by Peggy Kearns & Darcy Courteau
Capitol Hill is the epicenter of politics and power in DC. The Capitol, Senate and House buildings, Supreme Court and Library of Congress are located in this famous (or infamous, depending on whom you ask) neighborhood. Democrats and Republicans have wheeled and dealed and wined and dined their way through this area for years.
But the Hill has another side filled with lively parks, gorgeous homes and great dining and nightlife. This neighborhood, rich in history, has also seen a great deal of change in the last few years. With the exodus of interns and dwindling number of tourists, now is the perfect time to revisit the Hill’s long-standing establishments and check out some of its new hot spots.
Centrally-located and spanning Northeast and Southeast DC, the Hill is easily accessible from all parts of the metropolitan region. And its myriad array of bars and restaurants appeals to all walks of DC life—from politicos to hipsters to staffers to foodies. And, though you will still hear a political debate now and then, the eclectic new places and faces on the Hill create new sources of conversation.
The next time you’re near the neighborhood, heading to a Nats or D.C. United game or Eastern Market check out a few of these new spots or old favorites.
If it’s a romantic evening you’re after, Bistro Cacao is just the place. Enjoy French-inspired, skillfully-prepared cuisine, a great wine list, and sumptuous desserts. The décor is equally as decadent and romantic—rich fabrics, exquisite artwork and even private “booths” with cushioned seats and thick red drapes for privacy while you dine. An added bonus: the ultra-friendly service. This gem is close to the Capitol and Union Station and described as “old-style Hill venue meets new-style French cuisine.”
Bistro Cacao: 320 Massachusetts Ave. NW; 202-546-4737; www.bistrocacao.com.
Seventh Hill Pizza
DC’s lack of a “little Italy”-type neighborhood has caused many in this area to bemoan the quality of its pizza. However, Seventh Hill Pizza has people buzzing with its impression. This pizza spot, located near Eastern Market, won the title of “DC’s best pizza” this year from the City Paper. Also serving fresh sandwiches and salads, this place is a popular area lunch spot. Its outdoor patio, indoor bar, and beer and wine service make it a great after-work dinner spot as well.
Seventh Hill Pizza: 327 7th St. SE; 202-544-1911; www.montmartredc.com/seventhhill.
The owners of the beloved local mini-chain Matchbox are also the brains behind Ted’s Bulletin. This restaurant is family-friendly with its great kids menu, casual-style dining and home-made pop tarts. Yet there are things for us older “kids” to enjoy as well: alcohol-infused “Adult Milkshakes” like the “Dirty Girl Scout” and “Twisted Coconut.”
Ted’s Bulletin: 505 8th St. SE; 202-544-8337; www.tedsbulletin.com.
The owners of two other 8th Street spots, Matchbox and Ted’s Bulletin, opened this “hot dog joint” last fall. With the current burger craze going on in the DC-area, this eatery is an unusual, but welcome, treat. Choose one of the many types of dogs like the more traditional “NY Coney” or “NYC Street Vendor.” Experiment with the “Bay Bridge Pretzel dog,” with its pretzel bun and homemade crab dip or the “California Left Winger,” an all-veggie falafel dog with tzatziki sauce and avocado. French fries, fried pickles, soft serve and cotton candy round out the menu for a fun and unique dining experience.
DC-3 Dogs: 423 8th St. SE; 202-546-1935; www.eatdc3.com.
Senart’s Oyster and Chop House
Though technically only open since April, Senart’s has a long-standing history on 8th Street. In the same building, between 1913 and 1939, the Senart family lived upstairs and served fresh oysters downstairs. Indeed, you’ll feel transported back in time with the rich wood and marble décor and old black and white DC photographs by A. Aubrey Bodine who worked for The Baltimore Sun from 1920—1970. The commitment to freshness remains as the bar serves up only the finest oysters, lobster, shrimp, and clams. Join them for their daily Raw Bar happy hour and see for yourself.
Senart’s Oyster and Chop House: 520 8th St. SE; 202-544-1168; www.senartsdc.com.
