The D.C. area’s 11 most festive bars to visit during the holidays

The D.C. area’s 11 most festive bars to visit during the holidays

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There’s no time like the holidays — sleigh bells ringing, gift giving, kids singing, kids screaming. Corporate holiday parties. In-laws in town. Shoveling slush and an endless, need-not-be-named Mariah Carey song on loop. Come to think of it, you might need a drink. Far away from the ever-watchful eye of that godforsaken shelfed elf.

We can’t promise Mariah dearest won’t make an appearance (in fact, she did during several of our visits), but at these holiday bars, at least, children are mostly barred and drinks are, generally speaking, strong. Some other notes about these refuges: Several require reservations, and those that don’t get crowded quickly. Unless you’re up for dancing to a club remix of Justin Bieber’s “Mistletoe” (actually encountered at one of these locations), we suggest going earlier in the evening. Also, it’s prime season for private holiday parties, so if you can’t make a reservation, call early to make sure the bar is open.

Sippin’ Santa at Black Whiskey

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1410 14th St. NW. blackwhiskeydc.com. Through Dec. 31.

The biggest shake-up to D.C.’s holiday bar scene occurred in August, when Archipelago, the U Street tiki bar that had played host to the beach-themed Sippin’ Santa’s Surf Shack pop-up since 2018, closed its doors. Sippin’ Santa didn’t stay homeless for long: Chef Darren Norris, whose Death Punch bar has hosted the over-the-top Miracle pop-up since 2020, agreed to turn his bourbon-centric Logan Circle bar Black Whiskey into an outpost of palm trees and rum-based cocktails.

Vibe: For 11 months of the year, Black Whiskey is a comfortable, lived-in neighborhood bar: exposed brick walls, some painted black; a pool table; beaten-up sofas you sink into. The additions for Sippin’ Santa give off a vibe that mixes Christmas and prom. The ceiling is covered with an ocean of red and green balloons, striped beach balls, and inflatable sharks and fish. Strings of colored lights hang overhead and wrap around glowing palm trees. It’s cheery without turning into a winter wonderland, which Norris says is intentional: “Sippin’ Santa is simpler” than Miracle, and “I wanted to keep the integrity of what Black Whiskey is, not have the total immersion” into the holidays. Still: There’s an option to drink cocktails out of glasses that resemble a shark wearing a Santa hat. What kind of Grinch says no to that?

Drinks: Sippin’ Santa, which takes over dozens of locations from Honolulu to Boston, is the brainchild of cocktail historian and author Jeff “Beachbum” Berry. The drinks are standard from location to location, and the recipes are as solid as the festive mugs. The signature Sippin’ Santa, with spicy aged Demerara rum, brings seasonal flavors with gingerbread, lemon and orange. Also returning is the Jingle Bird, which balances the bitterness of Campari with the sweetness of pineapple. New drinks worth your time and money include the Merry Spritzmas, a sparkler with Aperol, falernum and cardamom, plus a smooth finish courtesy of tawny port, and the Surf Nut, which was somewhat divisive: Made of rum, coconut water, cream of coconut, allspice and apricot brandy, it’s reminiscent of a piña colada crossed with an electrolyte drink. Recommended for groups: red-nosed-reindeer-shaped shot glasses filled with over-proof rum, macadamia and ginger liqueur. Cocktails cost $16, shooters are $8 and a tiki bowl for two is $30.

How to get in: Unlike Miracle, Black Whiskey doesn’t take reservations, which Norris says is a nod to the bar’s regulars. “Some people who come in, they don’t care” about the theme. “They’re just coming in to have a Miller Lite.” Since the bar opens at noon, however, revelers can beat the crowds by visiting midafternoon, or at least leaving work early to claim a seat before the happy-hour rush begins.

Insider tip: Reston’s Tiki Thai hosts the only other Sippin’ Santa in this region, and it takes reservations.

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