D.C. Is Obsessed With These Nightlife Trends

From tricked-out rooftops to axe-throwing venues, these after-hours sites are all the rage.

Ten years ago (or at least that time you interned here for Congressman Soundbite), D.C.’s warm-weather nightlife probably meant happy-hour drinks at a packed-to-the-wood paneling K Street bar or grooving to a band at the 9:30 Club. You can still do those things, but a bar cart’s worth of new after-five trends offer more ways to spend summer nights in the capital. From serene and healthful (mocktails, anyone?) to downright medieval (axe throwing, yes really), here’s a trio of activities we’ll raise a glass to.

No-Booze Bar Drinks

“When I first moved to Washington, D.C., in 2017, I was overwhelmed by how much alcohol fueled the city,” says Nikki Blank, founder of local Sip City Switchel. Switchel, a fizzy blend of apple cider vinegar, ginger, honey and citrus, has been around since colonial times (ancient Greeks gulped it,
too). Blank updated it for modern palates via ingredients like turmeric and pomegranate. While the quaff can be mixed into cocktails, spots like Petworth Japanese temple Himitsu and The Line Hotel pour switchel as mocktails.

Those spots are among a rising number of drinking dens that are slinging more non-alcoholic highballs these days, driven both by health-conscious Millennials and the popularity of non-hoochy drinks like kombuchas, shrubs and tonics. Local chain Circa Bistro puts out a Grapefruit Rose Fizz (bubbly citrus, simple syrup and rosemary). Celebrated mixologist Derek Brown’s “No Proof” menu at the Columbia Room uses tinctures, bitters, juices and wild ingredients like aquafaba (chickpea liquid!) to conjure cocktails with a punch, if not a buzz. “Just don’t call them mocktails,” says Brown. “It’s a misnomer that suggests you aren’t getting something good.”

Columbia Room

Rooftops on Steroids

It’s the law: Washington buildings must be shorter than the top of the U.S. Capitol. What might be bad for growth advocates is a boon for rooftop bars, which boast stellar views (monuments, the aforementioned dome) and European vibes. The latest high-minded lounges include Wild Days, a snug indoor-outdoor bôite at the hip Eaton Hotel downtown for DJ spins, tacos and highballs, and the aptly named 12 Stories capping the InterContinental Hotel at The Wharf. The latter, a plush indoor/outdoor perch for fresh oysters and house cocktails like the Blue Velvet (tequila, blueberry and lemon juices) stars 13-foot-tall windows with water vistas. “I’ve taken in that magnificent view, and I’ve come to appreciate even more deeply what makes this city so special,” says Scott Gerber, principal and CEO of Gerber Group, the company who created the bar. And in red-hot restaurant zone Logan Circle, the new Skybox boasts retro décor, picnic tables and sweeping city views from the seventh floor. Which hey, is pretty high for the nation’s capital.

12 Stories

Hatchet Jobs

Axe throwing, once the fodder of lumberjacks and Renaissance fest-goers, now headlines at two local entertainment venues. Just hold the surprisingly light hatchets like basement bats, then throw them like soccer balls at a target in an attempt at “Game of Thrones”-style action. Punnily named indoor spots to work out aggression include Bad Axe Throwing in Northeast and Kraken Axes in Penn Quarter. Both offer drop-in or group throwing sessions, and coaches keep things safe. No booze or food are served at either location (maybe a good thing?), but you can bring your own snacks. “When the axes hit the wall, they make a really satisfying thud,” says local suit designer Sim Kahn, who recently hurled a few rounds at Kraken with a client. “I felt like Thor, or maybe, since I was in a suit, Patrick Bateman. It was wholesome and fun.”

Bad Axe Throwing

Jennifer Barger
About the author


Jennifer Barger is a Washington, D.C.-based travel and design writer who spe...