – Jumbo Slice and its derivatives. No level of drunkenness makes this a good idea. Also avoid.
So with that out of the way, let’s get on with it, starting from the top of the hill to the bottom.
New York’s a city with no shortage of mixology bars, cocktail bars, or so-called speakeasies (shudder). I previously said that Little Branch is the best bar I’ve ever been to, but Pouring Ribbons, a new joint in Alphabet City not even open yet for two weeks, has stepped up to offer worthy competition. While sipping a brilliantly mixed original drink, my friendly bartender mentioned it was only their eighth night open. It’s clear that they’re off to a running start.
“Scotchy scotch scotch”, so quoth the anchorman. So serveth Whisky Café in the Mile End of Montreal. Over 150 single malts – staggering. Also quite a lot of other aged brown booze (cognac, rum, port, etc), as well as a separate cigar room with numerous classics from Cohiba, Romeo y Julieta, and others (Havana of course). They offer tasting flights of whiskies, arranged by distiller or region, as well as whisky and cigar pairings.
The main bar is reminiscent of a classic, elegant French café, the cigar room more a clubby, plush den. Both very nice (though definitely stay in the main area if you don’t smoke, as the air in the latter area is quite thick).
All in all a very distinctive place, the only such of its kind in Montréal, it seems, and truly a world class whisky selection. As it happens, it won the Canadian Whisky Bar of the Year award in 2008Try the Lagavullin 16, it’s peated perfection. Here’s just the single malt menu:
Sir Winston Churchill, in all his whisky-guzzling, cigar chugging Hard Ballerness, would approve.
Bonus: across the street is the Royal Phoenix Bar, which is to be entered at your discretion, but by all means stand on the street corner and watch the parade of alternative young Montreal life stream forth from it – black, white, straight, gay, girls, guys, and almost everybody dressed and decorated off the wall and mashed up. Pure entertainment!
5800 Boulevard St. Laurent
Want all the outdoorsy fun of a rooftop but feeling lazy and want a seat? Then you want a beer garden. DC doesn’t have many, but the ones it has are all pretty good, summarized here by Serious Eats. My favorites are the Standard and Biergarten Haus. Standard has awesome barbecue, Mexican grilled corn, and freshly fried doughnuts in addition to a small but good selection of beer, but be warned: it’s crazy popular and thus very crowded. Go around happy hour to beat the crowds. Biergarten Haus is a more properly German kind of place and one of the best bars in the semi-hoody and often dubious (despite what the hipsters may say) H St NE – spacious, quite large list of German beers on tap, lots of German food on offer. No food after 11pm though, so bear that in mind.
I’ve said Beirut is laid back, it’s a good place to relax, and more. As one Lebanese rapper put it, “the national sport of Lebanon is called chilling.” I’ll also nominate mentalist driving, but let’s go with chilling for now, because it’s hard to imagine anyone ENJOYS driving here, although I’m sure some people take perverse pleasure in pretending it’s the Monaco Grand Prix on the crowded streets (“Shou, Monte Carlo is a party town on ze Med, we are too!”)…but I digress. More than partying, more than their fabled ski-and-swim in the same day, more than anything else, the Lebanese love to sit back, relax, and enjoy life. Usually that involves a café, with coffee, tea, beer, snacks, and often an argile (hookah). The king of all such places in Beirut is Al Falamanki.
So, for those that have read my recent glowing writeup of Little Branch, as well as my comparison of Passenger and Gibson and my review of El Centro, I thought I should clarify what I look for in a drinking establishment that you too ought to consider. Don’t spend money and waste time at crappy bars (or anything else, for that matter), use this handy guide.
What dreams are made of.
Ladies and gentlemen, the single best bar I have ever been to, and the standard against which all further mixology is to be judged: Little Branch in the West Village in Manhattan.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,
for good booze flowed, but we had to face some lines.”*
For the last two-ish years, DC has been torn between two drink dens specializing in superlatively mixed craft cocktails. They both turn out drinks unseen elsewhere in the city, if not the world, and they both have their fair share of devotees. But the two could not be more different. One is overly exclusive, in-your-face-with-upper-class-hipster-arrogance†, shrouded in too-low light, and with a door policy rarely seen outside Moscow nightclubs. The other is welcoming, catering to and attracting all types – and the light is better.
They are the Gibson and the Passenger, and I favor the latter. Here’s why:
Note: The first installment in We Ball Harder’s recommendations of commercial establishments. Unless otherwise specified, anywhere mentioned on WBH comes highly recommended, because why would we waste your time with mediocre places?
Quick: who has the best rooftop in DC, the best late night food, awesome drinks, and sweet music all in one venue?
The answer: El Centro DF, Richard Sandoval’s (Zengo, Masa 14, La Sandia) newest venue, located right next to Black Cat. You walk in on the ground floor to what looks at first like a spruced-up Chipotle, with a bare concrete floor, wooden bar tables, stools, and other wooden accents, a counter for salsa, and indeed a a menu hanging down from the ceiling over the cashier advertising tacos, burritos, quesadillas, and the like. In the very back are stairs going downstairs, leading to the basement restaurant and tequileria, where they serve more formal sit-down food and a staggering array of agave and maguey distillates. More on that below.