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Posted at 12:44 PM ET, 05/ 5/2006

A Deluxe Penthouse in the Sky?

By Fritz Hahn

I have a dysfunctional relationship with Washington's rooftop bars: They treat me bad, but I still keep going back.

The Hotel Washington's Sky Terrace is the grand dame of Washington's cocktail-and-a-view destinations, and its vistas of the Mall and the White House are extraordinary. On the other hand, the tables are jammed so close together that you can't help but eavesdrop and bump elbows, the frozen drinks are consistently weak and the metal chairs are uncomfortable. Still, it's a good place to take folks who want to see the city at night.

I enjoy hanging out on the roof of the Reef early in the week, but it's so crowded on Fridays and Saturdays that they've had to begin using a Cheesecake Factory-style pager system to control the flow of people. Not cool.

And just when I found one rooftop with a view that I really, really liked -- Afterlight, the poolside party on the roof of the Hilton on Embassy Row -- it jilted me after a year, and won't return in 2006.

Ever hopeful, I just made a trip to the new rooftop penthouse at the Beacon Hotel. The ground-floor Beacon Bar and Grill suffers from such awful service and dicey cocktails that I'd written it off completely as a happy hour spot, even if the deals (half-price beers and house martinis) were occasionally tempting.

Located atop the ninth floor, the Sky Bar has a pretty nice setup. Until recently, this was the hotel's penthouse suite, with a wide deck around two sides of the building. Since it didn't seem to get much use, the hotel reconfigured the space for public use Wednesday through Friday. (Doors open at 5, and it will stay open until 10 or 11, depending on the number of customers.)

There are tables for two or four and there's a tiny bar in one corner of the roof. You can see the National Cathedral off in the distance, the dome of St. Matthew's Cathedral, and the sunset was especially attractive. Oh, and Serena Williams has already visited.

If only that was all you needed. Sadly, the penthouse suite ain't the deeeeluxe apartment in the sky that my friends and I were expecting.

Let's start with the service, which left us sitting for so long that we had to get up and go directly to the bar to order drinks. (We weren't the only ones; I noticed other people with empty glasses trying to flag down a waiter/waitress.) It happened again when we were ready for round two.

Then there's the sticker shock: $7 for a bottle of Harp or Corona. $10 for a glass of average Pinot Grigio. $11 for a "house martini" with Grey Goose.

Is it worth it? Not on a regular basis, no. But if you're dying to sit outside at happy hour with a date or a friend or two, you possess a modicum of patience and you're willing to splurge to enjoy the weather, this isn't a bad place to add to your repertoire.

-- Fritz

By Fritz Hahn  | May 5, 2006; 12:44 PM ET
Categories:  Bars and Clubs  
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Comments

I'm always looking for good rooftops to enjoy a good view of my city and the one that has made me consistently happy is Tabaq's glass enclosed bar. During good weather, the glass rooftop retracts and during bad weather, you still have an amazing view.

Posted by: gmaria | May 5, 2006 3:34 PM | Report abuse

$7 for a bottle of Corona? Feliz Cinco de Mayo to you too. That's insane. I hope the view also takes you home at the end of the night.

Posted by: MJC | May 5, 2006 3:56 PM | Report abuse

i think the reef is ridiculous. was there the other night, had to wait for 20 minutes to get to tthe roof (we were meeting a group for a birthday party) and when we finally were let up, it wasnt croweded at all. then, i ordered a neat knob creek. it was $9 and served in plastic. ill never go back.

Posted by: hate drinking out of plastic | May 5, 2006 4:49 PM | Report abuse

Reef is insane on weekends. not worth it. but the ridiculousness of the weekends is why you have to drink from plastic cups. People throw glasses off the roof, down onto crowds of people.

whoever threw a birthday party up there is the ridiculous one. Reef keeps a very strict occupancy limit on all floors, including the roof. throwing a party up there is just plain dumb. trying to show up for one there is almost as classic.

Posted by: mjc | May 5, 2006 4:55 PM | Report abuse

What's up with everybody always raving about the "amazing views" from Tabaq?? The view is not that great since the bar is on the roof of an ordinary height rowhouse. These views are standard from all rowhouses and apartments in the area. I'd never recommend that anyone go to Tabaq for the views, for outdoors dining maybe, but not for the views.

Posted by: DIF | May 8, 2006 1:24 PM | Report abuse

I agree about Tabaq. The hype is ridiculous. The roof is really cool, but not for the view (standard DC rooftop view, if anything a bit limited by the bar setup). The roof is cool for its own decor and retractable glass ceiling.

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