Denson’s Liquor Bar is one of D.C.’s best-hidden gems and an anchor of the city’s fledgling beverage scene. The art-deco-infused, old-school feel of the space gives us all the ’20s vibes and is the perfect place to enjoy a classic cocktail and delicious bites.
OUR ARTICLEBY: Andrew Williams Contributing writer
District’s beverage scene has exploded in recent years, with top-notch cocktail bars popping up in every corner of the city. And why not? D.C’s reputation as the nation’s seat of power short changes the myriad ways it’s evolved beyond the spotlight of the political arena — even in the midst of a pandemic.
And as we’ve said time and again, CYTIES balances spotlighting the shiny, new, and funky joints with celebrating the O.G.’s of any metropolis’ cocktail culture. We’re bleeding heart believers of tradition.
So why all the build-up? Because places like Chinatown’s ‘20’s-inspired Denson Liquor Bar, a local staple since opening in 2014, remind us that conventional will always be fashionable and seamlessly co-exists alongside the new kids on the block.
You’d easily miss Denson’s even if you’re looking for it. It’s accessed via a steep descent down an inconspicuous staircase that’s tucked just around a corner — blocks away from D.C’s National Mall; the location of its most prominent monuments and historical sites.
Behind its opaque glass doors is where the magic happens. Low lighting, booths of plush leather, round wooden stools, walls of exposed brick, handsome black and white hexagonal tile, an expensive liquor collection, and intimate corners set the mood in the art-deco-styled space.
The exemplary service and elevated menu of small plates, nibbles, and old-school drinks are scattered with pleasing options perfect for casual drop-ins, pre-or-post dinner rendezvous, or regulars.
From the food menu, we recommend the Deviled Eggs, infused with mouthwatering white truffle oil, dijon, and chives. And from the cocktail list: the Kali Connection and Devil’s Fruit.
The Kali Connection combines a balanced mix of Cimarron Blanco Tequila, Hibiscus-Ancho Chile Syrup, lemon, and plum bitters. It’s refreshing with a spicy finish. The Devil’s Fruit showcases a melange of Peloton de la Muerte Mezcal, Cynar, Crème de Mure, honey, and lime. It’s dark fruit, tempered smoke, and a hint of bitterness. You can’t go wrong with either option, assuming you don’t decide to indulge in both picks.
Beyond the decor and satisfying menu, we love the vibe of this place. The light pouring in from the street-facing windows adds an ethereal and cinematic quality to the experience. It’s the sort of place you’d find in a James Bond movie or an episode of Mad Men, where secrets are whispered, far away from the ears, eyes, and ruckus of the city. Bring a date, plan a gentleman’s night on the town or meet a friend (like we did) for a long-overdue catch-up.
Needless to say, this place gets our stamp of approval. We’re proud to encourage the ramblers, adventurers, and curious seekers that CYTIES champion to explore the corners of any city and this is a must-see spot. There’s plenty of time to get satiated on beer, booze, and the occasional burger at large establishments. But, sometimes it’s good to slow down and escape. This hidden gem is ideal for getting lost in a good drink and good company. As Denson’s says: stay thirsty.
Definitely try the classic grilled cheese. With Tillamook cheddar and gruyère on fig jam on ciabatta, it’s gooey and mouthwatering.
We didn’t have the pleasure of trying it but the Violet of the Valley cocktail sounds amazing, especially if you’re a gin drinker.
The bar is caddy-corner to the National Building Museum, a favorite location for architecture enthusiasts that boasts great green space, perfect for lounging.
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