By Elana Schor - 08/05/09 07:05 PM EDT
The city’s most popular al fresco destinations roll off the tongue of new arrivals: Local 16 and the Reef have rooftops that were made for after-work cocktails, while Perry’s rules the brunching scene and Marvin has the market cornered on weekend nights. For those seeking a less trafficked summer veranda, without waits of an hour-plus, what follows is a highlight reel of the best diamonds in the rough.
10. L’Enfant Café
2000 18th St. NW. (202) 319-1800.
9. Fox & Hounds
1537 17th St. NW. (202) 232-6307.
How did the patio lounge sibling of the dated Trio diner come to host Dupont’s foremost hipster happy hour? Three words: low, low prices. Mixed drinks run as low as $5 for a generous glass of liquor and a bottle of soda or juice on the side, allowing you to play bartender. Yet dive-bar credibility requires something extra, and Fox & Hounds delivers with servers who are sassy enough to mingle (perhaps for longer than you might prefer).
8. Restaurant 3
2950 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington
Northern Virginia has no shortage of roomy patios for al fresco aficionados, but most of them come with fare fit for an airplane or frat party. Here you’ll find no reheated mozzarella sticks or stale Miller Lite; the side deck is a perfect stage for seared tuna salad and one of 70-plus microbrews that run the gamut from fragrant hefeweizens to beefy pilsners. The patio, which still hosts Hawaiian accessories from 3’s past life as Mama Quan’s Tiki Hut, is engaging despite its small size.
7. The Argonaut
1430 Maryland Ave. NE.
Capitol Hill denizens know H Street NE as the raucous nightlife playground of Joe Englert, creator of the Rock & Roll Hotel and the Palace of Wonders. At the far end of the frantic strip, however, lies a quirky rec-room of a pub with locally sourced dishes that has quietly built a huge following. The Argonaut’s inviting patio is cordoned off by pieces of wrought-iron gate that keep leashed dogs from running off while their owners tuck into sweet-potato fries and grilled andouille sausage.
555 8th St. NW. (202) 783-6060
Chef Rob Weland’s refined New American cooking too often plays local second fiddle to Jose Andres’s downtown empire, but Weland one-ups his rival by making the most of a luxurious courtyard garden. Parties of six or more can book “Poste Roasts,” where the toque spit-roasts local meats and freshly harvested side dishes at a massive chef’s table amid the greenery. The roast fee is a reasonable $27 per person, though those less in the mood for an open-air banquet can feast their eyes on the garden’s splendor at any number of adjoining tables.
5. Straits of Malaya
1836 18th St. NW. (202) 483-1483
This family-style spot has been an under-the-radar neighborhood favorite since the 1990s, riding out the Asian fusion craze on the strength of its homey ambience, attentive service and charming rooftop.
The unpretentious romance of a dimly lit outdoor table turns Malaya’s plummy poh pia chicken and blazing noodle soup into surprising summer comfort foods, especially when washed down with a bottle of Tiger beer or a fruity Singapore Sling. But the best feature of all is the rooftop’s vantage point on the overrated hysteria that is Lauriol Plaza, across the street. Breathe deeply, kick back and be glad you’re not still waiting for a burrito.
1836 Park Rd. NW. (202) 506-1402
This brick-oven pizza palace is actually a converted townhouse, and its side deck maintains the friendly vibe of a backyard potluck. Even those who can’t abide the thought of hot dough on a humid evening are guaranteed to enjoy the marinated olives and burrata mozzarella with crusty homemade bread. Extra points are earned for affordable $5 pints of Smuttynose and Brooklyn Lager.
3. The Quarterdeck
1200 Fort Myer Dr., Arlington, (703) 528-2722.
The view isn’t much, but odds are that won’t matter after your first whack at the steamed Chesapeake blue crabs that are the house specialty here.
The all-you-can-eat special, served to groups outdoors at a long wooden picnic table covered in newspaper, is the area’s quintessential summer experience. Just make sure to call ahead, and don’t wear any clothes that you won’t mind covering in spiced, salty, lip-smacking goodness.
2. The Iron Gate
1734 N St. NW #2. (202) 737-1370
Just a few doors down from the famous — and jam-packed — back garden at the Tabard Inn lies this hidden gem, where exposed brick walls and a curved white archway two stories high transport visitors to the set of a Hitchcock drama.
1. The Gibson
209 14th St. NW. (202) 232-2156
One could call this a speakeasy, as its unmarked door and classic cocktails suggest. But the Gibson is best viewed as haute cuisine in a glass, a laboratory for the city’s best sommeliers and bartenders to test new theories before a captivated audience.
The interior, all hush and dark wood, is poorly suited for a sociable night with friends, so it’s lucky that this unforgettable spot has a patio that can seat 50-plus.