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Are D.C.'s Speakeasies Worth the Effort to Get In?

Learn to navigate the speakeasy shuffle in D.C.

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Call it the speakeasy shuffle. Simply put, it's the game drinkers have to play in order to reserve a table at one of D.C.'s many throwback-era speakeasies.

Some require a text message for a table, others an online reservation. Then there are the wait lists, seat time requirements and menu rules to abide by.

The process to get a reservation can be frustrating and annoying, but it seems a steady crowd of patrons don't mind the hassle, so long as it means a dimly lit corner with a good, stiff drink.

As part of cocktail week, Eater asks: How hard it is to land a table at the city's speakeasies?

Here's what we did: We called or texted each speakeasy on a Wednesday, requesting a table for two on a Saturday night. Whether we talked to an actual person, texted or got a voicemail, we followed their rules. Each speakeasy was rated accordingly, either "easy," "somewhat difficult" or "difficult" to get a reservation.

Conclusion: some speakeasies are just that: easy, while others prove to be more of a challenge.

The speakeasy: Harold Black

Capitol Hill, 212 7th St SE, website

Getting in: Easy

Harold Black has a seating capacity of 28 at both the bar and individual tables. On a Wednesday afternoon, a table for two was available on Saturday at 7 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 11:45 p.m. and midnight, making this an easy pre-or-after dinner option. Seat times are reserved online only. Cocktail prices hover at the $14 rate. This dimly-lit speakeasy is known for bartender's choice options  customers provide a spirit base and flavor, and the bartenders build a drink based on the information.

The speakeasy: The Gibson

U Street Corridor, 2009 14th St NW, website

Getting in: Easy

With more than 50 seats, both inside and out, the Gibson clocks in as D.C.'s largest speakeasy. On a Wednesday, a table for two was available on Saturday night at multiple times: 6:30 p.m., 7:30 p.m., 8 p.m., 8:30 p.m., 9:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m. There's also a wait list option for walk-ins. Patrons can leave their name and phone, and the bar staff will text when a table is ready. About half the seats are reserved for walk-ins, and seatings are restricted to two hours. Expect drink priced from $12-$17 each.

The speakeasy: Dram & Grain

Adams Morgan, 2007 18th St. NW (in Jack Rose), website

Getting in: Somewhat difficult

Dram & Grain reopened to the public last month after summer renovations. Located in the basement of Jack Rose, this 29-seat speakeasy has a lot of talent behind the bar: mainly beverage director Trevor Frye, and bartenders Justin Hampton and Andy Bixby. Dram & Grain requires patrons to text their reservation in advance to 202-607-1572. When we texted on a Wednesday afternoon, a table for two was open on Saturday at 11:30 p.m. Reservations are for a two drink minimum, two hour period. The menu has drinks priced between $13-17, and a six cocktail flight option for two, priced at $100. Another tip: The bar accepts walk-ins if for those willing to add his or her name to a list and wait upstairs at Jack Rose.

The speakeasy: PX

Alexandria, 728 King St., website

Getting in: Somewhat difficult

If the blue light is on outside, PX is open. The bar has eight seats that are first-come, first-serve. Otherwise, patrons must make an advance, online reservation for one of 22 seats at a table. Todd Thrasher's cocktails are priced from $13.50 - $16.00 each. On a Wednesday afternoon, a table for two on Saturday night was not available, but that doesn't necessarily mean a last minute walk-in or reservation isn't possible. For a more hassle-free experience, the bar recommends reserving a table on a Wednesday night (their slowest night).

The speakeasy: Columbia Room

Mt. Vernon Square, 1021 7th St NW, website

Getting in: Difficult

There are only 10 seats at Derek Brown's Columbia Room, which makes it pretty tough to snag a reservation. For $69 per person, the speakeasy offers a tasting menu  three drinks (including a punch) and a small plate of food (inclusive of tax and service charges). On a Wednesday, a table for two on Saturday night was not available. But, there were time slots for the following Saturday at 11 p.m. and 11:30 p.m. Columbia Room accepts reservations online. If you're willing to gamble, Brown says you can try to do a walk-in. Sometimes reservations cancel at the last minute. Worst case scenario, he says, you can enjoy a drink at the front of the house bar, The Passenger.

The speakeasy: The Shepherd

Dupont Circle, 1337 Connecticut Ave NW, website

Getting in: Difficult

The Shepherd is one of D.C.'s newest speakeasies, and it can be difficult to land one of 35 seats here, simply because the bar does not take reservations, unless you're a group larger than six (in that case call: 202-744-4253 to reserve a table). On weekends, average wait times can exceed an hour. The bar says it does do its best to try and get people seated within a 15 minute timeframe when they're not at capacity. The cocktails here change week-to-week, and they're priced around $12 each. And, remember this is an Instagram-free drinking experience. The Shepherd loosely enforces a no-photos policy once inside.

Editor's Note: The blue light at PX just indicates the bar is open; it is not indicative of availability of seating.

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