Let’s say you need to get drinks with colleagues after work, or have incoming relatives or friends who aren’t particularly interested in the “real” Washington but rather want the “politico” version (and this last problem may be really relevant in a few days). I don’t think you can go wrong in those instances with the Willard Hotel’s Round Robin bar.
Even if you don’t actually see a Washington “insider,” the traditional dark wood and green walls fairly ooze influence. Beaten down leather banquettes, little pub tables, and that famous round bar in the center – all in a small nook off the side of the Willard’s opulent lobby. You even get a bowl of nuts to snack on, gratis.
I know! – it’s like that soft cashmere sweater you reach for to make you feel cosy and cared for – it may have some unsightly moth holes, and you wouldn’t wear it out on a hot date, but you still snuggle up with it sometimes.
“The closest thing to a private club atmosphere without getting a membership,” a friend states, if by that you mean ones with names like Cosmos or University. It also has the benefit of being a hotel bar which gives it some of the best people-watching in town, with a particular shabby glamour. I love hotel bars for that reason, though, such a weird mix. Many fun games of “what’s the deal with that couple?” or “who the hell does that guy think he is?” can be had here.
One of Round Robin’s historical claims to fame is that its mint juleps are made to Kentucky Congressman Henry Clay’s recipe, from the 19th-century back when the bar was known as the “Gentlemen’s Parlour.” I don’t know about you, but that definitely shouts out tradition to me. The bartenders are also quite formally dressed, adding to the feeling of clubbiness.
However, this being January, no mint juleps for me. Luckily, the Round Robin has a seasonal drinks menu and in the winter months features several warming options. I tried a hot buttered rum and a hot spiked cider. Both were delightfully mild and restorative, the perfect flu antidote (indeed, if I had known I was going to be shortly thereafter struck by the flu, I would have had several more). I think the versions at Vermilion are superior, but these had their own charm – the kind you’d sip while being pulled on a sled through the snow.
That’s really the key to places like the Round Robin (Off the Record at the Hay-Adams or Town and Country at the Mayflower are also of this ilk). Sure, more creative drinks can be had elsewhere in the city, with more exciting atmospheres and sexier crowds. But they serve the purpose perfectly when you want to kick back 1850’s style.
The Willard Intercontinental Hotel
1401 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, DC 20004
I really enjoyed visiting the Round Robin for mint juleps a couple of summers ago. Great place, if I worked downtown, I’d go there more often.