Whether you're gearing up for a long train ride home or exhausted from weaving your way through hordes of khaki and oxford-clad interns and Hill staffers, you probably have felt a powerful need for a cheap drink come workday's end in Washington DC. And, of course, the District has no shortage of spots to drink the previous eight hours away.
Sure, there are bars with dollar PBRs or cheap, passable wings; those are a dime a dozen. But these DC happy hours are excellent on their own merits. Looking for a discounted impeccably curated beer list? Cheap well-made cocktails? A perfect people-watching perch? There's a happy hour for you somewhere in town. Here's our guide to the best options.
For Beer Lovers: GBD
One might not immediately think of GBD as a drinking destination: this spot stands more prominently as one of the pioneering members of the fried chicken and doughnuts craze in DC. But GBD falls under the purview of Neighborhood Restaurant Group's beer guru, Greg Engert. The result is that the bar at GBD is basically ChurchKey lite.
With roughly 20 taps carefully curated by Engert, GBD has one of the best happy hours for beer lovers in the city. From 4:30 to 7 p.m. (except Mondays), Engert offers a beer at $3, $4, and $5, including options like Guldenberg Tripel, De Struise O.N.E., and Stone Russian Imperial Stout. This ain't your regular discounted PBR. On top of that, there's also $3 wine, punch, and fried treats like wings and wontons.
For a Postwork Date: Firefly
An itimate, warmly lit neighborhood spot filled with dark wood just outside the center of Dupont Circle, Firefly feels classy without being pretentious. Firefly's bar is run by the accomplished Jon Harris, formerly of The Gibson, and has become a stellar cocktail spot in its own right. Cocktails there usually run $10-15, but you can grab one of Firefly's house cocktails for a paltry $6 from 4 to 7 pm. The happy hour selection includes pared down classics like an Old Fashioned (made with Old Overholt rye), a Boulevardier (made with Jim Beam bourbon), and a martini (with Gordon's gin or Absolut vodka). While you shouldn't expect top shelf spirits at the price point, the happy hour cocktails are clean, expertly crafted, and and miles from a generic rum and coke.
Throw in a tantalizing $5 happy hour snacks menu including the decadent parmesan truffle frites, which are hard not to eat by the handful, and Firefly's happy hour is a great opportunity for a fancy evening out without breaking the bank.
For Creative Cocktails and Japanese Snacks: Daikaya Izakaya
The izakaya at Daikaya has made a name for itself in the year since it's opened as an innovative bar that serves up cocktails the delve into Japanese flavors without being gimmicky. Upstairs from the ramen shop, the all wood space adorned with subtle nods to Japanese culture is lined with bottles of sake, schochu, and Japanese whiskies and accompanied by Japanese bites from chef Katsuya Fukushima.
During the 5 to 7 p.m. happy hour, in addition to a selection of $3 plates (including traditional street snacks like yakitori and takoyaki) and $4 Sapporo drafts, signature cocktails like the Sesame Street (pictured above) run only $5. Made with Beniotome sesame shochu (a shochu that is distilled from sesame seeds in addition to the traditional barley and rice), Fever Tree ginger beer, yuzu, and Angostura bitters, the cocktail is representative of a lot of the flavors at work behind the bar at Daikaya. It's light, effervescent and citrusy, with a subtle touch of Japanese influence.
For Hot Days and Cold Margaritas: El Chucho
El Chucho is popular for the two things any taco shop should be known for: tacos and margaritas, and from 4 to 6:30 p.m. (all day Mondays), both flow freely. Pile into this cramped, bright teal Columbia Heights spot and the El Codo margarita on tap runs $4.50 and frozen margaritas run a bit more at $5.50. The El Codo combines silver tequila, triple sec, and lime juice for a margarita that sits comfortably between sweet and tart, but is thoroughly refreshing. Opt for the chili lime salt on the rim for some heat and smoke. As days get warmer, the friendly frozen margarita machine churns out lime or strawberry habanero (or a swirl of both, if that's your jam). Grab a seat on the roof deck or on the street facing bar with one of these and you'll feel pretty happy to be alive.
Feeling hungry? The Al Pastor, Pollo, and Calabacita tacos are half off during happy hour, and the Mexican street style corn on the cob runs $2.50. The tacos are small, but flavor packed, and the Elote Callejero is an appropriately cheesy, buttery mess.
