A quiet drink for two

It’s one thing to find the hottest new bars, the places with buzz, to see and be seen.

But what if you don’t want to see or be seen? What you need is a place with character, but not so popular that you’ll find every Jared, Alex and Caitlyn in the city there.
Brooke Mcneely
Bartending at the Topaz Bar.

Hotel bars usually fit this bill best, not only in their more restrained nature, but also in the fact that they’re not going anywhere, even if they’re not packed with people every night.

Weeknights are your best bet — perhaps Valentine’s Day?

Here, we take a trip around the best places to go if you already know whom you’ll be buying the drink for.

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The theme of the Topaz Hotel is Zen, inner peace, tranquility and all of that. The Topaz Bar (1733 N St. N.W.), in the lobby, all done up in cool aqua colors and velvet curtains, echoes this theme. This is a happy-hour or late-night destination because patrons crowd around the half-moon bar at prime times. Get there early enough and stake out one of the secluded corner tables or, better yet, one of the plush, curtained booths.

While in the neighborhood, hit the Tabard Inn (1739 N St. N.W.) right next door, among the city’s best places for a nightcap and dessert. Amid the eclectic, Grandma’s-house-type d飯r, you’ll likely be sitting on an antique couch, your drinks perched on a coffee table in front of you. The place is so quiet, you feel compelled to whisper.

Down the hill and east on 15th Street, the year-old Palette at the Madison Hotel (1155 15th St. N.W.) teems with important-looking young people. Across the lobby, however, is the more traditional (and discreet) Postscript.

Not only is the hotel across the street from the Washington Post offices, but the hotel works with several embassies, so the bar is a convenient choice for diplomats who want to keep to themselves. Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was a guest of the Madison during President Reagan’s funeral, and Secret Service agents are a fixture here. With original, hand-signed documents from U.S. presidents on display, leather chairs and Federal blue on the walls, the place is clubby, especially if the male patrons become interested in the contents of the cigar humidor in the corner.

Speaking of clubby, over on 16th Street, the Jefferson Hotel (1200 16th St. N.W.) was President Bush’s in-town home before his first inauguration. The historic hotel’s best feature is perhaps the Jefferson Lounge, a bar that screams “clandestine.”

Tucked in a corner off of the lobby, the quiet, usually uncrowded lounge draws a slightly older clientele. Perhaps it’s the single-malt scotches and the Federal d飯r, but with the wood-burning fireplace going, you can’t beat it in the winter.

Down 16th to K Street, the wood-paneled and bookshelved Library Lounge in the St. Regis Hotel (923 16th St. N.W.) smacks of a university club, but the fireplace, discreet staff and well-heeled clientele make this a popular spot for romance. The high ceiling swallows up most of the conversation here, or at least renders it into an unintelligible din, and the low light keeps things covert. Just steer clear of the large windows.

Veering slightly west onto Connecticut Avenue brings one to the Mayflower Hotel (1127 Connecticut Ave. N.W.) and its historic Town & Country Bar. You have your pick of a host of banquettes, booths and other alcoves in the ornate room, as well as a drink menu that would make a phone book blush. The drinks are conceived (and if you’re lucky, mixed) by Sambon Lek, one of the city’s legendary barkeeps. Although expensive, the specialty drinks pack a wallop, with three shots each, which should drown out the sometimes-vanilla music from the piano player. Unless there’s a convention here, you’ll find a nice mix of professionals and couples getting down to business.

Heading toward Lafayette Park will run you smack into the Hay-Adams Hotel (800 16th St. N.W.) and its famous, underground Off the Record Bar. Given its location across the park from the White House, to say nothing of its name, you wouldn’t be surprised to see Bob Woodward talking up a source in the wood-and-red-velvet environs.

In fact, the hotel was where Republican fundraiser Carl Channell and Lt. Col. Oliver North first hatched the idea that blossomed into the Iran-contra scandal of the 1980s. And G. Gordon Liddy has said that this is where he discussed “whacking” columnist Jack Anderson with a CIA assassination expert.

Le Bar (806 15th St. N.W.) at the Sofitel hotel east on H Street is dark. What light emanates from the candles on the tables is swallowed up by the black furnishings (a nice change of pace from the ubiquitous dark woods at most downtown hotels). The floor (black) is dotted with movable armchairs and small, low tables, which allow you to make your own space.

Blue Bar, in the Henley Park Hotel (926 Massachusetts Ave. N.W.), draws a sophisticated, older crowd, drawn perhaps by the opulent, Tudor-style d飯r and mellow, live jazz on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. On either side of the stage are rows of stainless-steel tables, hidden out of sight of the dining room, where patrons tuck themselves away to watch the musicians — or each other.