Welcome to downtown Washington DC at night. Often overshadowed by its daytime power players, DC nightlife is electrified by its diversity and dynamism. As night falls, watch as tables turn from conference to cocktail to reveal a lively and wholly unexpected side to the nation’s capital.
But a city known for its movers and shakers must also unwind and relax. Luckily, Washington, DC offers a myriad of escape havens for prospective residents and locals alike.
Come along as we make our way through a night on the town. We’ll start with happy hour, a venerated district tradition where business finally takes a backseat to leisure. Next, we’ll explore
Washington DC nightlife and the standouts that make this city sing. We’ll end with a nightcap and late-night nosh before bidding adieu to time well spent—and worth repeating tomorrow.
Happy Hour Haunts
When it comes to must-experience Washington DC events, happy hour is definitely one of them. Ranked one of the smartest cities in the US, DC folks know how to navigate their downtime just as well as they do work.1
It’s no surprise, then, that happy hour plays a preeminent role in taking care of both dinner and drinks at once because every smart District partier knows how to multitask, even at play.
With so many top-rated happy hours in this city, we’ll focus on those with distinction. From a beloved classic to a young gamer’s paradise, we’ve included a small taste of what’s available in this city serving the nation’s top tipplers.
#1 Bar Charley
A dark and intimate long-time favorite crowns our HH list. The cellar space becomes packed on Mondays when happy-hour specials run all night long. You’ll find discounts on cocktails, beer, wine, and food on weeknights from Tuesday to Thursday.
- Location – Bar Charley is centrally located in Adams Morgan, making this spot an easy meeting point for friends gathering near and far.
- What to order – Stick to the bar’s traditional specialties, including Moscow Mules and Old Fashioneds. (But the bartenders will happily suggest tasty alternatives.)
#2 Dacha Beer Garden
Dacha was started by two friends who left their corporate jobs to find success in gardening—of the beer variety.
If you’re searching for a space brimming with convivial energy, this is it. Happy hour runs all day long on Mondays. Tuesday through Thursday is the time to snag beer and food discounts, and on Sunday afternoons, the space becomes DC’s unofficial LGBTQ+ hangout.
- Location – Shaw neighborhood eateries and bars surround this outdoor oasis, including some of the city’s best-known microbreweries and a big, white house you might recognize.
- What to order – The name says it all: Stick to the beers or ciders. The food consistently receives rave reviews, and what’s not to love about a sausage smorgasbord complete with kraut, roasted potatoes, mustard, and a side of crispy sea salt fries.
Speaking for beer, there are several notable Washington DC breweries worth checking out.
#3 Lulu’s Winegarden
One of the most romantic things to do in Washington DC is go to Lulu’s Winegarden with your date. This fresh and inviting space was designed for large after-work groups, but it’s intimate enough to impress a date, too.2
Lush greenery and shimmering lights provide the perfect atmosphere to mingle, evoking backyard garden party vibes. The watering hole offers beer, wine, bottle, and food specials every day during its aptly named “golden hour,” too.
- Location – Lulu’s is centrally located on U Street, which is easily accessible by public transit.
- What to order – Wine, of course, by the glass or bottle, plus plenty of shareable plates.
#4 Rocket Bar
A popular choice among DC’s younger patrons, this basement bar has every kind of distraction to keep you entertained: air hockey, darts, pool, shuffleboard, and video arcades.3
Happy hour takes place every day, weekends included, from 4 to 8 pm. No food is served here, but you can bring in meals from anywhere. (Pizza delivery, anyone?)
- Location – Rocket Bar rests in a cozy spot around the corner from the Gallery PL-Chinatown Metro, a convenient and energized Chinatown spot.
- What to order – The happy hour specials can’t be beaten. And while you’re at it, enjoy their exciting selection of beers on tap.
Now that we’ve got adequate fuel in our system, it’s time to rev up our nighttime engines. Who knew DC was home to some of the nation’s top music and entertainment venues?
While the rest of the country is steadily growing older, Washington DC’s population keeps getting younger. DC currently has the second youngest median age of any state, only trailing behind Utah, at 34 years old.4
To add icing to the cake, based on job availability, salaries, and housing, DC also ranks second among Millennials as a top-choice city to live and thrive.5
It’s no wonder DC’s nightlife options have expanded to reflect its youthful joviality. You’ll find dives, classy joints, hipster dance parties, and everything in between.
#1 The 9:30 Club
Known by locals simply as 9:30, this historic music DC nightclub has been going strong since its first show in 1980—and has been consistently voted as one of the best music venues in the country.
The list of acts performed here is jaw-droppingly impressive: Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Smashing Pumpkins, Beastie Boys, and Adele (which sold out in less than two minutes). Local bands like Thievery Corporation fare just as well. Check the calendar for upcoming shows and eclectic dance parties, including Emo Night in LA and Taylor Swift-themed DJ sets.
- Location – Find this iconic landmark at the end of the U Street Corridor and two easy blocks from the Metro.
- Insider Tip – 9:30 is standing-room only, but there are secret bar stools on the balcony for a few lucky patrons. They announce shows on the website on Monday mornings.
#2 Blues Alley
Welcome to yet another nationally renowned DC nightclub. This one goes back even further, all the way to 1965. It’s the jazz supper club of the district—and the longest-running one in the country, for that matter.
The memorable red-brick building dates back to the 18th century. Dizzy Gillespie, Wynton Marsalis, Sarah Vaughan, and Charlie Byrd are just a few of the historic stars who have graced the stage.
