Photo: Rob Krupicka
Photo: Rob Krupicka

Cocktail Countdown: DC’s Ultimate Advent Calendar

Advent calendars with chocolates are so yesterday. It’s time to take the calendar off the wall and drink your daily celebration of the season. What follows is admittedly an idiosyncratic Advent calendar crawl – this is not a “best of” or “most trendy” list, and very certainly not a “longest lines” list. This is just our favorite cross-section of the joys of DC holiday drinking: a kaleidoscope of neighborhoods, a riot of different liquors, and lots of allspice and cream and eggs – with a few champagne cocktails thrown in to keep the palate fresh.


DECEMBER 1

Bourbon Steak (Photo - Bourbon Steak)

Photo: Bourbon Steak

Bourbon Steak
Start your Advent calendar at Bourbon Steak, because nothing says “holiday” like eggnog (which has no calories during the month of December). Lead bartender Torrence Swain presents his reboot: Egg Grog 2.0, featuring heavy cream, brown sugar, cane syrup, organic eggs, rum, cognac and bourbon. It is served in a replica of the famous moose-shaped glass (with extra wide antlers!) used by Clark Griswold in National Lampoon’s 1989 comedy Christmas VacationBourbon Steak: 2800 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, DC; www.bourbonsteakdc.com

DECEMBER 2

Gin Joint (Photo - Magnus Jonasson)

Photo: Magnus Jonasson

Gin Joint
Cut the eggnog richness with a G&T. Gin Joint’s official claim to fame is an epic collection of gins; the real reason to go is the selection of delightful house-made tonics. The rosemary-allspice tonic is redolent of the holidays, but pick your favorite and consult the bartender’s expertise for which gin will match best. Gin Joint: 2317 Calvert St. NW, DC; www.newheightsrestaurant.com

DECEMBER 3

Photo: www.facebook.com/TheRiggsby/

Photo: www.facebook.com/TheRiggsby

The Riggsby
Walk through the glamorous, keyhole-shaped doorway to a bar bathed in emerald and leather and wood – it feels festive the moment you step in. Go during happy hour and order a champagne cocktail (champagne, sugar cube soaked in angostura), which is the embodiment of crisp holiday glamor. The Riggsby: 1731 New Hampshire Ave. NW, DC; www.theriggsby.com

DECEMBER 4

Photo: Aubrie Pick

Photo: Aubrie Pick

Dirty Habit
Take a stroll through the Downtown Holiday Market, then cross the street to Dirty Habit. Our cover drink is a Snake in the Grass (rum agricole blanc, pineapple gomme, amontillado, house orgeat, lemon and egg white, topped with a saffron sprig). Be careful: this smooth sipper packs a punch. If the bar is too crowded, remember that you can enjoy your drink in Hotel Monaco’s beautiful lobby. Dirty Habit: 555 8th St. NW, DC; www.dirtyhabitdc.com

DECEMBER 5

Photo: Jean Schindler

Photo: Jean Schindler

Co Co. Sala
Co Co. Sala is a classic, and the beautiful Co Cojito is the definition of holiday decadence: chocolate-infused vodka, fresh mint and limes, crowned with dark chocolate flakes. [Note: closed Mondays] Co Co. Sala: 929 F St. NW, DC; www.cocosala.com

DECEMBER 6

Photo: www.crimson-dc.com

Photo: www.crimson-dc.com

Crimson Whiskey Bar
Chinatown is drowning in corporate fast-casual, so it was great to see the trendy new Pod Hotel welcome local restauranteurs to open the Crimson series of restaurants in the building. The ground floor diner is cheerful and bright, but head downstairs to the cozier whiskey bar and order a Hillbilly on Holiday (moonshine, falernum, allspice dram). Crimson Whiskey Bar: 627 H St. NW, DC; www.crimson-dc.com/#whiskey-bar

DECEMBER 7

Photo: Patra Siriratpiriya

Photo: Patra Siriratpiriya

Espita Mezcalaria
Scotch might seem like an obvious winter tipple, but mix things up and try the scotch of tequila: mezcal. And you’re a third of the way through Advent – celebrate with a Los Olvidados (Espadin, aged cachaça, plum wine, allspice dram, Corazón bitters). Espita Mezcalaria: 1250 9th St. NW, DC; www.espitadc.com