For People Watching: Ghibellina
Ghibellina's happy hour (4 to 6:30 p.m.) stands out for a number of reasons. There's the $6 cocktails, like the smooth citrusy and herbal Ghirlandaio (made with Evan Williams bourbon, peach syrup, Combier peach liqueur, fresh lemon, and black tea), or the $4 drafts and $5 wine. Or the excellent discounted pizzas: a Margherita di Bufala will run you only $8.
But one of the main reasons that we love Ghibellina for happy hour is that if you have the right seat, it's one of the best people watching spots in town. Ghibellina's facade on 14th St. is a giant window that opens up in warmer weather. Along the window is a bar from which you can sit and look down on 14th and take in the busy scene while enjoying some of the aforementioned food and drink.
For the Bitter-Curious: The Partisan
The Partisan focuses on charcuterie and other creative uses of beef and pork, but the creativity doesn't stop at the meat. From 4 to 6 p.m., The Partisan's bar serves five apertivo cocktails (for $5 each) that are designed to prepare you for a protein-heavy meal, and also to help you venture into unfamiliar ingredients. The list includes an herbal, effervescent Fernet and Ginger and a bittersweet Zucca and Tonic—simple drinks that will introduce happy hour visitors to amari and apertif wines. Try a Dolin Blanc on the rocks with a twist of lemon for a cleansing, floral sipper: it's basic, but a perfect drink to whet your appetite.
The Partisan's signature tigelles (dense Italian bread griddled on a layer of lard) are offered in the form of slim, but fat- and flavor-filled Tigelle Burgers (the tigelle bun is topped with tomato aioli, American cheese, and a beef patty for $5.50). Or snack on Meat on a Stick (lardo, jowl ham, or salami wrapped around fried dough; $2). These happy hour bites are basically the fever dreams of someone with a kitchen full of meat and fat-fried bread, and we're on board.
For Pizza and Beer: Pizzeria Paradiso Georgetown
At its Georgetown location, Pizzeria Paradiso boasts an impressive beer list with 15 taps and over 250 bottles. On Mondays through Thursdays from 5 to 7 p.m., all draft beers are half off. You'll find offerings from from Brasserie Dupont, Long Trail, Ommegang, and Trois Dames among the frequently rotating list of 15 high quality taps, a mix of American craft breweries and imports. What's more, the staff is always very knowledgeable and will help you choose the right beer for your taste. If you're drinking double, pad your stomach with pizza—the pies run $12 for 8-inch and and $18 for 12-inch pizzas during happy hour.
For Catching Up With a Friend: Sushi Taro
Sushi Taro is one of the best sushi spots in town, which would normally mean you'd be in for an expensive night. Fortunately, from 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the bar, an extensive list of sake, shochu, and Japanese beers (sourced from lesser-known breweries like Yo-Ho Brewing Company and Coedo Brewery) are half price, and the sushi is too. Grab a friend and two stools at the 11-seat bar: the vibe is quiet enough for an intimate conversation and the excellent sushi might just convince you to duck out of work early again some time soon.
For Bocce and Wine: Vinoteca
If your idea of happy hour is a little more active, head to Vinoteca's welcoming patio and courtyard bocce court. From 5 to 7 p.m., Vinoteca offers a selection of about 15 wines (6 whites, 8 reds, a rosé, and a sparkling riesling) and a few beers (including Butternuts Porkslap Pale Ale) for $5 a glass. There's brandy and port-spiked red sangria, too, by the $6 glass or $25 pitcher—maybe that will improve your bocce skills. During warmer weather, Vinoteca's charming brick and wrought iron lined patio is one of the most popular on U Street. If you're hungry, order a simple mozzarella sandwich ($6), served on ciabatta with olives and marinated peppers. It's fresh and picnic-perfect.
For Late Night Happy Hour: Range
Bryan Voltaggio's massive eatery in Friendship Heights only recently start its happy hour. There are discounts from 4 to 6 p.m., but if you can't make it out of work that early, you're in luck: From 9 p.m. to close, the bar offers half-price pizzas and $1 oysters. (Go for the $8 Margherita pizza from the wood-burning oven, or choose among others, such as a pie topped with mushrooms, ricotta, and cippolini onions. The late night menu knocks down the $65 Shellfish Tower to $33. Bring a friend or two to devour the two-tiered platter of lobster tail, shrimp, and oysters. Wash it down with a Flying Dog lager ($5) or the Revoked Celebrity cocktail ($7), a refreshing, citrusy blend of vodka, apricot, and lemon verbena served on the rocks.