- Location – Georgetown neighborhood, just a few blocks from the University and a short distance from your Columbia Heights Common digs.
- Insider Tip – Blues Alley is open seven days a week. Tickets are sold online, over the phone, or at the box office from 12 to 8 pm.
#3 Wonderland Ballroom
The name says it all: a two-level neighborhood mainstay for those who like options. DJ and dancing take place on the top floor, with the ground level serving as your standby watering hole and mingling base. Plus, the outdoor patio is perfect for outdoor gatherings in warmer months.
- Location – Lively residents of the proud Columbia Heights neighborhood frequent this joint that’s situated in a harbor of homey restaurants and bars.
- Insider Tip – A special love potion must be served in their drinks, because it’s known by locals as a frequent meet-cute spot, with nine weddings held here and counting.
#4 Club Timehri
Known as one of the few authentic Caribbean dancehall spots, this is the place to find island vibes in the city. The DJ spins Reggaeton, Soca, Afrobeat, and old-school mixes. The crowd is energetic, reflecting the rich nightlife diversity of DC.
- Location – Club Timehri sits right in the heart of the nightlife scene in Adams Morgan, a short distance away from home in Columbia Heights or Shaw.
- Insider Tip – Club Timehri is notorious for its friendly bartenders and affordable drinks. Patrons love to dance—so be prepared with comfortable shoes.
#5 Cloak & Dagger
In this dance club started by two former breakdancers, Victorian decor meets ‘90s hip-hop flair. The atmosphere pulsates with the same free-spirited energy that defined its origins. Case in point, their dance parties last until 3 am regularly.
- Location – Find this lively club on the famous U-Street Corridor, a three-minute walk from Ben’s Chili Bowl, DC’s famous local food joint.
- Insider Tip – Cloak & Dagger is sometimes referred to as “Hogwarts” because of its narrow passageways and mystifying ambiance. Its predecessor was called “Patty Boom Boom” so most locals agree that this replacement is a welcome improvement.
What food is Washington DC known for? The best restaurants in the DC area are usually open until late into the evening. For those who aren’t ready to call it a night, DC has several fine establishments to keep the fun going. Take a look at these late-night spots to end your evening on a high note.
- Dan’s Cafe – This is no ordinary cafe. This is the definition of “dive bar” in Adams Morgan. Squeeze bottles are available for patrons to mix their own drinks to the tune of ‘70s and ‘80s music.
- Copycat Company – The devil is in the details in every tinkling cocktail shaken up in their intimate second-story setting, down to its artisan ice cubes. This spot brings a chill and classy vibe to the H Street Corridor.
- The Gibson – Though only open until 1 am on the weekends, this candlelit setting behind an unmarked door on U Street is the closest thing to a speakeasy in DC. The secret setting makes the slightly earlier nightcap totally worth it.
And let’s not forget late-night nosh for those in need of savory replenishment. We feel these are going to become your new late-night go-to’s:
- Wiseguy NY Pizza – Your staple Chinatown spot before heading back home. It’s open until 3 am most nights, and is known for having one of the best slices in town.
- Surfside Tacos – This 24-hour taco joint sits right off Dupont Circle and serves as a local favorite for refueling after a night on the town.
Other notable night spots in Washington:
- Go-to sports bar: The Game Sports Pub
- Go-to DC improve: Washington Improv Theater
- Go-to Live Music: Howard Theater
- Go-to cafe: Cate Citron
Experience Limitless Washington DC Nightlife with Common
Long-time locals and visitors alike know how to celebrate this capital city teeming with lively neighborhood offerings. With Common’s well-placed, well-appointed coliving and private apartments, you can access all that nightlife Washington DC has to offer, all within an easy walk or metro ride from your home.
Our elegant abodes are located in the very best neighborhoods, making nights out easy. From the epicenter of Shaw to the creative renaissance of Columbia Heights, your Common DC home puts you in the epicenter of the action.
As the famous DC mantra goes, “It’s not the Democratic Party or the Republican Party. The most important party in Washington DC is the cocktail party.”6 Find your home in DC today.
- Wallethub. Most & Least Educated Cities in America. https://wallethub.com/edu/e/most-and-least-educated-cities/6656
- The Washington Post. Six Happy Hour Spots that are Perfect for Date, too. https://www.washingtonpost.com/dc-md-va/2022/09/13/happy-hour-date-spots-dc/
- Thrillist. The Best Happy Hours in Your DC Neighborhood. https://www.thrillist.com/drink/washington-dc/happy-hours-by-neighborhood-in-washington-dc
- Greater Washington. Washington Region’s Growth Driven Primarily by Adults, Census Data Shows.https://ggwash.org/view/83725/washington-regions-growth-driven-primarily-by-adults-census-data-shows
- American University. Why Washington, D.C., Remains a Top Pick for Millennials. https://www.american.edu/media/news/20170301_kogod_millennial_index_2017.cfm
- Washingtonian. The Long, Surprising, and Not Totally Nerdy History of the Political Cocktail. https://www.washingtonian.com/2021/07/01/the-long-surprising-and-not-totally-nerdy-history-of-the-political-cocktail/#The-Cocktail-1806
- Eater Washington DC. Fresh New Happy Hours to Try This Fall in DC. https://dc.eater.com/maps/best-new-happy-hours-dc
- Spotted By Locals. Surfside-Late-night Tex-Mex. https://www.spottedbylocals.com/washingtondc/surfside/