Described as “a little bit of Brussels on the Hill,” Belga has a seemingly endless list of Belgian and other international beers. But, this café also boasts an impressive wine list, creative cocktails such as the “Obama Poma” (a Tequila and pomegranate juice concoction), as well as delicious mussels, frites, waffles and other fare. There always seems to be a special beer tasting or dinner going on and they do a fantastic weekend brunch. What makes this place even sweeter? Their half-price Belgian drafts happy hour.
Belga Café: 514 8th St. SE; 202-544-0100; www.belgacafe.com.
Sharing the same owner as Senart’s (as well as Chesapeake House and Lola’s), Molly Malone’s also has a warm, welcoming décor of old wood and photographs and paintings on the walls. Not just your average Irish pub, Molly’s beer list contains the usual Irish suspects: Guinness, Smithwick’s, and Harp as well as a plethora of American craft beers. The food, music, and sporting events on the TV are both Irish- and American- inspired as well. And don’t forget DC’s favorite sporting events—political speeches and debates. Crowds gather just as eagerly to watch those on the many flat screen TVs.
Molly Malone’s: 713 8th St. SE; 202-547-1222; www.mollymalonescapitolhillsaloon.com.
This Hill staple is as traditional as an Irish pub can get and is located close to Union Station. There is a restaurant area for dining on favorites such as fish and chips and shepherd’s pie as well as an inviting bar area with live Irish music seven nights a week. The dark wood and stained glass décor transport you to Ireland, and the Guinness posters and photos of Irish literary greats add even more charm. With such a focus on creating an authentic Irish experience for patrons, it’s no wonder the Dubliner’s been going strong since 1974.
Dubliner: 520 N Capitol St. NW; 202-737-3773; www.dublinerdc.com.
Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar
This wine bar was a pioneer of the DC wine scene, which was just getting “legs” when Sonoma opened six years ago. It’s located near some of the more staffer-happy pubs and bars on the Hill, yet its sleek wine bar décor and sophisticated menu set it apart. Foodies enjoy the California-inspired cuisine with local, organic ingredients. This is a spot for wine lovers, for sure. But, with a happy hour in the upstairs bar Tuesdays-Saturdays with $5 glasses of wine, it’s accessible to non-connoisseurs as well.
Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar: 223 Pennsylvania Ave. SE; 202-544-8088; www.sonomadc.com.
Another spot for foodies, as well as the environmentally-conscious, is Zest Bistro. The interior is minimalist with about a dozen tables—more on the patio in nice weather—and a bar, which seats about ten or so. The open-kitchen concept allows you to sneak a peek at the chefs creating your tasty meal in this modern American bistro. Zest prides itself on being “green” with recycled wood used for the tables and bar, a sustainable bamboo floor, non-toxic paint and highly energy-efficient appliances.
Zest Bistro: 735 8th St. SE; 202-544-7171; www.zestbistro.com.
Want to watch a game, head out on a date or just kick back and relax? The Hill has something for anyone.
319 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; 202-546-7782; pourhouse-dc.com
With three bars, this sports tavern is the go-to spot on game day. A room outfitted with old favorites like darts and Skeeball as well as the latest Wii appeals to seasoned Hill-ites and interns alike. Drink specials, including beer buckets and mixed drink pitchers, complete the “this-is-where-we-gather” vibe.Union Pub
201 Massachusetts Ave. NE, DC; 202-546-7200; unionpubdc.com
An unapologetic sports focus ensures fans are never far from a hi-def TV or plates filled with booze-mopping sandwiches and pizza (or—in case you care—a smattering of greens). Each day of the week features a drink special and, for those with nothing to prove, plenty of fruit-flavored cocktails for sipping on the patio.
Acqua al 2
212 7th St. SE, DC; 202-525-4375; acquaal2dc.com
Diners looking for real Italian rave about this restaurant, a sister to the Florence original. Taste contemporary Tuscany in pastas paired with everything from green peppercorns to pumpkin, or in the balsamic-glazed steaks. Antipastos and house-made desserts put the polish on any meal.
633 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; 202-547-1787; babaydc.com
Vietnamese cuisine shows a little skin in this reimagining of grandma’s favorites. You might not find tamarind trout or baby Amish chicken with coconut rice in Southeast Asia, but you will in Southeast DC—finished with a lemongrass pot de crème or pineapple compote. A streamlined drinks menu showcases sturdy, vintage-chic cocktails that even Don Draper might approve of.
