Any chance you’re heading to Washington DC? There are certainly plenty of reasons to do so, with attractions ranging from the pillars of our political system to fascinating museums to reverential and reflective monuments. The area’s outstanding food and wine offerings offer even more appeal, including wonderful Washington DC wine bars located in multiple neighborhoods. These destinations offer a cosmopolitan selection of wines by the glass and dishes for all palates ranging from a Watermelon Salad to a Grilled Vegetable Panino to Rigatoni with a Fennel Sausage Ragu.
We recently visited Washington DC and discovered plenty of local specialties to recommend to visitors and guests of all ages, including Honduras Coffee at Chinatown Coffee, the Raisin Snail at Firehook Bakery, Fresh Guacamole at Oyamel, a Chili Dog at Ben’s Chili Bowl, Blueberry Buckwheat Pancakes at Market Lunch, the Bacon Meatball Sandwich at Red Apron Butcher, Tahitian Vanilla Bean Gelato at Dolcezza and the expansive Dupont Circle Farmers Market on Sundays (with our favorite booths including Baklava Couture, FireFly Farms Creamery and Zeke’s Coffee). On your next trip here, we’re letting you know all of those establishments are worth making detours for.
But let’s talk about wine. There are many Washington DC wine bars trying to meet your needs for lunch, happy hour, dinner and sometimes even brunch. We tried a lot of them (but not all) and happily found a ½ dozen we can heartily recommend to you. Keep reading, and we’ll tell you the places where we were most impressed based on a combination of thoughtfully curated wine lists, well-crafted small plates and outstanding customer service.
We’ll also let you know which wines and food items we enjoyed the most (in case they’re still on the menu when you go to the below Washington DC Wine Bars).
Favorite Washington DC Wine Bars
Barcelona Wine Bar & Restaurant – Headed by Executive Chef Adam Greenbert (of Food Network’s Chopped fame), this frequently packed restaurant in the heart of Logan Circle offers an extensive menu including Charcuterie, Cheese, Tapas, Ensaladas, Grilled Meats and Paellas. Seating options include a sizeable bar, a dining room, and a welcoming outdoor courtyard with a fireplace.
Our favorite dishes here were the Watermelon Salad with Sheep’s Milk Feta, Potato Tortilla with Chive Sour Cream, Mushrooms a la Plancha with Salsa Verde and the Albondigas. Our favorite wines were a Vigneau-Chevreau 2014 Chenin Blanc and a 2011 Achaval Ferrer Quimera. You may want to aim for a Monday visit here, when bottles of wine are half-price. 1622 14th Street NW, 202-588-5500.
Cork Wine Bar – Also located in Logan Circle, Cork Wine Bar is a casually elegant place with a rustic, homey feel and about two dozen cold or hot plate dishes to select from (several coming with wine pairing suggestions right on the menu). Owners Diane Gross and Khalid Pitts also own the nearby Cork Market & Tasting Room (1805 14th Street NW), a boutique wine store with over 300 wines and prepared food, cheese, and charcuterie available for sale (and the Market hosts wine tastings, classes and other special wine events).
We were amazed at the Avocado with Pistachio Oil and Toasted Pistachios on Grilled Bread, but also loved the Braised Kale with Roasted Garlic and the Pan Roasted Chicken with Fava Beans and Chanterelles. Our favorite wines here were a Domaine Léon Boesch 2013 Pinot Blanc and Chateau Magneau 2012 Graves. You can order the Avocado on Grilled Bread during the Sunday Brunch as well (11 am to 3 pm), or your other choices include House-Made Cinnamon Rolls and a Duck Confit Benedict. If you’re in the neighborhood Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday, you may want to check out their “Cinq à Sept” Happy Hour between 5 and 7 pm. 1720 14th Street NW, 202-265-2675
Iron Gate – Just a few blocks from Dupont Circle, the bar and dining room at Iron Gate occupy a building that once served as the stables for General Nelson Miles, a cavalry officer in the Civil War who later became Secretary of the Army. Or, hopefully, you can dine outside in the courtyard, overhung with grapevines and a century-old wisteria. Either way, you’ll have plenty of outstanding menu choices from Executive Chef Anthony Chittum and his team whose dishes are inspired by the cuisines of Greece and Southern Italy. Chef Chittum also offers a 4-course or 6-course Tasting Menu in the main house. In addition, we think this place has the best sign of the Washington DC Wine Bars.
