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The Off the Record lounge, a velvet-encrusted lunchtime refuge for well-heeled Washingtonians, offers as healthy a daytime drinking scene as early-start dive bar the Tune Inn. What Off the Record adds—-besides a much heftier price tag—-is a cover of darkness. Tucked beneath the historic Hay-Adams Hotel, Off the Record provides a decadent evening feel for cocktail consumption that begins as early as 11:30 a.m.

So what’s the perfect start to an early afternoon? “A martini,” bartender Jagjeet Jassal insists (mercifully, on-the-record). “I always suggest a martini.”

A white-bearded bar patron—-juggling soup, salad, personal digital assistant, newspaper, and vodka tonic—-endorses the suggestion. He temporarily frees one hand to offer an enthusiastic thumbs-up.

When pushed for a more subdued daytime offering—-it is, after all, barely noon—-Jassal obliges, suggesting “a nice, light white wine,” or a simple beer. The bearded man, however, is immovable. “You could have a martini with ice,” he suggests.

As other lunch hour drinkers sip on Long Island iced teas, Jassal’s recommended white, or diet cokes (in glass bottles!), I go with the beer. The Bass Ale, which takes two tries for Jassal to pour perfectly, is served up with roasted almonds and wasabi peas. And with even Hay-Adams salads soaring north of 12 bucks a plate of greens, the upscale bar snacks are a welcome complement to an otherwise liquid lunch.

When it’s time to return to the outside world, Jassal offers the beer on the house, prompting the bearded man to look up from his lunch spread once more. “You should have had a martini,” he says, shaking his head. “Those things are like, 15 bucks.”

Photo by NCinDC