The Washington happy hour is a special brand of gathering that you won’t find anywhere else in the world. Swamp-dwellers of all stripes are known to enjoy an after-work drink with good company and during one of our city’s many happy hours, you’ll encounter politicians, lobbyists, consultants, aides, journalists, and general coattail-riders. All of them looking to climb the ladder.

Everybody likes to gripe about the backstabbing culture of this town, but to some extent, we all participate in it as well.

If you have any interest in rising in the rungs of the district, you’ll inevitably find yourself at several happy hours. All around the world, happy hours are flowing with gossip—but the Washington rumor mill is different. Our gossip includes terms like whip count, green room, and a whole lot of names that regularly flash across the bottom of CNN. Here’s how to get the most out of your district happy hour.

Spring cocktail menus are coming!

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First, you want to choose a place that’s known to cater to a crowd that moves in the same circle as you. Clyde’s is an excellent choice if you’re looking for great food and great deals. Penn Social is one of the go-to spots for a politically-minded Washingtonian and journalists have all sorts of haunts, try Pennsylvania 6 across from the Washington Post building or The Bottom Line by Farragut Square. If you’re looking to get a little rowdy, hit up El Rey.

Happy hours are for socializing, so bring a few of your favorite friends or co-workers along. Interesting people who can hold a conversation are your best bet. Drinking with boring people is almost as bad as drinking alone.

Before you hit the town, make sure you’re up-to-date on the latest happenings. We inhabit a breakneck news cycle but scan Twitter for a few minutes and you’ll get the gist. Figure out what’s going to be driving the chatter in the room—who just got fired, resigned or hired. Have an opinion on those issues but don’t shout it.

When you get to the bar, read the room. There will be hot pockets of conversation where “the cool kids” are chatting. A lot of them might be stuck-up, but some are happy to make new acquaintances. Or at least take part in a discussion. But never pretend to be smarter than you are. Don’t launch into a chat about that obscure Midwestern congressman who you saw once in a New York Times article. You might be talking to his communications director. And even though Washington is the politics town, it’s best to keep your political leanings close to your chest.

Start every introduction with a firm but friendly handshake. That’s how it works.

Order something exciting to drink—the best way to start a dialogue with somebody is to ask them about the beer or cocktail they’re enjoying. Nobody is going to ask for a recommendation on Miller Lite.

Always watch how much you’re putting down. We would never recommend counting drinks, but it’s a good idea to keep tabs on yourself. There’s nothing worse than being the drunken fool at a happy hour. If you do find yourself swaying a bit, switch to tonic water. Your fellow boozers won’t notice and if they do, they won’t say anything. Moving and shaking with the big shots in the district happy hours isn’t that hard to do, but it’s nearly impossible if you’re slurring every other word.Of course, it should go without saying that you should always be armed with more than enough business cards. Business cards might seem like silly, worthless pieces of paper. But it’s a good way to show that you’re somebody; or if you’re not, it’s a good way to fake that you’re somebody.

If you play your happy hour cards right, you’ll make a handful of important new contacts in no time at all. People who can help you get ahead in this crazy, mixed-up, cutthroat town. And more importantly, fun people who are always up for that after-hours beer at the local watering hole. Make sure that you follow up with any new friends you make—something simple as a let’s grab a drink next week text. These little rendezvous are probably going to fall through a lot of the time, but as you expand your circle of friends, acquaintances and contacts, you’ll find that everybody here knows everybody else. And most of us met each other at one happy hour or another.

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Header image courtesy of Pennsylvania 6.

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