DECEMBER 8

Photo: www.petworthcitizen.com

Photo: www.petworthcitizen.com

Petworth Citizen and Reading Room
Chantal Tseng spends her weekends translating great literature into great beverages. Inspired by a chosen book or author, Tseng sets up in the Reading Room on Fridays and Saturdays and churns out cocktails full of tributes, humor and literary references. On December 7-8, she’ll celebrate DC’s first ever Aquavit Week. Jacob Grier, who founded the celebration, will collaborate on a menu inspired by Hans Christian Andersen. Petworth Citizen and Reading Room: 829 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.petworthcitizen.com

DECEMBER 9

Photo: Jean Schindler

Photo: Jean Schindler

Maxwell Park
The featured wine list here changes every month, and December is all about the blends. Close your eyes and point to something on the menu (every wine is carefully chosen, so you can’t go wrong) – or go rogue in a wine bar and order a cocktail. The Samuelsson (salted peanut-infused rum, dill, lemon) will leave your taste buds wide awake. Sometimes, you need a break from sugar and spice to really appreciate it. Maxwell Park: 1336 9th St. NW, DC; www.maxwelldcwine.com

DECEMBER 10

Photo: Rob Krupicka

Photo: Rob Krupicka

Nocturne 
The best cocktail bars these days are concealed in doughnut shops. You think that’s a service door? It’s not. Call ahead to make sure you can get a seat (there are only 17), and once you’re there, start your three-drink tasting menu experience with a Waffle House Index (whiskey, pecan, vanilla, orange, maple, cream). After that, you’re on your own. [Note: closed Mondays] Nocturne: 1932 9th St. NW, DC; www.nocturnebar.com

DECEMBER 11

Photo: www.facebook.com/servicebardc

Photo: www.facebook.com/servicebardc

Service Bar
Everyone focuses on how affordable Service Bar is – but it also has one of the most playful and creative menus in DC. Try to visit on the earlier side, as the small space gets packed. Your Advent treat: the rich, library-scented Leather-Aged Rare Breed (Wild Turkey Rare breed, Javanese long pepper, coffee beans, tobacco, vanilla, Drambuie, absinthe – aged in leather). Service Bar: 926-928 U St. NW, DC; www.servicebardc.com

DECEMBER 12

Photo: www.facebook.com/ANXOcider

Photo: www.facebook.com/ANXOcider

Anxo Cidery & Pintxos Bar
Anxo is ground zero of a cider revolution. In addition to becoming a global mecca for other producers to showcase their wares, Anxo can barely keep their own product in stock. Order the Anxo Flight and experience the bracing dryness of apples in all their alcoholic glory. Anxo Cidery & Pintxos Bar: 300 Florida Ave. NW, DC; www.anxodc.com

DECEMBER 13

Photo: Rey Lopez

Photo: Rey Lopez

Hank’s Cocktail Bar
Star bartender Jess Weinstein is unveiling a new holiday cocktail every night December 1-24, and drinkers who get through 12 of them will get a special surprise (ask for the loyalist card on your first Advent visit). We are particularly excited about the Hanukkah shout-out It’s a Membership to the Jelly of the Month Club (plum preserves, allspice, gin, rum, cinnamon, walnut bitters). Hank’s Cocktail Bar: 819 Upshur St. NW, DC; www.hankscocktailbar.com

DECEMBER 14

Photo: www.cottonandreed.com

Photo: www.cottonandreed.com

Cotton & Reed
Rum is such a quintessential holiday drink, possibly because it’s basically made from sugar (and goes so nice with spice). Visit DC’s first and favorite rum distillery, admire the fanciful metalwork on the bar and quaff the Two Step (spiced rum, allspice dram, Wild Turkey 101). Cotton & Reed: 1330 5th St. NE, DC; www.cottonandreed.com

DECEMBER 15

Photo: www.facebook.com/wundergartendc

Photo: www.facebook.com/wundergartendc

Wunder Garten
For the first half of the month, Wunder Garten will morph into a Christmas festival, complete with a tree lot and holiday crafts. Get your mulled wine, borrow a blanket and settle in at the fire pit. Wunder Garten: 1101 First St. NE, DC; www.wundergartendc.com

DECEMBER 16

Photo: Mindfulness Restaurants

Photo: Mindful Restaurant Group

Acqua al 2
This is where, IMHO, you will find some of the strongest and consistently best drinks in the district. The pours are generous, the flavors are sophisticated – and a Zucca Freda (bourbon, cardamaro, house-made pumpkin milk) sounds marvelous after a stroll through Eastern Market. Acqua al 2: 212 7th St. SE, DC; www.acquaal2.com

