Few locations feel as decadent as a bar on the roof of a hotel. OK, maybe a pool on the rooftop is even better, but a bar is awfully close.
In the heart of Washington, D.C.’s capitol district you’ll find the Conrad Hotel — a luxe Hilton property with excellent views of the top sights in Washington. While the property opened in 2019, Covid-19 quickly shut things down, including the Summit rooftop bar. Fortunately, the venue recently reopened — with staff in masks even though the venue is fully outdoors — and the cocktails, beer, and wine are flowing again.
A recent trip to D.C. saw us whiling away a few hours at the Summit, where beverage director Nial Harris Garcia walked us through the entirety of the cocktail menu and the wine-by-the-glass list, which is inspired by “women in wine” — female winery owners or winemakers are exclusively represented here. In total, we sampled 7 cocktails and 11 wines, along with a couple of snacks off the bar’s hearty food menu.
Let’s start with the cocktails, which seem to be the go-to on a hot summer day. Inspired by the sweeping views of the city and revolving around local spirits and ingredients — including herbs that are grown on the rooftop directly — the seasonal menu is small and changes 3 or 4 times a year. Three of the seven cocktails on the list are drawn from tap, making them easy to keep cold and get out to patrons quickly. Of this trio, the first easy winner is the Summit’s classic version of the Spritz, served nice and cold in a highball glass instead of a wine goblet. No big twists in the recipe here, making for a refreshing and low-abv way to start the evening. Arguably even better is the Summit’s Froze slushie, which infuses rose wine with strawberries, peaches, and vodka to make for a decadent and quite sweet version of the newly classic cooler. The fruit is so expressive in this cocktail that it’s tough to put down, particularly when the sun is still in full force.
The Summit’s featured cocktails are considerably more complex, but my favorite of the bunch was the simplest, the Capital View, which blend’s Maggie’s Farm dark rum, falernum, and thyme with ginger beer, making for a richer, spicier version of Dark & Stormy. It’s hard to get away from herbal elements up here — from thyme to rosemary, everything seems to have something green in the mix. The New Perspectives cocktail lands the furthest from this theme, using a rose-infused vanilla syrup as the foil for a blend of Green Hat gin, Cocchi Torino, lemon juice, and tonic — your G&T pumped up and spun out into its own little island of flavor.
Wine service on a rooftop bar is clearly directed toward lighter wines that drink well in the heat, but Garcia notes that the lone cabernet sauvignon on the menu has long been the top seller up here. People drink cab regardless of the weather, it seems. Some personal favorites from the list included a dry riesling from Trefethen, crisp with a fun floral finish, and the quite unusual rose of grenache from Prieure de Montezargues in Tavel, France, a deep shade of pink with a bold flavor and a surprisingly dry finish. You certainly can explore reds up here and do well, but for my money I’d pick the Gary Farrell pinot noir, with its surprisingly floral overtones working well on a warm day. (It’s also worth noting that reds are kept refrigerated on the rooftop; while they warm up quickly after being poured, the first few well-chilled sips are actually a lovely change of pace in the heat.)
Conrad put us up for a night in the hotel, and I’m happy to report the rooms are as well considered as the bar service at the Summit. Lots of space, double sinks in the bathroom, thoughtful lighting and climate controls, and — best of all — a cadre of really impressive staff members are all helpful at making you feel right at home. When a freak rainshower doused my wife and I completely while wandering the National Lawn, staff members met us at the door with towels, and dried our soaking wet clothes for us.
Now if only they brought you a Spritz whenever you wandered back to your room.
950 New York Ave NW, Washington, DC. Rooms start at $342.