Though it's primarily a restaurant, it's telling that Barrio's curvy bar is the center of the sprawling modern Mexican spot. Many of the cocktail trends from around the country are interpreted into the spirits of focus here, tequila and mezcal: look for infusions, barrel-aged offerings, and house-bottled beverages.
Barrio's Death on the Rio Grande ($10)
The tequila that Barrio infuses with ghost chili is not for the faint of heart, but when mixed with fresh lime and grapefruit, spiked with Campari and sweetened with agave nectar, it becomes not just drinkable, but addictive.
A speakeasy-themed bar with a second speakeasy hidden inside, the décor of Tavern Law takes drinkers back to the roaring twenties. Expect the bartenders to be dressed for the occasion, and also educated for it: the staff works to find old and forgotten drinks and breathe life back into them. Lift the phone in the dining room to see if you can get the door opened to Needle & Thread, the upstairs speakeasy space, where nothing's on the menu, and the bartenders create innovative drinks based on your personal preferences.
Café Presse offers drinks of all stripes, whether you've arrived for the 7 a.m. opening (espresso, anyone?), a leisurely mimosa brunch, or a just-before 2 a.m. cocktail. The long hours are useful, too, since the laid-back, European cafe style makes you want to stick around. The eclectic racks of magazines in the front can keep you entertained, and the frites (which some argue are the best in town) can help absorb the cocktails. Presse's open, garage-style front and pleasant patio invite everyone to indulge their inner Frenchman and set up camp for the afternoon.
Susiemosa at Café Presse ($8.50)
While simplicity is the name of the game on Café Presse's food menu, the cocktail menu does well not to leave well enough alone. Dressing up the mimosa takes it from the brunch pigeonhole to an anytime drink, and this version brings tart grapefruit juice and sparkling wine together before being topped off with floral St. Germain.
At Canon, drinkers can order from the menu, request bartender's choice, or choose a spirit from the almost 60-page Captain's List, mostly focused on American whiskey (but also with a section titled "hardcore porn," containing tipples from $85-$1500). Don't be intimidated, though, because the hospitality is, as the tagline says, unmatched. Beginners can learn their way to being a better drinker with any of the flights of three grouped spirits (i.e. the local "Washington Showdown" or the rum option, "Pirate's Plunder").
Despite early drama with bar managers (by the time it opened, it was already on the second), Ba Bar has managed to put out consistently high-quality cocktails. The menu is a mix of classics that pair up well with the Vietnamese street food (try the Moscow Mule, which comes in a copper cup), and innovative drinks infused with Asian ingredients (like the Nguyen Dynasty, featuring star anise).
Deus ex Machina at Ba Bar ($9)
Persian dried lime is soaked in ale, which is then made into a syrup, lending a hard-to-place flavor to Ba Bar's take on the Old Fashioned. The bourbon (Four Roses, in this case) and Angostura bitters (or 'ango' as the menu casually refers to it), stay true to the classic. The added heft of the ale syrup and strong citrus infusion are hallmarks of the vivid flavors of Ba Bar.