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Best Bars for Bourbon Lovers in DC

Bourbon. What was once considered swill for old men and cowboys is now revered by celebrity chefs and mixologists. From hipsters sipping craft cocktails in Mason Jars to bro-dawgs doing late night shots, bourbon’s popularity rivals that other American classic, bacon. In fact, in 2007 the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill to declare September National Bourbon Heritage Month. Since the government says so, we must comply. Here are five favorite places to channel your inner Don Draper and get your bourbon on.

Southern Efficiency: From James Beard Award nominated proprietor Derek Brown, Southern Efficiency is one of his trio of connected restaurants that, as one, made Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants in the U.S. This modern whiskey bar is the definition of the New South. Green seltzer bottles line the walls and tractor seat stools dot the bar. Speaking of which, the bar features a “neatly tailored” selection of bourbons like Jefferson’s Presidential Reserve 25 yrs (94 proof) and Wild Turkey Diamond Anniversary (91 proof). However, anybody can pour a shot of bourbon. Southern Efficiency’s talent lies is their playful cocktails, served on tap, like white whisky with cola, and mint juleps as well as with daily chalkboard specials. The menu is Charleston via Paris. Think chicken liver mousse with duck fat served in jars, smoked pork shanks with bourbon jelly, and a dish called ‘Country Captain’ which is curried chicken over Carolina Gold Rice. (1841 7th St. NW; 202-316-9396)

Jack Rose: If bars were libraries, then Jack Rose would be the closest thing to the Library of Congress. The walls of the main dining saloon are lined with bottles. With over 1,800 different selections of bourbon, whiskey, and rye, there’s something for everyone. They even have a couple of Evil Twin beers that have been aged in bourbon barrels to round out the collection. The open air roof terrace has one of the best happy hour atmospheres in town. The real gem here though, is in the basement – Jack Rose’s reservation only “speakeasy,” Dram and Grain, where one can inquire about the appropriately named Whiskey Library. This is the owner’s personal stash of rare bottles that will be extremely difficult to find anywhere else. It’s not cheap though. The Old Lancaster that was bottled in 1933 will cost you $175 for a two-ounce pour. (2007 18th St. NW; 202-588-7388)

Barrel: The new kid of the block. Barrel brings that southern Charleston charm here to D.C. This neighborhood joint captures everything you’d want in a bourbon bar. Plus, you gotta love a place where there’s a “Brown Water” menu. Go upscale with a 21-year-old Willett Reserve Red Eye (145 proof) or barrel aged Sazerac from their “lab.” It’s all good. You’ll find smokey Benton’s bacon, fried chicken with sausage gravy, and Carolina BBQ pork on the menu. Make sure you check out Elixir, the basement bar that features communal tables and a glass case with high end bourbons. Barrel also has a kick ass brunch that serves bourbon peaches with flapjacks and pork chops with bourbon beans. (613 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-543-3622)

Bourbon Steak: This high end lounge is part of celebrity chef Michael Mina’s steakhouse chain. Located in the Four Seasons hotel, this is where power brokers sip 23-year-old Pappy’s and make deals that decide your future. The cocktails here are meticulously detailed. Citrus juices are hand-squeezed daily. Even their herbs are fresh from their own garden. Try the Jefferson, served up with Bulleit, carpano antica, crème de mure and old fashioned bitters. But let’s face it. You’re also here for the food. So go all out and treat yourself with a 40-oz. bone-in tomahawk ribeye with a half lobster thermidor side, a glass of their private bottling of Four Roses and soak in the fact that President and Mrs. Obama celebrated their 20th anniversary here. (2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW; 202-944-2026)

Bourbon: With a name like that, how can you go wrong? This perennial favorite in Glover Park is one of D.C.’s original whiskey bars. While their selection isn’t as big as its sister bar Jack Rose, it’s still one of the best in town. Go in for bourbon flights that feature Willet’s The Natural (111.4 proof) or Four Rose’s 120th Anniversary (100 proof). In this day and age any bar can stock expensive bottles and rare vintages, but to have a bottle of J.T.S. Brown? This famed bottle was the bourbon of choice by Paul Newman’s character “Fast Eddie Felson” in the 1959 classic, “The Hustler.” To have a bottle like that, now that’s character. (2348 Wisconsin Ave. NW; 202-625-7770)

Top Photo via Jack Rose; Lower Photo via Barrel


Tags: Bourbon, Food, Whiskey
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