Our favorite dishes here were the Sourdough Bread with Burrata and Snap Peas, Sesame-Crusted Feta with Strawberry-Rhubarb Agrodolce, Asparagus with Deviled Egg and an Anchovy Sauce, and Gemelli with Braised Rabbit and Olives. Wines we loved here included a Tenuta Delle Terre Nere 2014 Etna Bianco, Librandi 2015 Gaglioppo, Alpha Estate 2014 Malagousia, Cantine Antonio Caggiano 2014 Aglianico, Domaine Zafeirakis 2015 Limniona, and Botromagno 2013 Nero di Troia. We actually came here twice, but not at Brunch, so we’ve missed out (so far) on their Crispy Yeast Doughnuts with Orange Blossom Syrup, Gianduja Chip Pancakes, and Black Pepper Rigatoni “Carbonara” made with Lamb Pancetta. 734 N Street NW, 202-524-5202
Proof – Just a short walk from the Convention Center, Proof has been listed (more than once) as one of Washingtonians Magazine’s 100 Very Best Restaurants and they serve creative modern cuisine alongside a wine list of over 40 by-the-glass selections. Located in Penn Quarter, the space offers contemporary chic décor and a combination of exposed brick walls, walnut floors, antique Chinese chests and a French pewter bar. Earlier this month, Proof celebrated its 9th Anniversary.
Our favorite dishes included their Crispy Lavash with Cucumber Labne, White Grape Gazpacho with Roasted Corn Ice Cream, Baby Kale Salad with Shaved Raw Root Vegetables and Grilled Vegetable Panino with Shitake Mushrooms. Our favorite wines included a Colli Di Lapio 2013 Fiano di Avellino and Big Table Farm 2014 Edelzwicker. Weekdays, between 5 and 7 pm, Proof has Happy Hour specials including discounted beer and wine offerings and $8 classic cocktails. Or, on Sundays, Proof is currently offering up to 100 wines at a 50% discount as part of a rotating wine promotion with its sister restaurants Estadio, Doi Moi and 2 birds 1 stone. 775 G Street NW, 202-737-7663
The Red Hen – Out in the historic Bloomingdale neighborhood, long-term friends Michael Friedman, Michael O’Malley and Sebastian Zutant have created a beautiful Italian-influenced restaurant that has been around since 2013. The establishment has 50 seats and a large bar but that’s still not big enough to accommodate everyone who’s trying to eat here so we strongly encourage you to make a reservation (or expect to join the small crowd politely waiting for people at the bar to finish and move on).
Our favorite dishes here were their Grilled Asparagus and Wild Mushrooms with Mustard Sauce and the Mezze Rigatoni with Fennel Sausage Ragu (seriously – don’t miss out on the Rigatoni here). Our favorite Wines were a Fatalone 2015 Greco and a De Angelis Wines 2013 Montepulciano Blend. 1822 First Street NW, 202-525-3021
Vinoteca – Found in the middle of the U Street Corridor, Vinoteca offers a seasonally rotating menu and an extensive selection of wines by the glass in a friendly, neighborhood enviroment. Seating options include an outdoor front patio bedecked with umbrellas, an indoor dining room, a comfortable bar, and a plaza with a bocce court. We came here for the weekend brunch (offered Saturday and Sunday from 11-3) where not only was the staff friendly and charming, but so were the other patrons.
We can recommend the Grilled Chicken Salad Sandwich with Tarragon and Smoked Jalapeno Crema (which is served as a Slider in the evenings) and the Silver Dollar Pancakes with Smoked Walnut Ginger Butter (which are way bigger than their name implies). Vinoteca has a Happy Hour between 5 and 7 pm in their bar area daily (!), offering 15 wines at $5 a glass and discounted small plates. Our favorite wines on our visit were a Quara Estate 2015 Torrontés and a Höpler 2014 Grüner Veltliner. 1940 11th Street NW, 202-332-9463
These were the six Washington DC wine bars we enjoyed the most recently, as well as some other food and destinations we were impressed by. Recently, the Wine Spectator 2016 Restaurant Awards were announced: Iron Gate received an Award of Excellence and both Barcelona Wine Bar and Proof received Best of Award of Excellence designations.
If you are looking for other travel advice for Washington DC, Destination DC is a private, non-profit corporation with a membership of 850 businesses and organizations that support the DC travel and tourism sector. They produce a free Visitor’s Guide twice a year which you can order or simply view online. Their website is also a helpful resource for information on Washington DC’s neighborhoods, lodging options and upcoming events. They also offer ideas for free (and nearly free) things to do, which can help you save some money for spending at the Washington DC wine bars.