DECEMBER 17

Photo: Mindfulness Restaurants

Photo: Mindful Restaurant Group

Harold Black
Come back to Eastern Market, and go through the unmarked door next to Acqua al 2. Upstairs is an oasis of cocktail calm, where grownups can hear each other and the dim lights make everyone look beautiful. Step back from the holiday frenzy and reflect on the Tail Spin (scotch, bénédictine, spiced ginger syrup, lime, nutmeg, angostura bitters, egg white). [Note: closed Mondays] Harold Black: 212 7th St. SE, DC; www.haroldblackdc.com

DECEMBER 18

Photo: www.facebook.com/thesaltline

Photo: www.facebook.com/thesaltline

Salt Line
Bundle up and head to the waterfront, where you can order a thermos of hot toddy (TSL Woodford Reserve, chicory, rainwater madeira, lemon) or mulled cider (VSOP Brandy, mulling spices, organic apple cider), and sit outside at the new fire pit tables in Salt Line’s outdoor bar area. Salt Line: 79 Potomac Ave. SE, DC; www.thesaltline.com

DECEMBER 19

Photo: www.whiskeycharliewharf.com

Photo: www.whiskeycharliewharf.com

Whiskey Charlie
For the best views at the new Wharf, go to the top floor of the Hilton Canopy, where you will find Whiskey Charlie, named for the Washington Channel’s call sign (and not for any preponderance of brown beverages). Take in the holiday lights of the harbor, and enjoy a classic “Lil Cole” Dirty Martini (vodka, dry vermouth, olives). Whiskey Charlie at the Canopy: 975 7th St. SW, DC; www.whiskeycharliewharf.com

DECEMBER 20

Photo: www.facebook.com/unionstreetpublichouse

Photo: www.facebook.com/unionstreetpublichouse

1986 (inside Union Street Public House)
Stroll down King Street, and after you’ve taken in ye olde holiday atmosphere, go to the brand new whiskey emporium inside Union Street Public House – dubbed 1986, for the year the Public House opened – and order an Irish Brigade (vanilla-infused Jameson, cold brewed chamomile tea, Luxardo). 1986 – The Whiskey Bar: 121 South Union St. Alexandria, VA; www.unionstreetpublichouse.com

DECEMBER 21

Photo: Rob Krupicka

Photo: Rob Krupicka

Captain Gregory’s
Sugar Shack strikes again (see Nocturne above). Do your best to resist the siren scent of the best donuts around, and instead give the flag by the front door a tug – another door will slide open, revealing a gently-lit, sea faring-themed bar. Hopefully, you have a reservation – the walk-in seats go early and fast. Once you’re in, order the Mile-High Milk Punch (Copper & Kings American brandy, green chartreuse, cocoa nib, nutmeg). Captain Gregory’s: 804 N Henry St. Alexandria, VA; www.captaingregorys.com

DECEMBER 22

Photo: Copperwood Tavern

Photo: Copperwood Tavern

Copperwood Tavern
The charming Copperwood Tavern loves the holidays. The choice was difficult, and we’re torn between the What’s the Point-Settia (Belle Isle Moonshine, Saint Germaine, house cranberry coulis, bubbles) and the Flippin’ Ghord-Geous (Bulleit Bourbon, spiced pumpkin puree, maple-orange syrup, whole egg). #winning either way. Copperwood Tavern: 4021 Campbell Ave. Arlington, VA; www.copperwoodtavern.com

DECEMBER 23

Photo: Tigran Andronikovich Markaryan from Calypso Digital

Photo: Tigran Andronikovich Markaryan from Calypso Digital

Baba
The Advent calendar is nearly done. Visit the adorable coffee and cocktail lounge under Ambar in Clarendon and order the CPR (chamomile-infused rakia, lemon juice, pear puree, ginger syrup, Ambar bitters) to get you through to the finish line. Baba: 2901 Wilson Blvd. Arlington, VA; www.baba.bar

DECEMBER 24

Photo: Hay Adams

Photo: Hay Adams

Off the Record
Hot drinks are such a holiday mainstay – as are historic hotel bars that are open on Christmas Eve. They don’t get much more historic (or quintessentially Washington) than Off the Record, and they’re waiting to hand you a hot Gingersnap (blended Scotch, house-made gingersnap syrup, ginger tea, mint, cinnamon stick). That is, unless you prefer to celebrate the evening with the bar’s legendary nine-ounce Manhattan before you stroll past the White House Christmas tree. Off the Record: 800 16th St. NW, DC; www.hayadams.com/dining/off-the-record