All words by Elsie Yang
We’ve needed a lot of wine to get through 2020 thus far, and are going to need a whole lot more to make it to the end of the year. Time is just a construct, we’ve learned, but it also passes very slowly. Luckily, there are plenty of delightful neighborhood haunts that are more than capable of helping you enjoy those hours in style and with delicious pours that will transport you out of Washington, D.C. in 2020 and into better times and faraway places.
Our favorite wine bars in DC have not just survived the pandemic, but are helping us thrive in the midst of the crisis. And with serene ambiance, eclectic wine lists, and yes, delicious food, it’s no wonder why these wine bars have neighborhood regulars so devoted that they actually order cases of wine from these establishments (thank goodness for supporting local business). Read on for some of our very favorite wine bars across D.C.
You’ll wish your living room were as posh as the space the team at The Eastern has curated. Whereas some wine bars can verge on the pretentious, nothing could be further from the truth at The Eastern, the wine bar in the heart of Capitol Hill run by the same team that brought you Barrel.
Under the direction of Sommelier Robert Morin, you’ll find a wide and ever-changing range of wines that hail from all over the world, and are presented in such a way that even the nascent wine drinkers (in terms of experience, not age) can find something they like. The menu is organized in plain English, with wines categorized under subtitles like, “If you like Adventure…” Don’t miss the Chateau Musar, the one wine that Morin won’t take off the menu because yes, it’s just that good.
And while you’ll come for the wine, you’ll undoubtedly stay longer than anticipated for the food. Chef Walfer Hernandez, who hails from Guatemala, brings his culinary prowess to The Eastern, and you’ll be snacking on much more than charcuterie. The scallops, lamb skewers, and pork sandwich with curry-spiced chips are not to be missed.
There may not be a better place to fall in love—with yourself, your date, or the restaurant—than Flight. Located in Chinatown, this romantic wine bar stays true to its name with award-winning flights of wine that allow diners to explore the world through wine. A James Beard Semifinalist for Outstanding Wine Program in 2020, Flight’s expansive wine list is carefully curated to satisfy the most discerning tastes, and cleverly named to amuse the most serious of diners.
As with The Eastern, the food at Flight does not play second fiddle to the drink program. With delicious bites like garlic butter shrimp, a crabcake sandwich, and delightful arancini, you’ll leave Flight full in every sense of the word.
It is difficult to find fault with La Jambe. The intimate wine bar is at once inviting and private — an oddly ideal combination in the times of the pandemic. Owner Anastasia Mori has brought her love of fine food, excellent wine, and her French flair to DC, and we are only too lucky to have her.
Mori opened La Jambe a few years ago as an homage to her home country, and she’s successfully transplanted a slice of Europe to Shaw. There’s a distinctly Parisian vibe to the beautiful cafe — and it manifests itself in more ways than the exclusively French wine list (which, by the way, is exquisite). Anastasia always highlights her favorite from the list (currently the E Prove Corscian Red Domain Maestracci 2013), but the sparkling rose is an excellent celebratory glass for any occasion.
Service is knowledgeable without being pushy, and the glasses of wine are generous and distinctive. But don’t miss out on the food at La Jambe (and be sure to order more than a cheese board). The shaved Brussels Sprouts salad is sharply flavored with lemon and Pecorino, and is an excellent starter alongside a surprising smoked tomato soup, which truly puts most other tomato soups to shame. Don’t miss the duck (otherwise known as the magret de canard) or the gnocchi when it’s available.
You can only wish that your living were as well stocked and chic as Slate. The wine bar is in the lower level of fine dining concept Xiquet (also worth a visit), and serves as your introduction to the home of Danny Lledo. The three-floor restaurant can be compared to a progressive dinner party. At Slate, you’ll have your first glass of wine (or really, glasses of wine) and some well-paired hor d’oeuvres. On the second floor, fashioned as a salon, you’ll place your order for dinner while reclining on a couch, and browse a reserve list of wines (and imbibe if you so choose). And finally, the third floor is where you’ll have your critically-acclaimed meal.
Of course, if you never make it up to the third floor, you’ll still have a hell of a time at Slate. An ever-changing menu highlights seasonal ingredients that pair excellently with one of the many wine flights that the Slate team has curated. Knowledgeable staff can help you explore a sizable-but-not-intimidating wine list, and thanks to the flight-based setup, you’ll be able to try several wines before deciding on your favorite. Oh, and during happy hour, small bites are complimentary with the order of any drink.
There are now two locations of Maxwell Park — one in Shaw and one in Navy Yard — and with any luck, there will soon be Maxwell Park locations across DC. It is abundantly clear that the team at this distinctly neighborhood-driven wine bar loves its craft, and is well-versed in a wide range of sometimes unusual wines that are offered in 2.5 ounces, 5 ounces, half bottles, and full bottles where available.
Skin contact (aka orange) wines are well-represented on Maxwell Park’s menus, and are neatly paired with a range of snacks that are designed specifically to go with certain wines. While the Shaw food menu is more expansive than that at Navy Yard, you certainly don’t have to leave either location hungry. Small and large bites alike are creative and delicious — try the arancini with a robust glass of red, or get a grilled cheese for an approachable main with your fancy sparkling wine. And if you buy a bottle to go, you’ll get 30% off.
If you’re in the Bloomingdale neighborhood of DC, it would be a mistake to go too long without paying a visit to Tyber Creek. With a romantic light-filled patio and a daily happy hour, it’s difficult to have a bad time at this local wine bar and restaurant. The sizable menu bears Mediterranean influences, laid bare by shared plates like lemon rosemary hummus with house made pita chips and crudite, as well as wood fired halloumi, which makes fantastic use of the establishment’s famous wood-burning oven. But the main stars of said oven are the flatbreads, which are offered for $4 off during happy hour (between 3 and 5pm). My personal favorite is the seasonal fall offering, topped with roasted sweet potato, red onion, goat cheese, parmesan, balsamic glaze, and sage.
But lest you forget that Tyber Creek is, in fact, a wine bar, the restaurant offers a modest but interesting lineup of vino that includes your normal red, white, rose, and bubbly suspects, but also brings in beautiful Georgian amber wines as well. And to keep even regular patrons on their toes, Tyber Creek rotates their featured winery — for now, it’s Maison Noir, founded in 2007 by André Hueston Mack, the first Black man to be named the Best Young Sommelier in America. Now a winemaker in Oregon, Mack’s offerings are proudly showcased at Tyber Creek, where you can try a flight of wines for $25.