D.C.’s cocktails are only getting more complicated, and we mean that in the best way possible. From glasses coated in smoke and fire to drinks mixed with a precision rivaling a laboratory, there’s plenty out there for everyone, no matter what kind of drinker you are. While you could enjoy a cocktail in any corner of this city, these are the dimly lit rooms and sunlit patios that we recommend if you’re looking to try something completely new. After all, there’s always something new to drink — it’s just a matter of what deserves your utmost attention, and these spots all hit that high mark.
If you’re looking to surprise your drinking palate with something that’s a mix of new and old, Bar Amazonia, the cocktail space above the Peruvian restaurant Causa, has a menu filled with classics reimagined. Take the Anticucheria, a drink that riffs off the skewered meat street food staple anticuchos. “It’s traditionally done with beef heart marinated in ají panca, which is this dry herby and smoky chili with cumin, oregano, red wine vinegar, onions and garlic that’s turned into a paste, marinated on the meat, and grilled over charcoal,” explains owner Chad Spangler. “What we do is take the same application and do it to pineapple, but leave out the garlic and onions.” The herby pineapple marinade is paired with fresh pineapple, lime juice and Pisco to create what Spangler describes as, “One of the more unique, fun, and interesting drinks we have on the menu.” 920 Blagden Alley NW, DC; causadc.com // @causadc_
L’Annexe, Georgetown’s library-esque cocktail bar, likes to play with perception. “If I have a unique opportunity to do something really different with a not-so-familiar ingredient, those are welcome challenges,” says beverage director Hakim Hamid. Cocktails on L’Annexe’s curated list include unusual ingredients like the activated charcoal and smoke in the Le Smoking cocktail, as well as more conventional flavors presented in an unusual way, like The Invisible Garden, a martini-style drink made with a bevy of green ingredients including fennel, green apple, parsley and celery that comes out crystal clear. While drinking at L’Annexe is undoubtedly fun, Hamid’s goal is always to educate. “We need to be learning and we have to give the client the opportunity to learn something as well,” says Hamid. “That’s why we try to use rare, unique ingredients, transfusions…we work a lot with shrubs, just so we can take it that one step further.” 2917 M St. NW, DC; lannexe-bar.com // @lannexedc
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Speaking of unique ingredients, the sleek bar Serenata inside La Cosecha market is also serving up some unusual combos. There’s the Leche de Tigre, a drink that riffs off the leche de tigre marinade found in an order of ceviche — served with a garnish of actual ceviche. Then there’s La Cura, a cocktail that doubles as a delicious fruity summer drink and a history lesson. “Every single ingredient in the cocktail has some sort of antioxidant, prebiotic or probiotic component to it,” says beverage director and partner Andra “AJ” Johnson. “It was an ode to María Teresa Ferrari, who was the first Argentinian female professor. I really wanted to pay homage to her and her story.” 1280 4th St. NE, DC; serenatadc.com // @serenatadc
The Green Zone
At The Green Zone in Adams Morgan, you’ll find a cocktail list packed with drinks inspired by Middle Eastern flavors. If you’re craving some classic summer flavors, owner Chris Hassaan Francke always recommends the frozen Mint Lemonade & More, a customizable cocktail that just got a summer-y upgrade. “It’s what everyone gets, but we just made rum an option as the base spirit when ordering it, so now it really can be like a frozen mojito,” says Francke. If you’re looking for a second round, The Green Zone’s Faloodeh Swizzle is a cocktail inspired by the Persian frozen dessert, Faloodeh. As Francke explains, “It has the same flavors of lime and rose and cardamom, spiked with vodka, and served on crushed ice to replicate the crunch of the frozen rice noodles that go in a traditional Faloodeh.” 2226 18th St. NW, DC; thegreenzonedc.com // @thegreenzonedc
And if you’re craving a solid rotation of new and unusual, it’s hard to beat McClellan’s Retreat with its frequent theme-based menu changes. For owner Brian Nixon, experimenting with recipes and ingredient combinations is king. “That’s the fun part of the job and why we change the menu as often as we do, because it’s interesting to us,” explains Nixon. “We’re lucky; people stop by to drop off delicious new products for us to try and we start fiddling with them.” And to make the most of all these delicious cocktails you’ll spend the summer drinking, whether at McClellan’s Retreat or somewhere else in D.C., Nixon only has one recommendation, “The biggest thing I would recommend to anyone is just taste. Taste lots of things.” 2031 Florida Ave. NW, DC; mcclellansretreat.com // @mccretreat