Washington, D.C., is much more than politics, history museums, and monuments. The district has a thriving nightlife scene to cater to all of the tourists, university students, and government employees who need to let off some steam. There are options for going out across the entire spectrum, from elegant rooftop cocktail lounges frequented by diplomats to underground dive bars with karaoke.
Washington doesn't have antiquated "blue laws" as many of the neighboring states do, so alcohol is available to purchase seven days a week. Even though Washington is a special entity in the U.S., the legal age to buy and drink alcohol is 21.
Washington is a high-pressure and high-stress city for many of the people who live there. Naturally, when they have some free time, you can usually find them unwinding at a nearby happy hour. If you're staying in or near one of the livelier neighborhoods—such as Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, Georgetown, or H Street—there are also concentrations of bars in those areas.
There is a huge variety of options for grabbing a drink, you just to have to know what you're looking for.
Grabbing a beer is usually the go-to for groups of friends meeting up for a drink. Washington doesn't require that beermakers use a distributor as many other states do, which has allowed craft breweries to flourish in the district. Whether you're looking to enjoy a locally brewed craft beer or something exotic imported from abroad, you can find it all in Washington.
- 3 Stars Brewing Co.: Located away from the city center in Manor Park neighborhood, 3 Stars is a full brewery that also offers beer tasting and brew room tours. Come out on Tuesday evenings for trivia night.
- Bardo: This seasonal outdoor bar is located on the riverfront right next to the Nationals' Stadium. It's only open in the warmer months (plus random days in the winter when the temperature rises), so check their website for the schedule.
- Sauf Haus: Sauf Haus is a German-style biergarten, centrally located near Dupont Circle. There are many local and European beers on tap and in bottles, plus a food menu including Bavarian pretzels and bratwursts.
Rooftop bars are always a popular choice regardless of what city you're in, but there is something extra special about enjoying a drink while looking out onto the Washington Monument, the White House, or the blooming cherry blossoms along the National Mall. Rise up to one of these spots for a new perspective of Washington.
- POV at W: This exclusive bar and restaurant has a stunning rooftop with even more impressive city views. The craft cocktails have cheeky names referencing D.C. politics, and the presentation is Instagram-worthy. A dress code is enforced, so no athletic or casual wear.
- El Techo by Rito Loco: For a Latino vibe—sweet and spicy margaritas, tacos, ceviche—head to El Techo, located near Howard University. All of their natural cocktails are concocted with house-made agave syrup.
- Crimson View: This penthouse bar on top of the Pod DC hotel is the perfect place to unwind with sunset views of the Washington Monument. In addition to beer, wine, and cocktails, there are also bar snacks like oysters, prosciutto, and whipped goat cheese dip.
Washington has one of the largest populations of LGBTQ+ residents in the country, so you can expect to find a thriving nightlife scene geared toward gay locals and tourists. Whether it's casual drinks, a drag show, or a night of dancing, D.C. has it all.
- Nellie's Sports Bar: Nellie's is a gay landmark in Washington, located near Howard University. It's open seven days a week and has nightly events, such as drag bingo, karaoke, and sports nights.
- JR's Bar and Grill: JR's is located right in the center of Washington's gay neighborhood near Dupont Circle. Apart from dancing on the weekends, there are all types of events from sing-alongs to drag competitions.
Just as the bars are plentiful around Washington, so are the nightclubs. Continue on after your first few rounds of drinks for a night out of dancing to electronic music, reggae, Latin, R&B, or any other genre you can imagine.
- U Street Music Hall: This underground club features nightly events of DJs as well as live performers. There are also nights and events where guests under 21 can enter.
- Ultra Bar: Ultra Bar is a high-energy club, with five floors, light shows, and six full-service bars. If you want to go all out, there are also reserved tables for bottle service.
- Decades: Decades is a multi-story club, but each one of the four levels is dedicated to a different decade of music: '80s, '90s, 2000s, and the present day. In the warmer months, head up to the rooftop for dancing and fresh air.
- Cafe Citron: End your night with a Latin flair at Cafe Citron, where DJs play salsa, bachata, and other regional tunes. On some nights, show up early and there are free dance lessons so you can learn the steps before everyone shows up.
As a major city on the east coast, Washington is not only a hub for international superstars on tour, but also fosters a flourishing local music scene of up and coming artists. Whether you're going to a massive venue with thousands of others or a small bar for an intimate show, music lovers will have no shortage of options.
- 9:30 Club: This D.C. landmark has been around since 1980, with a line-up of indie and big-name artists over the years that keep people coming.
- Blues Alley: The longest-running jazz bar in the nation, Blues Alley is an intimate venue that attracts renowned jazz artists from around the world. There is also a Creole restaurant so you can dine while listening.
- Black Cat: Attracting both national and local artists, this underground rock club has featured big-name groups such as Arcade Fire, Foo Fighters, and The Strokes, among many others.
Everyone loves to make fun of politicians, so it's no surprise that the nation's capital offers a variety of comedy clubs. Local unknowns and nationally famous comedians alike will leave you in stitches. Or if you yourself are a budding comedian, you can even try your hand at the mic and hope to make them laugh.
- DC Improv: One of the most well-known comedy clubs in the district, DC Improv attracts some big-name funny people. It also offers improv classes, so you can learn how to perform and then show off your skills at a publicly performed graduation ceremony.
- Underground Comedy at The Big Hunt: This bar and comedy club features local performers, many of whom have gone on to become major players in comedy. There is a cover for weekend evening shows, but they are free on weekdays and weekend matinees.
- The Magic Duel: Ostensibly a magic show, the hilarious banter between the two magicians for this nightly show also warrants its spot as a top comedy event in Washington. If you're looking for something different to do, this highly-reviewed show is worth a visit.
Events and Festivals
As the nation's capital, there are constantly events happening in Washington as well as the metropolitan area. While many of these activities are official or government-related in nature, there are also plenty of others that are cause for celebration and partying.
- Broccoli City Festival: Broccoli City is a music and food festival that also encourages environmental sustainability and personal wellness. It's located nearby at FedEx Field in April, and brings out huge crowds to see the big-name headliners each year.
- Oktoberfest: When September rolls around, Oktoberfest festivals pop up all over Washington and the capital area to celebrate this Munich tradition. Enjoy the beautiful fall weather with some German beers and Bavarian pretzels.
- Capital Pride: Every June, the district surges with excitement and rainbow-colored flags for the annual Gay Pride festival. Aside from the parade, there are additional events all week long to celebrate the local LGBTQ+ community.
- DC Jazz Festival: Also in early June, the Jazz Festival in Washington is one of the biggest in the nation. If you're a fan of jazz music and in the capital during Jazz Fest, it's a must-see event. Plus, many of the concerts are free to attend.
Tips for Going Out in Washington, D.C.
- Bars and clubs in Washington generally close at 2 a.m. on weekdays and 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights.
- The Washington metro runs until 11:30 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and until 1 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. If you need to move around later than that, there are taxis, Uber, and Lyft available.
- Open containers of alcohol are strictly prohibited throughout Washington. If you are caught drinking on the street, you could be fined up to $500.