Looking to learn some little known facts about DC while drinking some tasty libations? Then you need to take a DC cocktail tour with Blue Fern Travels!

*This post contains affiliate links. That just means that if you happen to click on one of those links and end up making a purchase, I make a small commission (and you will have made my day!)

Jazzed Up DC Cocktail Tour

Washington, DC is a city fueled by the after-hours networking scene. You think Congressional politics are inefficient now? Imagine if there were no happy hours during which hands could be shaken, elbows greased, and all-important political connections made. And because alcohol keeps the city’s political industry up and running, DC knows how to make some good cocktails. But few people ever pair their libations with a history lesson about the District’s lesser-known neighborhoods, myself included.

So when I had the chance to experience Blue Fern Travel’s brand new DC cocktail tour, I jumped at the chance. Creative and swanky cocktails paired with exploring neighborhoods I live near but know nothing about? Sign me up!

Having already had one amazing experience with Blue Fern, I had high expectations. Would this tour live up to them? The short version – yes, oh yes.

About Blue Fern Travel

Co-founders Mary and Stefan started Blue Fern Travel out of their desire to connect travelers to the local community. Both are avid travelers themselves, Stefan being an archaeologist and Mary a former international nonprofit advocate. They understand that by meeting the locals, trying their cuisine, and getting outside of the touristy hotspots, travelers can get to know a destination on a deeper and more personal level. And that’s part of their mission through their local DC tours.

Their other goal is to give back to the local community. A portion of every ticket sale is donated to Bread in the City, a nonprofit that provides full meals for DC residents in need. To date, about 30,000 meals have been donated through Blue Ferns tours alone. So not only do tour guests get to try yummy foods and delicious drinks and learn more about the city, they get to do a little bit of good as well.

U Street Cocktail Tour

A few years ago, I got to join Blue Fern on one of their DC food tours. I enjoyed that so much that when I found about their brand new DC cocktail tour, I couldn’t wait to try it out! At the moment, they only offer a cocktail tour in the U Street area, but that’s no problem – that’s one of the most vibrant parts of the city, known for its jazz bars and trendy restaurants. Hence the name of the tour – Jazzed Up!

Since I knew there was going to be quite a bit of alcohol involved in this tour, I took an Uber to our meeting place, stop #1: The Royal.

The Royal

The Royal is an all-day neighborhood stop, starring as a coffee shop during the day and turning into a cocktail bar in the evening. While that sounds like a lot to tackle, the owners handle the turnover expertly – The Royal has appeared in the Michelin Guide for the past four years and counting.

While it’s only been open since 2015, the name is a tribute to the Royal Liquor Store, which was a neighborhood mainstay at this location for decades. Current owner Paul Carlson wanted to honor the neighborhood’s roots while introducing something new in the form of his Latin-inspired cafe/bar/eatery.

To kick off our tour, we were treated to one of their signature cocktails, a Papaya Mami, a tequila based drink mixed with sherry, papaya, and other spices. It was the perfect refreshing accompaniment to the cheese arepa we ate alongside it.

dc cockatil tour the royal

Papaya Mami, candied papaya included

dc cocktail tour

Cheese arepas

The Royal, with its casual but chic vibes, was also the perfect setting for getting to know our tour guide and cocktail afficionado, Rasheed. Rasheed’s family moved to the DC-area in the 1960s and have been ever since. He’s worked in a myriad of industries, including as a a bartender in the city. His knowledge of both the city and its food scene and his engaging personality made him the perfect host for our DC cocktail tour.

St. James

From The Royal, we walked through DC’s historic LeDroit Park neighborhood. It was originally a whites-only neighborhood and later home to some of the most prominent African Americans in the city, including Duke Ellington and Paul Laurence Dunbar. The romantic and unique home architectural styles found here still set it apart from other corners in DC.

We also wandered through the U Street area, known as Black Broadway. Long before the Harlem Renaissance, DC was the epicenter for African American arts, especially music. At a time when black Americans were struggling in other cities, they thrived in this part of DC. Some of the greatest African American artists from the 20th century got there start here – Moms Mabley, Ruth Brown, Marvin Gaye, and James Brown just to name a few.

Eventually we arrived at our 2nd DC cocktail tour stop, a relatively new Caribbean restaurant named St. James. The menu here has its roots in both Trinidadian and West African cuisine, something I don’t have much experience with. So when Rasheed insisted we try both the casava and accras fritters, I had no qualms – I didn’t know what a “casava” or an “accras” was (don’t judge if you know Caribbean food better than I do ha), but it’s hard to go wrong with a fried fritter!

He didn’t lead us astray. The accras, or salt fish, fritter came with a delicious cilantro aioli, the casava with a pimento dip. Beyond being a tasty treat, Rasheed had a historical reason for choosing the fritters – fried handheld foods became popular among African Americans because they traveled well in the era when many hotels and other road-trip stops weren’t necessarily open to them. Hence why they are now such a prevalent part of Southern and Caribbean cuisine.

But the real star, being a cocktail tour, was the cocktails. We tried the West-Indian Old Fashioned, which instead of the typical whiskey base was made with rum and flavored with chai tea. It was my favorite drink of the whole tour!

dc cocktail tour

West Indian Old Fashioned and fritters

We got to spend almost an hour here, which let us enjoy another round of cocktails, and give time for Rasheed to tell us more about both himself and the neighborhood’s history. Blue Fern keeps their tour groups small, which offers everyone to get to know each other and have a more intimate experience than what many other tours offer.

JoJo

The last stop on our DC cocktail tour was jazz club mainstay JoJo. JoJo has been open for almost twenty years but operates in the style of DC’s 1920s jazz clubs. They offer live music every night, and customers can either sit downstairs close to the music, or upstairs, where they can still hear the band but it’s far enough way that they can hold their own conversations. That’s what we did – we had a table upstairs so that we could talk to each other but still enjoy the night’s entertainment!

jojo dc cocktail tour

Live music at JoJo

Being the last stop, we paired our cocktails with a side of dessert, bread pudding in my case. Our cocktail was the bourbon and ginger based Henry Grant, named for one of Duke Ellington’s piano teachers.

The cozy atmosphere and lively jazz music provided the perfect ending to a delicious and educational tour of a lesser known DC neighborhood.

Verdict

I am a huge fan of food tours, but I loved the slower pace and more elevated experience of this cocktail tour. Plus, paired with the in-depth history lesson thanks to Rasheed’s local expertise and engaging personality, this was a Saturday evening extremely well spent. Whether you’re a longtime DC local, just moved to the area, or are a tourist looking for something to do that’s off the beaten path, put this DC craft cocktail tour on your itinerary!

To see all tour options and to make reservations, go here.

*While Blue Fern Travel offered this tour complimentary to me, all opinions are my own.

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Want to learn about Washington DC's lesser known neighborhoods while trying some delicious cocktails? Then you need to take this amazing cocktail tour! #washingtondc #craftcocktail Want to learn about Washington DC's lesser known neighborhoods while trying some delicious cocktails? Then you need to take this amazing cocktail tour! #washingtondc #craftcocktail

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