All words by Joe Franco unless otherwise noted.
Sometimes you just want to drink outside. Sometimes you just want to drink out of a shoe. Thankfully there are a wealth of options in the city to satisfy both of those needs. With so many outdoor venues and pop-ups sprouting in D.C. and the vicinity, we felt we needed to bring you an updated guide to keep tabs on all the new developments.
So what’s a biergarten? The German concept is a basic one, no doubt: an open-air space, indigenous to Bavaria, meant for the consumption of food and beverages. According to my extensive Wikipedia research, however, it goes beyond that. It’s a vibe, man. Something intangible and homely defines a true biergarten. It’s an ambience that lends to what the Germans call the spirit of Gemütlichkeit, i.e. warmth, belonging, and openness. These spaces should welcome conversation, laughing, and positive exchanges with strangers. So not shoulder-to-shoulder clamoring for bar access at a horribly douchey venue.
The American colloquialism for these spaces is the “beer garden”. For the most part, I’m okay with this bastardization of the term, and in some spaces I’ll use biergarten and beer garden interchangeably. It’s kind of like the difference between draught and draft, y’dig?
This list is by no means an all-encompassing list of places to get drunk outside. Some of our choices have snuck on to this list and may elicit a “Hell no that ain’t a beer garden!” from you. Deal with it. There are a number of good places with large outdoor patios–think Wonderland or All Souls, or the rooftop at H Street County Club–that will bring you beers outside. We’re omitting most of them.
But for the purpose of this guide, we’ve also chosen to give each location the designation of either Biergarten or Beer Garden. Those classified under the former exude those vaunted European qualities, from the atmosphere, to the beer steins, to the authenticity of the beverages and cuisine. The latter category comprises establishments that are more so of this continent, so a more raucous and non-traditional space or an abundance of American craft beers will probably land you here (but not necessarily!). Neither means better. It just means different. And different is better. Be different. On to the list.
I’m on Team Ivy City, and Atlas is one of the big reasons why. Riding the wave of gentrified resurgence down New York Avenue into Northeast, Atlas has made a number of key revisions to their brewery. An indoor tasting room where closets and offices used to sit is one thing, but their lengthy patio beer garden is what’s piqued our interest today. Here you’ll be able to sample their rarities and newest brews that don’t go into circulation. And on the opposite side of West Virginia Avenue, you’ll have a view of a cemetery, which is great for pondering your own mortality as you imbibe your liquid poison.
Verdict: Beer Garden
The tradition of German biergartens began when brewers started to plant grass above their cellars, so that it would be cool enough underground for their beer to ferment. So it’s funny that the first dedicated biergarten on our list, and one of the more beloved in our area, is kind of just covered in dirt. While Bardo is just a big brown lot, there are so many other touches of ambience and atmosphere that lend to that spirit of Gemütlichkeit. You’re free to bring your pups (both human and canine), and the row of bike racks add a neighborly charm to the space. Throw in the stump tables, metal fermenters and brew kettles, and the post-apocalyptic beer can skull that we’ve all probably seen, and you’ll definitely find yourself in that spirit. The only thing missing is the Bavarian beer, because it’s usually local craft over here.
Thankfully our next offering picks up the slack on the German beverage front, with no less than a dozen options on tap. Is this the most authentic biergarten in D.C.? I can’t speak toward that; I’ve never been to Germany. Oh, and if you think that’s a knock on my credibility here, you can leave. Your semester abroad or that month-long backpacking trip don’t make you European, bruh. You’re just the worst.
It wouldn’t, however, be difficult to argue that this H Street staple is the most iconic or the most renowned in our city. When the term beer garden is thrown around, this is always the first that springs to mind. The old-world charm is reflected in the rustic interior bar, and the thick, sturdy wooden tables and seats that line the outside patio. These aren’t your lazy, plywood picnic tables. They’re hearty and firm like the liters of doppelbock you’ll consume on them. The spot is also great for sports, particularly soccer, and they serve great wursts. Be advised, though, you’ll want to stay for a while, and at the end your check will likely make you cringe.
