DC Beer Roundup
Where can you find good beer in Washington, DC? Where can’t you find it?
Liquor stores, supermarkets, groceries and corner delis all can sell beer…and many stock at least a few craft beer selections. (I’ve seen Sierra Nevada Celebration pop up in CVS drug stores.)
Bear in mind that in most DC neighborhoods, regulations forbid selling individual bottles or cans to go, on the pretext that such sales encourage drinking in public and littering. Ward 3 is unaffected, however, and that’s where you’ll find Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits (5544 Connecticut Ave. NW) with its selection of between 1,000 and 1,200 beers. Other well-stocked retailers include Rodman’s (5100 Wisconsin Ave. NW) and Cairo Liquors (1618 17th Street NW).
The epicenter of the DC beer scene is the Brickskeller (1523 22nd St. NW), famed for its menu of over 1,000 beers, buffalo burgers and collection of antique beer cans. The Brick has been hosting beer tastings and dinners since 1985. In 2003, owners Dave and Diane Alexander opened up RFD (Regional Food and Drink) (810 7th St. NW) in DC’s bustling Chinatown neighborhood, where larger kitchen facilities allow them to experiment more extensively with beer cuisine.
In Georgetown, stop by Pizzeria Paradiso (3282 M Street NW) for its 80 bottled and 16 draft selections. The downstairs bar Birreria Paradiso is the setting for monthly beer dinners.
“DC is the most important Belgian beer market in the United States by far,” insists Martin Wetten, of Wetten Importers and Hop & Wine distributors. Brasserie Beck (1101 K Street NW), with 11 draft and 150 bottled Belgians, its 20-foot high ceiling and elegant marble and walnut bar, is the place to visit “when you’re feeling saucy [and] want to dress up and drink up,” according to one on-line critic. Other destinations where you can savor a Trappist ale alongside mussels and frites include Belga Cafe (514 8th Street SE), Et Voila (5120 MacArthur Blvd. NW) and the less formal Granville Moore’s (1238 H Street NE), named for a doctor who used to occupy the townhouse where the restaurant is situated.
Columbia Heights is a neighborhood that was deeply scarred by the riots of 1968 but has been thoroughly transformed by a building boom that followed the opening of a subway station on Metro’s Green Line. Barely 20 paces from the station is CommonWealth Gastropub (1400 Irving Street NW), a British-themed restaurant that offers Yorkshire pudding, ploughman’s lunch and Scotch egg, along with a well-chosen draft list of UK and American beers. (Domestic selections come from Virginia, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts, three of four states that call themselves “commonwealths.”)
Southeast boasts The Tune Inn (331 ½ Pennsylvania Ave SE), a dive bar with deer heads mounted on the walls. It’s a working class bar in Capitol Hill where James Carville took Mary Matalan on their first date. Another legendary watering hole amongst the political and journalistic cognoscenti is the Old Ebbitt Grill (675 15th Street NW). This Victorian-style saloon is just a short walk from the White House and has been a favorite of presidents over the years.
If you’re the literary type, browse through the beer menu at Kramerbooks and the Afterwords Café (1517 Connecticut Avenue NW), which offers 17 drafts and a few exotic bottled offering like Allagash Curieux Barrel-Aged Tripel.
If you look at a map of the District of Columbia, it resembles a diamond with a big bite out of the lower left corner. Congress, for a variety of reasons, in 1847 returned that land to the State of Virginia, where it now comprises the suburbs of Arlington and Alexandria. For pizza and sandwiches, try the Lost Dog Cafe (5876 Washington Blvd.) in Arlington with its immense bottled beer list (the deli offers sixpacks and bottles to go), or for a somewhat more formal setting visit Bilbo Baggins and the Green Dragon Pub (10 taps, 80 bottles) at 208 Queen Street in Alexandria’s cobblestoned Old Town neighborhood.
If you’re on a budget, enjoy the chili (four kinds, including vegetarian) at the Hard Times Cafe chain, with over a dozen branches scattered throughout the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. They all have a few good taps, including a house beer brewed by Baltimore’s Clipper City Brewing. The Ballston Commons Mall at 4238 Wilson Blvd. in Arlington numbers among its tenants a Bailey’s Pub and Grill, Rock Bottom Brewery and Union Jack’s, all of whom have weekly specials where you can get a decent mug of beer for as little as a buck or two.
Worthy of special mention is Rustico (827 Slaters Lane in Alexandria), which earned Washingtonian magazine’s award for best beer selection of any restaurant not the Brickskeller. As of press time, that selection included 300-350 bottles, 30 drafts and a cask ale. Chef Frank Morales is noted for innovative cuisine that includes wood-fired pizzas, pot pies and (during the summer months) frozen beer pops.
Morales and his beer director Greg Engert have announced that they’re opening a companion restaurant at 1443 14th Street in Washington, DC. Birch & Barley will offer 500 bottled beers, 80 drafts and 5 cask ales at all times. The restaurant will include an upstairs bar called the ChurchKey and a rooftop deck for the warmer weather. Grand opening is expected in March.