June 29, 2017

Drink Like a Statesman at the Round Robin Bar in Washington, D.C.

Round Robin Bar in Washington, D.C.

photo by: Michael Kleinberg

The Round Robin Bar at the Willard InterContinental Hotel has been a stomping ground for Washington power players since 1847.

There are few places outside of the White House residence where you can truly drink like a president, but the Round Robin Bar in Washington, D.C. is one. And lucky for us, it’s open to the public.

The bar was established in 1847 in the lobby of what’s now the Willard InterContinental Hotel, a Historic Hotel of America. Though it went by a different name then, Abraham Lincoln stayed there in the mid-19th century, and any number of politicians, socialites, and artists have tipped one back in the bar room, a classic leather and mahogany affair with a circular—or “round”—bar. Woodrow Wilson was a guest, so were members of the local literati like Mark Twain and Walt Whitman. As legend goes, Henry Clay introduced the Mint Julep to D.C. here. Now, the walls bear their likenesses.

It’s also built a reputation as the site of much D.C. deal making; the proverbial smoke-filled room where partisan enemies share détentes, legislation is launched or lost, and kings are made. Though you’d never know it, it’s quite possible that your life’s been altered by decisions made at the Round Robin.

Presiding over it all today is legendary bartender Jim Hewes, who’s been serving up history lessons and cocktails for over 30 years. He can talk about presidential preferences from experience or study, and for occasions like inaugurations and Presidents Day he offers a menu of cocktails crafted specifically for every president. Year-round it boasts a wide array of malts for its renowned Whiskey bar.

Round Robin Bar in Washington, D.C.

photo by: Michael Kleinberg

Portraits of famous patrons line the walls.

If you’re in D.C. to see where it all happens, stop by the Round Robin Bar at the Willard. Power and bourbon can be quite the rush.

Location: 1401 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, DC 20004

Hours: Monday–Saturday, 12 p.m.–1 a.m. Sunday, 12 p.m.–12 a.m.

You’re Having: A Mint Julep. The Round Robin specialty comes with some important D.C. drinking history.

Best Yelp Review: "Beautiful bar with the see and be seen DC crowd, good service and a nice drink selection. A definite must visit bar when visiting the District!"

Jared Foretek is an editorial intern at the National Trust. He enjoys historic train stations, old bars, and interesting public spaces.

jforetek@savingplaces.org

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