From our best German facsimile to one almost entirely unrelated, Bluejacket is a non-traditional add to the list, but we’ve included it thanks to an incredibly cozy, seat-yourself front patio. There are tables for big groups, including a large circular cabana-type booth, but good luck grabbing a seat the day of a Nats game.
Akin to the German fervor for beer brewing, Bluejacket also exudes a pride for the craft. So many crafts. 20+ in-house brewed craft beers at any point, including collaborations and cask ales. A lot of good summery sours were in the last time I showed up, including a visually pleasing strawberry-rhubard Berliner weisse called “The Jam”.
I’d recommend bothering your server into helping you play a tasting game like one I engaged in here. Have them bring out 10 (or 20) flight pours of unique beers, numbered 1 through __. Your group tastes them all while referring to the draft list, and everyone whips out their notepad app to log a guess for each number. At the end, have the server tell you which beers correspond to which number, and find out which of your friends has the best beer palate. Then tip your server very well, because you’ve been very annoying and needy.
Verdict: Beer Garden
Situated on the Capital Riverfront, at the south end of Barracks Row, this opened garden boasts 40 taps: all the German plus a bevvy of notable craft brews. The exterior seems pretty austere, with rows of long picnic tables and bench seats. But the neat location, the one liter beer steins, and sprawling Hofbrau umbrellas to block out direct sunlight mean that this could become a great spot to raise a glass in Southeast.
A spot on The Hill with not a ton of outdoor patio seating, but with a firm dedication to the artisanal and aesthetic aspects of Germany. There’s a seasonally updated German menu, the necessary staples like some delicious Jægerschnitzel, and a robust German wine selection to complement your traditional Franziskaner and Warsteiner brews. The interior dining rooms are decorated with German watercolors that lend to the vibe.
This brand new, outdoor only pop-up opened June 17 in the big plaza at 2100 M St, where they host fitness events and other things. It’s only 100 seats and is situated in the cobbles of a big eyesore of an office building, but the team running this one has the experience to put together a winner. The folks behind ChurchKey and Bluejacket, The Neighborhood Restaurant Group, promise to bring rare craft brews that we don’t see usually see in the District. A Red Apron food truck provides the main munchies, though other trucks may likewise congregate. It’s open Wednesday through Friday, 4 to 10 p.m., and Saturday noon to 10 p.m.
Verdict: Beer Garden
One of D.C.’s most beloved biergartens that really needs no introduction. Neighboring the BYT office in Shaw, Dacha’s become one of the best spots for outdoor drinking in the three years they’ve been on the block. A recent addition is the Wednesday Dacha Beer Club, a rewards system and meet-up where a new and rare brew is profiled each week. A welcoming atmosphere, situated amid the neighborhood row houses versus the busier north-south streets, means Dacha is good for anyone at any time.
All the way up Georgia Avenue and just past the D.C. line in Silver Spring, Denizen’s Brewing Co. offers a sprawling outdoor beer garden that’s open seven days a week. With an even more expansive patio than the one sported by fellow local brewer Atlas, there are 200 seats with room for your dogs, too. Recurring events like trivia and a Wednesday movie night add some flavor to their weekly repertoire.
Verdict: Beer Garden
For the daily 14th Street on-foot traveler, Garden District is an ineluctable establishment. The open gates along the street always seem to prompt patrons to stop in for a quick boot, assuming that there are any available seats. Modest in size but big on an inviting sense of camaraderie, you’ll usually find splitting a picnic table here to be not so bad! Beer dads seem to love this place, too, as I always seem to find a stroller or two pulled up. The grub menu features German bites, sammies and pretzels alongside a delectable grilled cheese.
1) The Petworrth beer garden was founded by a few former co-owners of the beloved Kangaroo Boxing Club.
2) With 20 picnic tables (plus more standing tables) outside and a 70-foot bar inside, it’s fucking big. Both the inside and the outside could stand on their own. Combining them? Even better.