201 Massachusetts Ave. NE, DC; 202-544-5201; lounge201.com
With its sleek décor and classic cocktails, Lounge 201 brings a whiff of Manhattan to DC. Tuesday through Friday the bar is open to the public with revolving happy-hour specials; half-priced martini Tuesdays and wine Wednesdays run all night. Weekends and Mondays are open for private bookings only.
1432 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; 202-543-2323; dcwisdom.com
Nurse your inner 19th-century French poet with absinthe- and Pernod-spiked cocktails while lounging in sexy New Orleans-worthy décor, all velvet and exposed brick. Handcrafted mocktails for AA alumni, an off-the-beaten-track wine list and solid whiskey selection round out a comprehensive drinks menu. Not to be missed: super-premium gin happy hours ($5).
Schneider’s of Capitol Hill
300 Massachusetts Ave. NE, DC; 202-543-9300; cellar.com
Attempting dinner for your sweetheart? At least you’ll know the wine will turn out right after a stop at Schneider’s, a Hill institution jammed with hard-to-find wines and supplies for the aspiring mixologist. For those who don’t know their cabernets from a hole in the ground, expert staff will provide a quick tutorial without embarrassment.
231 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; 202-547-2098; capitolloungedc.com
Another three-in-one, the Cap wears its political antecedents proudly with rooms named after Kennedy and Nixon in addition to the fittingly-monikered basement bar, Losers Lounge. Throwback pub fare immune to trends feature a spicy sloppy joe and house-made corned beef Reuben.
Kelly’s Irish Times
14 F St. NW; 202-543-5433; www.kellysirishtimesdc.com.
Is your personal Jameson barometer running low? It’s St. Pat’s all year at Kelly’s Irish Times. But just don’t drink like the Irish—sing, dance and play like the Irish in the downstairs Wreck Room or stay upstairs for traditional Irish music seven days a week. Enjoy their outdoor patio right next to the metro. Oh the shenanigans! This place is legendary.
601 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; 202-546-6886; mrhenrysrestaurant.com
For a reminder that DC isn’t all marble monuments and power lunches, step into Mr. Henry’s, whose eponymous founder once hired then-unknown singer, Roberta Flack, to entertain.
613 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; 202-543-3622; 18thdc.com
A spacious Art Deco upstairs decked out with wooden bar and red velvet couches brings back the ‘20s. Extroverts flock to open mic, trivia and karaoke nights, while introverts find refuge in a second, speakeasy-style “Keyhole” bar downstairs. Refined pub fare, a late-night menu and happy hours featuring $5 glasses of wine has everyone toasting the end of Prohibition.
303 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; 202-543-8222; goodstuffeatery.com
The French-trained chef at the heart of this family operation wants Hillfolk to eat well and cheap. Farm-raised beef burgers sporting toppings of onion marmalade and Roquefort or Thai-style basil and daikon, all under $7, mean you can afford dessert: homemade ice cream.
1025 1st St. SE, DC; 202-652-1009; justinscafe.com
Sidle up to the marble-topped bar for a curated selection of mid-Atlantic crafts brews as well as some unusual out-of-states, plus wines by the glass. Artisanal salads, sandwiches, pizzas and weekend brunches with offbeat ingredients like chorizo and bison are democratically priced, as is the progressive happy hour—best deals go to early birds, but stragglers also get discounts.
201 F St. NE; 202-558-6900; www.ebenezerscoffeehouse.com.
This hidden gem near Union Station is a destination for “Fair Trade” coffee lovers and good lunch eats. On most Thursday and Friday nights acoustic acts, spoken word, poetry and live bands filter into the lower level space. Owned by the National Community Church, all profits go toward their outreach projects at home and abroad, so you’re not just supporting you caffeine habit, you might also be putting shoes on a child in Ethiopia or feeding the homeless!
1420 Pennsylvania Ave. SE, DC; 202-547-1010; trustysdc.com
Aunt Ethel called them your bosom friends. You call ’em your girls, your boys, your homies—whoever they are, Trusty’s is the place to go with the inner circle, or at least those of your fellow man who get your need for a late-night grilled cheese or half smoke. A no-frills beer menu manages to have something for everyone in the posse.