3) The bar has 14 taps, and the beer selection is fantastic. You can expect a mix of local guys (usually Hellbender, 3 Stars, and Denizens) and some German classics, plus some choice out-of-state #craftbeer. Like, they have Prairie’s Standard and Perennial’s Glitter & Gold currently. Why are you not drinking there right now?
4) It’s dog friendly AF.
If you’re not exactly sure what you want, Millies is a great place to get a little bit of everything. Want some tacos? Quesadillas? Maryland style seafood? New England style seafood? They’ve got it all. Moving to the drinks side of things, their menu has a variety of macro and micro brews on tap, as well as in the can. If you want to stick with German styles, there isn’t much to choose from, but they do have Groove City Hefeweizen. If you need a break from beer, take a look at their full service cocktail menu (including frozen drinks) or walk to the other side of the patio and you’ll even spy a takeout ice cream window. Worried about space? their huge outdoor seating area means there will be plenty of room for all of your friends and loved ones. If it wasn’t so damn far away, I’d go there more often. -Kaylee Dugan
Verdict: Beer Garden
An Italian iteration of these German gathering spaces can be found just outside the city in Bethesda. It’s right next to the Bethesda metro stop, which is good. It only offers canned beers, which is almost irredeemably bad. Still, I’m not going to rule it out immediately. It’s a dedicated outdoor-only space with lighter fare like calamari and Italian cold cuts. If you happen to hop off the metro here, a quick pop-in might be advantageous.
Verdict: Beer Garden
The Adams Morgan establishment boasts a rooftop patio that remains relatively temperate and shaded even as the heat swells, which is great for a daytime stop to enjoy a beverage outside. This isn’t a garden by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s usually welcome respite from the post-grad hellholes that pervade the 18th Street strip. We’ll take it.
Verdict: Beer Garden
Another rooftop option, this one in Dupont, brings us back toward Bavaria with beers in boots. This Hofbrau haven unfortunately features a douche factor that can definitely exceed acceptable levels during the evening. It’s also not so much of an outdoor establishment, so we use the term garten loosely here. You won’t get to take in the sun, but any place you can get a good dunkel ought to be on the list, right?
Verdict: Biergarten, minus the Gemütlichkeit
This newish addition to Shaw is yet another rooftop beer garden, but with a decidedly more open-air vibe than Sauf Haus. They’ve been doing really well so far, and I chalk it up to a fairly impressive craft beer list and a beautiful interior dining area. You can see what I mean here. They used to throttle the rooftop, keeping patrons downstairs even when capacity hadn’t been reached, to keep some sort of comfortable ambience up there. It probably didn’t work, and they don’t seem to be doing it anymore, thankfully. On the top level, large glass doors open to a balcony adorned with small tables. Even with that ventilation, it somehow manages to be sweltering up there, so bear that in mind on particularly hot days.
Verdict: Beer Garden
Virginia sneaks into the tail end of our list with a cozy little Arlington establishment enclosed by a picket fence and shaded by a large tree in the center of the garden. They have an in-haus butcher shop and the menu offerings include a vast selection of their own steaks and cured meats. After you enjoy a meal on the patio, you can stop into their market and peruse their selection of over 1,000 beers.
Remember when American Ice Company was the only bar like it near U (We’ve had multiple discussions on whether or not to include American Ice Company on this list and we’re sticking with no but we can’t tell you exactly why, I guess it’s a feeling?)? Not anymore. Wet Dog Tavern, conveniently located on the corner of Florida, Vermont and V St NW, is large enough for your very large birthday party/happy hour needs. It feels big and open and comfortable. It definitely belongs on this list. Still thinking about including American Ice Company. -Brandon Wetherbee
The NoMa pop-up biergarten returns to the same gravel pit location as last year. Our friends at REI did a great job curating the space last year. Umbrellaed picnic tables abound, and there’s ample space for the multiple rows of cornhole and my personal favorite outdoor beer game Kan-Jam. Wunder Garten also plays host to an array of specialty events that usually sound really awesome. Last year there was an Oktoberfest celebration, pumpkin carving, and a battle of the beers. They’re working hard on an opening to come some time in July.